Knights of the Round Table

Dullsville

Knights of the Round Table (1954)

I tend to dislike movies set in any ancient era or really any time preceding the turn of the 19th Century. That being the case, the many costume dramas strewn throughout cinema history struggle to entice me. I one test of a truly great movies is that can garner the appreciation and enjoyment of the viewer who dislikes the given genre. Knights of the Roundtable does not do that for me.

Despite its big leading stars and sex appeal, Knights of the Round Table fails in the draw of its story and conviction of its actors. Taking a look at a different angle of the Sword in the Stone story of King Arthur, the flick focuses largely on Sir. Lancelot of the Lake (Robert Taylor) and his relationship with both Arthur (Mel Ferrer) and the king’s wife, Guinevere (Ava Gardner).

Amidst the many sword-fought battle/duel scenes, Lancelot makes the acquaintance of Arthur, who is essentially campaigning to be ruler of the land following his extraction of Excalibur from the stone. Once king, Arthur arranges to make good with his love Guinevere and marry her. The woman is being held in a castle, however, when Lancelot stumbles upon the situation. The knight fights the guard for her, not knowing she is Guinevere.

A love triangle of sorts ensues as Lancelot acts as best friend to Arthur while harboring feelings for the queen who does not hide her appreciation. Arthur seems so blind to the possibility of an inappropriate relationship that he declares Lancelot the Queen’s Champion. Knowing how he feels, Guinevere instructs Lancelot to marry Elaine (Maureen Swanson), who has been pouring her love all over the knight since before Guinevere entered the picture. Lancelot follows through with the marriage and takes his wife away from the castle to oversee the battlefield.

While away, Elaine dies in childbirth, prompting Lancelot’s return to Camelot –and his disposal of the baby with his father. The flame between the queen and the knight is rekindled, and a nearly innocent moment between them sparks a controversy that will bring down Arthur.

This description of the Knights of the Round Table certainly sounds far more sexy than it actually comes off. There are many other plot elements involved related to Modred (Stanley Baker) and Morgan LeFay’s (Anne Crawford) plot to disgrace and unseat Arthur. There is also a bit of a “bromance” within the story tracking the ups and downs between Arthur and Lancelot. The story has potential, but it failed to grasp me on any of these topics. The performances were just too underwhelming to drive an emotional response. Gardner is as gorgeous as ever, but offers nothing more. Ferrer, meanwhile, has never managed to convince me he is capable of a decent performance (including as husband to Audrey Hepburn. Zing!) Taylor, lastly, provides only a middle-of-the-road conveyance of Lancelot, a part that could have been played by anyone.

Knights of the Round Table does, however, have the distinction of being the first movie MGM shot in CinemaScope and recorded in stereo sound. The widescreen technique would become the mainstay of many epic adventures with vast landscapes like this one; though, certainly there were better movies shot in the format.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

Mogambo

Ring a Ding Ding

Mogambo (1953)

     Twenty-one years after Clark Gable made the exotically set romantic triangle drama Red Dust, he made it again. Gable’s rubber plantation owner in Indochina moves to Africa to a job in exotic animal sales for Mogambo. Replace Jean Harlow‘s slutty prostitute with Ava Gardner‘s wealth-chasing show girl, and Mary Astor‘s devoted surveyor’s wife with Grace Kelly‘s devoted anthropologist’s wife, and tada! You’ve got Mogambo.

     The remake of the fantastic 1932 drama is not to be disparaged, however. Gable engages in two entirely separate movies that strongly stand the test of time on their own merits. The women, too, bring their own flavor to each character as Kelly’s unfaithful wife is more sympathetic than Astor’s, and Gardner is more emotional in her feelings for the protagonist where Harlow was more vengeful.

     In Mogambo, Gable is Victor Marswell who runs a big game trapping company in Kenya and sells the animals to zoos. Gardner’s Eloise Kelly shows up on the plant because she was expecting to meet a maharaja, who has in fact stood her up. She hangs on until the next scheduled boat several days later and in the process finds time to get under the skin of and please Vic.

     Kelly sets to leave just as Donald (Donald Sinden) and Linda Nordley (Kelly) arrive to study the behaviors of gorillas. Kelly’s boat gets stuck in the mud down river, however, and she returns to the ranch. Linda is an entirely different sort of woman from Kelly –a refined sort– and she fascinates Vic. When Donald has a bad reaction to a vaccine, the illness affords time for the two to get better acquainted. It also give Linda time to wander the ranch and get cornered by a black leopard, only to be saved by Vic. The two share a moment when it looks as though the man will kiss the married woman, but she flees into her room at the last instance. Kelly, nevertheless witnesses this passage and comes to her own conclusions about the state of her own relationship with Vic.

     Everyone on the ranch opts to safari with the Nordleys as they enter dangerous territory to view the gorillas. Kelly makes a pill of herself with snide comments and innuendos, the true meaning of which only Donald seems to be oblivious. Vic and Linda’s relationship advances with a kiss and possibly more, and the man prepares to tell Donald he intends to steal his wife away.

     Mogambo is full of danger, probably more so than Red Dust. Wild animals –and hostile natives– both pose a threat to the trio of unexperienced travellers and provide amazing footage for the film viewer. It must have been thrilling to work on this movie and be friendly with giraffes, baby elephants, and baby rinos.

     It has been a while since I have watched Red Dust, but for me Mogambo did more to create sympathy for the wife character than the previous version. In the former I found myself rooting for Jean Harlow, whereas here I sided with Grace Kelly, which might be a reflection on my personal feelings for the actresses (I like Gardner less, and to that point must note she had an abortion during filming without telling then-husband Sinatra because she did not want it to get in the way of her career). I felt Mogambo spent more time developing the relationship between Vic and Linda than the earlier version and that Ava Gardner’s character resigned herself to their affair, something Harlow’s characters never seemed to do. Both women give fantastic performances and both were nominated for Oscars. Gable is his usual strong, brooding self, but he glues the plot together.

Source: My Father’s Daughter: A Memoir by Tina Sinatra

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