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Archive for the ‘King Arthur in Film’ Category

Knights of the Round Table – movie poster

I remember seeing advertisements for Knights of the Round Table being shown on TV when I was a kid, but I never got the chance to watch it. I’m kind of glad that I didn’t get the chance because it’s surprisingly a rather distorted version of the Arthurian legend in many ways. Still, when I stumbled across it the other day, I watched it with interest.

First, let me say I’m a sucker for these old movies. Just that it is shot in Technicolor makes it beautiful in many places. There is a lot of color and pageantry, and I give it credit for being, to the best of my knowledge, the first film to try to tell the entire Arthurian story. Previously, King Arthur in Hollywood had been mostly limited to remakes of A Connecticut Yankee.

But in telling the full story, the studio must have felt they had to clean up the story. I mean, even if 1950s audiences, not to mention the movie censors, could get past Guinevere and Lancelot’s adultery, they certainly couldn’t accept Mordred being a child of incest and killing his father.

So some rather big changes had to be made. First of all, Mordred replaces King Lot of Orkney as Morgan le Fay’s ally. I was never quite clear in the film if he is her husband or just her lover, but they are obviously a couple and King Arthur’s primary enemies. The film begins with Morgan, Mordred, Arthur, and Merlin meeting to determine who will rule Britain upon Uther Pendragon’s death. Morgan believes she deserves the throne as Uther’s only legitimate child, but Merlin has Arthur draw the sword from the stone, thus leading to his being proclaimed king. Mordred and Morgan aren’t too happy about this decision and cause plenty of trouble before they finally agree to Arthur’s rule, which he achieves largely through battle and the help of Sir Lancelot, making Lancelot and Mordred enemies.

Arthur is soon pushed to the side of the story in favor of Lancelot. Although the movie is called Knights of the Round Table, the other knights get very little attention, except for Percival, who is on a quest for the Holy Grail. He meets Lancelot early in the film and tells Lancelot of his quest. In the same scene, Percival’s sister, Elaine, meets Lancelot and falls in love with him, and eventually, she is married to Lancelot, after Merlin realizes Lancelot and Guinevere have begun to have feelings for one another so it would be best to have him away from court.

I won’t give away all of the plot, and there’s not much to give away if you know the Arthurian legend, but I do need to discuss the end a bit. I do give the film some points for a stab at historical accuracy since it sets the film at the time soon after the Romans have left. That said, I think John Wayne had a stab in writing the script since upon first meeting, Lancelot says to Percival, “Declare thyself, Cowboy.” I think he should have changed “Cowboy” to “Pilgrim”—it would have been funnier.

The Holy Grail legend has always been an oddball part of the Arthurian story in my opinion, and it definitely is here. At one point, Percival comes to Lancelot’s castle to tell him the Holy Grail appeared at court, which I thought a shame, since the filmgoers never get to see the Holy Grail’s appearance in that scene, but it does lead to the knights going off to seek the Grail. At about this time, Elaine also has a dream about their son. Elaine dies soon after Galahad is born. Later the child Galahad is sent to be raised at Camelot.

And then Camelot begins to fall. After Elaine’s death, Lancelot becomes interested in Lady Vivian. Guinevere accuses him of trying to humiliate her in front of the court by making eyes at Vivian. While they are arguing alone, their enemies find them and accuse them of adultery. They manage to escape without any dramatic attempts at burning at the stake (a disappointment)—no dramatic “Guinevere” song for this movie like in “Camelot.” Things go as expected, leading to Arthur being slain by Mordred. Then Lancelot fights and kills Mordred.

The magic at the end of throwing the sword into the lake is missing because no hand rises up to catch it, but we are left with Lancelot and Percival going together to Camelot to see the Round Table in ruins. The film ends with a vision of the Grail, and Lancelot finding comfort in hearing that someday Galahad will achieve it. (A strange twist since Galahad usually achieves the Grail before Camelot falls.)

I certainly don’t think this film as entertaining as Prince Valiant or Lancelot and Guinevere (Sword of Lancelot) which followed in the next decade, although it does have its moments. People familiar with the legend will perhaps find it mostly entertaining for the fun of picking apart the changes made in the film from the usual legend and try to guess why such changes were made. (The opening credits claim the film is based on Malory, but it’s very loosely based.)

