(Thanks, Alistair Knight!)
Us-ually, I like to write up these RFotW posts alone, as I sometimes rely on memory and a re-viewing of a film to do some precision pre and post watching-progression in a few notes before writing. That said, I actually hadn’t planned on writing up The Magic Sword at all, but I was dropping off a loaner game at a friend’s, he happened to let me know that the movie was coming on TCM in about twenty four minutes and asked if I wanted to hang out and watch it.
My eyebrow went up, as I’m quite a busy guy this week… but I can be bribed under the proper circumstances (usually with food). “Toss in a pizza for two as a bonus for the pleasure of my company and we’re on”, I gently “suggest”. Hey, I’m no fool and double hey, he owes me a favor anyway, so it’s a deal.
A call was made, no anchovies were laid and thankfully, that pie was here exactly two minutes before the film started. I hadn’t seen it for a number of years, so I figured “what the hell!” as it would be interesting to see what happens when I sit down with an audience (hey, an extra person is an audience to me!) to catch something I’m usually trying to concentrate on alone for later article-worthy purposes. Ah, the best-laid plans of mice and men (and Bemis) get steamrolled into heckle-filled hilarity as the film in question wasn’t quite as good in some aspects as remembered…
Don’t get me wrong now. Taken as a simpler kid’s flick of the era, the movie hits its mark with its snazzy Eastmancolor look (and some competent sword effects), handsome hero (Gary Lockwood) pretty princess to be rescued (Anne Helm), an evil wizard (dipping between low-key menace and full-on scenery chewing, it’s Basil Rathbone!) and a bunch of fantasy characters ranging from pointy-headed gnomes to a big cranky ogre and even a three headed dragon to battle. On the other hand, if you even think of anything resembling quality in the acting department (aside from Rathbone’s wizard Lodac and a nice comic turn by Estelle Winwood as a forgetful sorceress of fine vintage), well… this one’s not meant to be taken as an acting master class, folks.
Lockwood plays George (the adopted son of Winwood’s Sybil) as what amounts to a wooden chess piece with a mouth that moves. He’s barely better that the formerly ceramic knights he brings back to life after he tricks Sybil into a basement and traps her inside just so he can swipe three magic weapons and set out to rescue the princess he’s secretly been peeping through a magic pool. OK, he’s not a total wooden letch, folks – pretty Princess Helene has been kidnapped as a sacrifice for a rather cool but goofy looking multi-headed dragon controlled by Lodac that must be angrier than a normal dragon because it can only wave it’s flaming nose around and hope anyone gets close enough to burn themselves to death.
There’s a lot of dialog delivered in horrible accents, some wandering through the foggy woods and a few other places that scream “Hey, this looks like a set” or “Dry ice must have been cheap back then!” manner, some knights get killed in funny ways and Rathbone pretty much steals every shot he’s in with a look or a line, even if it’s a total howler. Speaking of total howlers, my movie partner started in right away with a comment on how er, well-preserved Sybil was from the neck down (ay, yi yi… Winwood was about age 70 in this film) and I think I almost died from choking on a slice of pizza until his next few cracks brought me back to life.
Of course, between comments about Helene’s flawless Bumpit hairdo (“Why is it on the FRONT of her head?”) and somehow conservatively cut but too-pointy fronted dress (“She can just stab Lodac and the eyes and leave, y’know!”), I think I was either going to drop dead from laughter or try to kill him with that pizza box and watch the rest of the movie in silence. Of course, the chimp and two-headed sort of rhyming squire in Sybil’s place were more targets, as was the use of little people in strange masks interacting with MORE little people shrunk down in a cage (Oh, I won’t even repeat the jokes here, but they went from Game of Thrones references and downhill fast).
I think the best part of the film for laughs next to the scene where Helene tries to escape only to be thwarted by little people appearing and scaring her in silly jump cuts, a gargoyle eyeballing her boob a few times (well, that’s what it looks like!) and then a door transforming into Lodac (yeah, it’s weirder than it sounds) was the fight against the ogre, a total hoot and a half. Yeah, the effects work is clumsy and yes, it’s shot at “night” to hide matte lines (and not very well in some shots), but you actually feel SORRY for the poor ogre as it gets speared a few times and basically stands there with a lame arm making faces and growling as it occasionally throws a cheap-looking log or man-sized rock at George and his knights.
While I was keeling over as George’s magic horse zipped ’round and ’round, making the ogre dizzy, Lodac lets out a stupid line (he was totally clueless that that horse might be one of the magical items, but why wouldn’t he realize a horse basically doing 90mph wasn’t special? Guess he doesn’t get out much…) and I think my brain shut off then flipped back on. One more big laugh like that and someone would be speed-dialing 911. Of course, by the time George made it to the castle and more badly acted shenanigans took place, I was having an out of body experience that only stopped when the film finally ended with Lockwood’s amazingly creepy forced smile (it gets used way too many times in the movie that he comes off as weirder than some of the monsters!) and another passionless smooch of the pointy-chested princess.
For all it’s unintentional and aide-assisted chuckles, the film has some OK production values, really bad masks, as in I had NO idea Maila Nurmi (aka legendary horror TV hostess Vampira) was in this until I looked up the cast online. She’s pretty much wasted in her part and buried under a mask that looks like cookie dough with eyeballs and a few warts in it. I think that’s her pre-transformation as a French-speaking tart one knight encounters along the way, but I’ll need to look that up. Anyway, it’s a bit part and she also pops in and out of another scene that’s oddly edited (like a number of scenes in the film) and confusing, making me wonder how I didn’t notice all this stuff as a kid in front of that old black and white TV a few times.
OK, I wasn’t that film savvy back then (and I just do a half-assed job of being that now), but I can say this is more fun to watch than some other fantasy flicks of the period because it knows it’s playing it all for laughs. It’s also a Burt I. Gordon production (The Cyclops, The Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast and other future RFotW gems), so the film is surprisingly more watchable than the director/producer’s 1950’s output. I say grab the kids, toss the jokesters out on their ear if you want and pop this on – it’s seemingly copyright free, as it’s all over YouTube and other sites for no charge, so have at it. Just try not to laugh too much, as I don’t want anyone dropping dead just yet – I kind of need my readers around for a while longer…
Hey! If you’ve read this far, congratulations! Now you have MORE reading to do, as this post is actually part of The Accidentally Hilarious Classic Movie Blogathon hosted by Movies, Silently. I’d expect you to be popping over there soon enough (as in NOW) to check out the other posts by some fine and talented writers, but don’t tell them I sent you because the films I’ve written about are so terrible that maybe I’d be embarrassed to admit I actually like them to some extent.
Let’s just keep THAT a secret now, shall we? SHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!