The cast has some big names—Robert Taylor as Lancelot and Ava Gardner as Guinevere, among others, but I have never felt very impressed by Robert Taylor. For me, Franco Nero is the best Lancelot. Ava Gardner is beautiful as always, but she just doesn’t have the role to make her acting skills stand out in this film.

If you’re an Arthurian enthusiast, you’ll want to watch the film, although on a scale of 1-5, I probably wouldn’t give it more than a 3. You can still catch it in reruns on TV or buy the video, or watch online at Amazon Instant Video. For more information on the film, check out IMDB http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045966/ or Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_of_the_Round_Table_%28film%29

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can also visit him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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The following article I had published last winter in Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. It is reprinted with permission from the magazine owner, Roslyn McGrath:

Why King Arthur Matters Today

As the winter solstice approaches, I always think of King Arthur. Arthur was a light in the darkness of his times, and Tennyson’s Idylls of the King equates Arthur with the rising of a new sun. Arthur is aligned with the light, with creating the “brief, shining moment” as the musical Camelot proclaims.

My love for King Arthur stems back to age fourteen when I first read Sidney Lanier’s The Boy’s King Arthur with N.C. Wyeth’s fabulous illustrations. The story of Arthur’s building a great society like Camelot and the tragedy of how it was brought down by Lancelot and Guinevere’s adultery and Mordred’s treachery was a pivotal moment in my love of great literature. Years later, I discovered Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, which told the tale from the women’s point of view and made me realize how rich the legend was, how full of possibilities, and how it was ever adaptable to today’s concerns.

I soon decided to write my own King Arthur novel. In the process, I did a great deal of research that resulted in my recently published nonfiction book King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition—my novel is still in the works.

I became interested in King Arthur’s children because I was surprised by many obscure references to Arthur having children other than the well-known Mordred, son of incest, who slew his father. Welsh legends referred to other sons, and modern novelists were creating new children for the storyline. Who were these forgotten children, and why this recent trend to create new children for Arthur?

I came to the conclusion that the legend eventually deleted earlier references to Arthur’s children to enhance the tragic ending. However, modern readers wanted a more hopeful conclusion so novelists were creating new children for Arthur to connect the legendary king to our own times. For example, Arthur might have had a daughter, ignored by history because she was female, whose descendants live today.

My fascination with genealogy and DNA reinforced for me the significance of this possibility. Scientists have shown through mathematical calculations that everyone alive today of European descent would be descended from anyone in Europe born before 1200 A.D. who had children. Since King Arthur lived about 500 A.D., if he had children, then most likely all Europeans—as well as a good number of Africans and Asians—are his descendants. Arthur may physically be in our genes.

Scholars will debate for centuries to come whether Arthur ever lived, but either way, Arthur is in our genes—if not in our actual DNA, then in our human nature to dream of a better world. Arthur is remembered because he strove to create an idyllic world, a Round Table—an early form of democracy where justice prevailed—and for a short time, he succeeded. In the end, we might fail like he ultimately did, but we cannot aspire to anything grander ourselves, and so we carry on Arthur’s legacy of hope.

At the holidays, it’s good to be reminded of King Arthur’s final request in Camelot: “each evening from December to December…ask every person if he’s heard the story, and tell it strong and clear if he has not, that once there was a fleeting wisp of glory called Camelot.”

Tyler Tichelaar is the author of King Arthur’s Children and My Marquette. Visit him at www.MarquetteFiction.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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In celebration of Prince Valiant’s 75th anniversary this month, I decided it was finally time to watch the 1954 film. I had heard some negative things about the film, and I admit most of them are true, but it just depends on your tolerance level for the basic flaws of 1950s films. There was nothing terribly wrong with this film. In fact, I enjoyed it a great deal and would watch it again—and there aren’t many films I would watch again.

Rather than provided a full plot summary, since I don’t want to give away the whole story for those who haven’t seen the film, I’ll just point out what was good and bad about the film, and what was different from the Prince Valiant strip. For those looking for a full plot summary, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Valiant_%281954_film%29

Prince Valiant Film Poster 1954

Prince Valiant film poster - which doesn't do justice to the visual beauty of the film.

What is great, or at least good, about the film?

  • The color! The film is beautiful—the Cinemascope and the Technicolor are fantastic. The costumes are gorgeous, colorful, and reflect the colorfulness of Foster’s comic strip.
  • Foster’s illustrations are used as the backdrop at the beginning of the film while the credits are given.
  • The scenery is fabulous. There are three amazing castles in the film, and I only wish I knew what castles they were. The first castle, where Valiant and his parents reputedly live in an isolated part of Britain, I believe is Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland—an often photographed castle. The other two I did not recognize, but the castle used for Camelot specifically was stunning. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any listing of where the movie was filmed.
  • The actors, for the most part. Wagner is not ideal as Valiant, but Janet Leigh is beautiful as Princess Aleta, as is Debra Paget as her sister Ilene. And James Mason blew me away—I always think of him as just being kind of old and gentlemanly, but with a beard he is quite dashing and debonair, even for a villain.
  • The film is fast-paced, and when it’s not, you don’t notice because your eyes are so busy enjoying the beauty of the film. I don’t understand all the bad reviews at Amazon complaining that it is slow—perhaps people like 21st century action films that lack character development. Give me a 1950s action film any day.
  • The special effects are quite good with the scene where the castle is on fire being very dramatic and effect as the good and bad guys battle. The sword fighting is also quite well done in my opinion, although I’m no expert on sword fighting.
  • The musical score by Franz Waxman. I never heard of Waxman before, but his music is fantastic. The film has a soundtrack that sounds a bit like and is worthy of Gone with the Wind. (Waxman created the scores for such great films as Sunset Boulevard, Demetrius and the Gladiators, and Rebecca.)

What is different from the comic strip?

  • Valiant and his parents are in exile but not exactly in the Fens, just a remote castle.
  • Valiant’s father is the king of Skanee, rather than Thule.
  • The villain, Sir Brack (played by James Mason) isn’t someone I recall from the comic strips—at least not the early ones. He is interestingly the grandson of Constans, who is also King Arthur’s grandfather, only Brack’s father did not acknowledge him. Consequently, Brack believes he deserves the throne and is plotting to win it for himself.
  • There is no witch Horrit, and no prophecy that Valiant will be unhappy.
  • Valiant is in love with Aleta, while in the comic strip, he’s in love with Ilene. Ilene is Aleta’s sister in the film, but I don’t recall a sister in the comic strip.
  • Valiant has a rival for the hand of the woman he loves, but instead of Prince Arn, it’s Gawain, and Valiant is too much of a friend to him to fight him for Aleta.
  • Val helps his father regain his kingdom, but it is not as peaceful a transition as in the comic strip where Sligon decides to trade Thule for the Fens. And I thought that plot twist a weakness in the strip anyway, so here Hollywood did better than Foster in my opinion.

Note: I won’t reveal whether Aleta dies, like Ilene does in the comic strip—that would be giving too much away.

What is bad, or could be better?

Admittedly, the film does have a few faults:

  • Robert Wagner as Prince Valiant—I don’t think he’s awful in the role. He’s okay. Many people complain about what a terrible actor he is, but I admit I enjoyed him in TV shows like Hart to Hart. The worst thing about him as Valiant is his hair. Somehow that long curled black hair works in the comic strip, but it looks silly on Wagner, and I’m sure it’s a wig—how did people in the Middle Ages get their hair to curl like that without a curling iron? I suspect they didn’t. Wagner also looks a bit too childish and silly, like he belongs in the TV series Merlin instead.
  • Sterling Hayden looks like a Gawain—he’s big and strong like a knight should be, but when he opens his mouth, he sounds like Howard Keel playing Wild Bill Hickok in Calamity Jane, and his word choice isn’t much better with phrases like “blast it” and “my beef-bones.”
  • The plot to kill Sligon includes stabbing him through the back of his throne, which is made of cloth in the back and set against a curtain. STUPID! What king would not have a solid back to his throne and put it against a wall? Seriously, the king always needs to watch his back.

I feel overall my complaints are few. The film is obviously part of the 1950s time period, but I honestly would rather watch these old movies than most of the films made today. If you like old movies, you will enjoy the film a great deal. If you love Prince Valiant and are willing to watch the film for what it attempts to do rather than for how it doesn’t match the comic strip, you’ll probably enjoy it as well.

It’s interesting to note that when Hal Foster was asked in an interview for his opinion of the film (reprinted in Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-1938 Fantagraphics), he said the following:

SCHREIBER: How did you like the movie version of Prince Valiant?

FOSTER: It was a magnificent film—the scenery, the castles, everything was beautiful. They used all my research: Sir Gawain had the right emblem on his shield, everything was right. But somehow, the story was a little bit childish…it was Hollywood.

SCHREIBER: Did you approve of the choice of Robert Wagner for the leading role?

FOSTER: I thought Wagner was a little bit immature—his face was immature, he ran around with his mouth open. But all in all I got a kick out of it; it was quite an experience [In certain ways] I had nothing to do with it: First they sent me the script and asked me to improve it by making suggestions, but they must have lost my letter. Then they paid me a fabulous salary to come out there; but I knew that I had no say, and that I’d just be heart-broken, because nothing I would say or do would change the Hollywood pattern.

If I haven’t yet, let me make it clear that I encourage people to see Prince Valiant for themselves. The film is available on Amazon On Demand and through a few other retailers.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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First, let me make it clear I am not advocating giving children the Starz’ Camelot series, which was terrible and not appropriate for children. What I am advocating is that you introduce a child to the Arthurian legend this holiday season.

Last year for Christmas I got one of the best gifts ever – an iTunes version of the original Broadway Cast of Camelot–my favorite musical which I listen to almost daily–and it introduced me to iTunes, which has made my music listening better than ever–and my friend who bought it for me showed me how to use iTunes and soon I was discovering the videos as well and purchased the Merlin TV seasons and the HBO production of Camelot. For me, Christmas just doesn’t seem like Christmas without King Arthur.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I remember Christmas 1992 when I received The Mists of Avalon, which soon became my favorite book. Another year I got the film version of the musical Camelot, another year Excalibur, and Bernard Cornwell’s novels, and many others. I am certain there will be something Arthurian for me under the Christmas tree this year.

But never did King Arthur mean as much to me as when I was a boy and first read the fabulous stories as depicted in Sidney Lanier’s The Boy’s King Arthur. They captured my imagination in a way few other stories have, and they have stayed with me for decades now.

At the end of the Broadway production of Camelot, King Arthur gives the boy Tom of Warwick the mission to spread Camelot’s story by saying:

Each evening, from December to December,

Before you drift to sleep upon your cot,

Think back on all the tales that you remember

Of Camelot.

Ask ev’ry person if he’s heard the story,

And tell it strong and clear if he has not,

That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory

Called Camelot.

In other words, in December we are to tell people of Camelot. Do you know someone who does not know the story and will appreciate, who will aspire to be a better person, to find more magic in life, as a result of discovering the tales of King Arthur? No matter what age, you can introduce Camelot to others.
For children, gifts could include the film version of The Sword in the Stone or picture books about the Arthurian legend.
For older children, how about the Prince Valiant comic books, the Merlin TV series DVDs, or early chapter books like Cheryl Carpinello’s wonderful Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend.

Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend by Cheryl Carpinello

For teenage readers, Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy is a good introduction (I read them when I was fifteen).
Don’t forget there are more than books and films, there are Arthurian products of all sorts out there. Maybe Mom would enjoy a King Arthur Flour cookbook. King Arthur video games can be found with little searching.
King Arthur playsets can be found at: http://howcool.com/product_info.php?products_id=24451
Think about how you came to King Arthur. Did an adult first introduce you to Camelot with a coloring book, a storybook, a record….
Keep the story of Camelot strong and inspired in the hearts of the next generation! Give the gift of Camelot to kids of all ages at Christmas!

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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In December, 1974, when I was only three and a half years old, my dad took me for the first time to Marquette’s Delft Theatre to see my first movie. It was a terrible film—at three years old, I was already smart enough to ascertain that. I remembered very little of it over the years, but I would occasionally think about that terrible first movie I saw, which had the Devil chasing Santa Claus, moving the chimney on him so he couldn’t get inside houses to deliver toys, and sicking a dog on him. My dad also thought the movie terrible. For many years, I wondered what this film was named, and I looked in many video books for it, but only thanks to the Internet did I recently discover it was the 1959 Mexican film Santa Claus. And, I was even more surprised to discover it had an Arthurian legend connection—yes, Merlin and Santa Claus are buddies. I didn’t remember that part of the film when I was three—but I don’t think I knew who Merlin was yet, though of course, I knew Santa Claus.

Santa Claus movie poster

Santa Claus movie poster - with "weird and wonderful" characters - weird is right!

So when I found this film on Amazon, I had to see it. Knowing it would be terrible, I opted to watch the Mystery Science Theater episode that featured it. I’m glad I did because I would have groaned through most of it, but the Mystery Science Theater’s cast made me laugh throughout.

The story is simple and lame. Santa lives in a castle on a cloud above the North Pole. Instead of elves, he has children from around the world who help him. The beginning of the film shows Santa playing the organ as we are shown scenes of children from a slew of countries: Africa, Spain, China, England, Japan, the Orient, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, the Islands of the Caribbean, South America, Central America, USA, and Mexico—I know those aren’t all technically countries, but Santa and the Narrator don’t know that—yeah, there’s a narrator; sure sign the film is bad; he sounds like he’s detailing a documentary, like one of the old Disney wildlife films. Since we have to listen to children sing from each country, this part of the film really drags.

It gets more interesting when Lucifer (the chief devil) tells the devil Pitch he must leave Hades and go to earth to make children evil and to destroy Santa Claus. Pitch isn’t a very convincing devil—he likes to dance about as if he thinks he can do ballet. He goes to Mexico where he whispers in children’s ears, trying to make them do things like steal a doll and later throw rocks at Santa. Santa, however, can see everything through his magical telescope, so he knows what Pitch is doing. Santa even has a machine so he can watch children’s dreams. He’s quite the Big Santa, and it’s only 1959!

Soon it’s time for Santa to go to earth to deliver Christmas toys. Pitch is now out to stop Santa by moving the chimney so Santa can’t get in a house, as well as other, less effective ways to hurt Santa. Santa does get back at him in one scene by shooting at him with a toy cannon.

But where does Merlin come into the story? Merlin has given Santa a magic dreaming power he can blow in children’s faces to put them to sleep. Santa also has a special invisibility flower. Of course, Pitch destroys the powder and Santa loses the flower. Then Pitch sicks a dog on Santa so he has to climb a tree and is trapped. Santa is now in big trouble since he can’t get out of the tree and morning is coming; if the sun rises before Santa gets back to the North Pole, the reindeer will turn to dust. But no worries, Santa’s voice is so loud he can yell to “Mr. Merlin” who hears him from where he lives with Santa in the castle in a cloud above the North Pole. (You have to wonder why there’s no Mrs. Claus in the film.) Merlin is decked out in the typical blue robe with the big pointy hat and moon and star pictures on his clothes. He also wobbles around when he walks. (Mystery Science Theater asks, “Why can’t Santa give him another leg?”)

Merlin, being a great wizard and capable of doing magical things, quickly solves the problem. Does he cast a fantastic spell to make Santa Claus suddenly appear back home? No. Does he turn the dog into a toad? No. Does he resurrect the Knights of the Round Table to ride to Santa’s rescue? No. No magical spells for Merlin in this film—other than the lame dreaming powder. Merlin yells back at Santa, telling him to reach into his bag of toys and pull out a toy cat on wheels, throw it down, and let the dog chase it. Once that works, Santa can climb down from the tree and escapes. Merlin tells Santa it’s time now for him to come home, but first, Santa delivers a doll to a poor little girl who has tried to be good.

The film does have a few magical moments. It is somewhat enchanting in its North Pole sets despite its overall cheesiness, and Santa is kind enough to let a child who doesn’t feel loved by his parents, see Santa Claus. He also convinces those parents to go home to their son, after giving them some sort of “drink of remembrance”—as Mystery Science Theatre says, “Booze helps parents care for their children.”

The film is overly sentimental and moralistic for our tastes today, but even in 1959, I don’t know how anyone could have considered it a good movie.

The film certainly didn’t deserve its popularity. Why ever did the Delft Theatre decide to show this strange Satanic-Christmas concoction? According to Wikipedia, Santa Claus was quite a hit: “Santa Claus was considered to be a financial success over several holiday-season theatrical releases in the 1960s and 1970s. Broadcast of the film also became a holiday tradition at several U.S. television stations. The film garnered at least one award, winning the Golden Gate Award for Best International Family Film at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1959.” And apparently, it was so popular it was worthy of being shown at the Delft Theatre in Marquette, Michigan when it was fifteen years old and I was three. I can only assume this popularity was due to a lack of children’s Christmas movies at that time, and that it was a time when we only got three channels on television, and we had no VCRs, much less Netflix to choose from. If we wanted to see a movie, we went to see whatever was playing.

Today, the film is listed on IMDB as one of the worst movies of all time. Considering that even as a three old child I thought it was terrible, I’m not surprised. If you want to groan, watch this film, but if you want a lot of laughs, watch the Mystery Science Theatre episode of it. Both are available on Amazon Instant Video for $2.99 if you search simply for “Santa Claus.”

If you’ve seen this movie—especially if you saw it as a child like I did—I’d love to know your own thoughts about it.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974) is a cult classic. As a lover of Arthurian lore, however, I found its slapstick and cheesy humor rather off-putting when I first saw this film back in 1994, and I waited that long to watch it because I didn’t like “stupid” humor. I only watched it then because I was in graduate school and took a course in the Arthurian legend and we watched it as our end of semester class party. I was about the only one in the class who thought it stupid while everyone else thought it funny.

2001 Special Edition Release Post for Monty Python and the Holy Grail

2001 Special Edition Release Post for Monty Python and the Holy Grail

And then I watched it again this past week. Either my sense of humor has gotten better (or worse), or watching it on a larger screen as a restored version did the trick (a special edition re-release came out in 2001), but I found the film very funny. A big problem with all Arthurian films, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail is definitely such a film, is that we have preconceived notions about what the Arthurian legend should be before we watch the film, and consequently, we may fail to appreciate what the film is actually trying to do. Case in point, the first time I saw the musical film Camelot (1967), I thought it was kind of boring – when were they going to get to the quest for the Holy Grail? Well, they never do because the Arthurian legend has too much in it for any one film, even for a three hour film like Camelot, and that film focused on the love triangle between Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot and Arthur’s belief that Camelot’s ideal should be not “might is right but might for right.” Consequently, it took a second viewing for me to come to appreciate Camelot. And anyone who knows me well knows that for the last twenty-five years, I have claimed it as my favorite movie and I have worn out records, cassette tapes, and then CDs listening to the soundtrack–thank God for iTunes.

But back to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I love musicals–Camelot is my favorite–and so consequently I had to listen to the Broadway Cast Recording soundtrack to Spamalot–I have yet to see the play–but I love the music. And the musical is a vast improvement on the film. Nevertheless, I decided to watch the film again, and knowing this time what to expect, sheer humor and no real closeness to the Arthurian legend, I was able to enjoy the film a great deal, to laugh out loud in numerous places. I love the cow being catapulted, and who doesn’t love the killer rabbit! And a few things, like the mention of Joseph of Arimathea, attest to some knowledge in the film of the real legend. Furthermore, I loved the sets, the castles, and some of the songs in Spamalot, such as “Brave Sir Robin,” originated in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Finally, I remember first watching this film and thinking it had that dull, gray ’70s look that most films of that period had, but the special edition version has made Monty Python and the Holy Grail visually beautiful. I was stunned by the colors, and in some scenes, I could forget for a minute that I was watching a comedy, and think instead that I was looking at some of N.C. Wyeth’s beautiful illustrations or even some Pre-Raphaelite paintings. The only other Arthurian film that I have found so visually stunning was the NBC TV series Merlin (1998).

All in all, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a film I can appreciate for what it tries to do–make fun of the Arthurian legend in a way that is funny and not solely demeaning. It is well worth watching and deserves its status as one of the best known and most popular films about the Arthurian legend. I do find the ending of the film very disappointing, and it is far inferior to Spamalot, but overall, it’s a film worth watching and enjoying more than once. I mean, it has even inspired people to wear pajamas with killer rabbits on them, and when a film influences pajama fashions, it has to have something of value!

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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I had intended to write one blog post about the last four episodes of Starz’ Camelot, but so much happened to comment in the final episode that I’ll leave that for one final post.

Camelot on Starz

Through the first six episodes, I wasn’t yet completely won over into even thinking Camelot was a good show, but episodes 7-9 did not drag as much for me and they actually seemed like there was a forward moving plot beginning with episode 7. I did enjoy watching them, but I can’t say, other than there being a plot, that the show got any better since the plot bordered on being ridiculous as times.

Episode 7 doesn’t start off that well. Morgan’s having another dinner party like she had earlier, only this time more than Arthur and Merlin are invited. At least this time Merlin has enough brains to be accompanied by half the court and some knights. Of course, Morgan has ulterior motives, such as making people believe the castle is attacked, that people are turning against Arthur, and that her own men have defeated the enemy. I love Eva Green so I think whatever faults she portrays as an actress in this show are due to bad scripts–Morgan is given some truly over the top lines, and in this episode I found myself actually becoming irritated by her. The delivery of her lines is so over the top that she sounds like Norma Desmond trying to impersonate Katherine Hepburn. The problem is Morgan’s behavior and dialogue is so corny that it’s unbelievable often when she’s trying to deceive people; Green can only do what she can with the strained and unbelievable plotting and dialogue. One gets the sense from watching her that even she knows how ridiculous her lines are and she’s doing all she can not to laugh.

In this episode, a knight named Harwel confesses his love for Morgan, resulting in his lying about the supposed attack and turning against the king for her sake. She’s attractive, so I don’t completely blame him, but why make up a character named Harwel? Where’s Accolon, her usual lover whom she seeks to control and who she charges to kill Arthur? There are so many intriguing characters in the legend that there’s no need to make up new characters.

In this episode, Merlin continues to be his stupid self. It’s like he is completely incapable of acting or taking control of the situation–he’s the most incompetent wizard imaginable. He makes a point of telling Igraine in this episode that Morgan poisoned Uther but that no good can come of Arthur’s knowing. What good can come of keeping it a secret and letting Arthur think his sister might really loves him? Of all the criticism I have seen about Camelot, most people think Merlin is the redeeming grace of the show, but I cannot see that at all. Joseph Fiennes may be a fine actor, like Eva Green, stuck in a bad role, but that’s the most good I can say about Merlin.

Meanwhile Morgan comes to realize that she can destroy Arthur by bringing out the secret of the Arthur-Guinevere affair. She does so by disguising herself as Igraine and returning with the others to Camelot while Igraine is kidnapped and imprisoned in Castle Pendragon.

In Episode 8, Morgan keeps causing trouble in her disguise as Igraine. There are a few moments when one thinks perhaps Morgan has a heart, such as when a small boy, who is friends with Igraine, accidentally dies, but the moments are few. She couples with Merlin, but the reason for her doing so is lacking. And again, how stupid is Merlin if the great sorcerer can’t figure out Igraine isn’t who she claims to be. Finally, we get to the point of the episode when Igraine/Morgan gets Guinevere to confess she’s slept with Arthur and then Igraine/Morgan blabs it to Leontes to make him angry at Arthur, something she hopes will turn Arthur’s knights against him.

Meanwhile, Vivian has a moment of sense when Igraine manages to kill the guard and escape and Vivian does nothing to stop her. Vivian isn’t much good for anything. She’s not a good villainess obviously. Why is she even in the program? She’s been subplanted by Sybil early on. The episode ends with Igraine arriving at Camelot to be confronted by her own image–Morgan in disguise.

In episode 9, Igraine tells Merlin what has been truly going on. He thinks she’s mad at first to claim she was imprisoned by Morgan, but he finally believes her. Then this brilliant wizard decides he and Igraine will go to Castle Pendragon to confront Morgan. Of course, they go with no other warriors to accompany them. This move would be okay if Merlin could shoot balls of fire from his hand or something to protect them, but instead, he and Igraine get captured and hauled back to Camelot in chains, while Arthur is away fighting at Bardon Pass. Seriously, Merlin is the most incompetent wizard ever–have I made that clear yet? I want to think Merlin allows himself to be arrested so Morgan will go to Camelot and show her true colors to the people, but I have a hard time thinking Merlin is really smart enough to manipulate things that way.

Disney's Merlin from The Sword and the Stone - now here's a smart Merlin

Meanwhile, at Bardon Pass in the middle of fighting off invaders whom Arthur and his knights don’t realize are really Morgan’s men, hostility between Arthur and Leontes makes Kay realize something is wrong, and eventually, Arthur confesses that he slept with Guinevere on the same day she wed Leontes. The men are disappointed in him and Kay tells Arthur what any television viewer with half a brain has already figured out, “You’re not a worthy king.”

As I watch these episodes, waiting for the climactic final episode and watching how the plot thickens toward it, there are moments where I find myself curious about what is going to happen, but in summarizing the plot, I can’t help realizing how silly the whole storyline is and the characters’ motivations and actions.

I will admit there is a lot of interesting stuff that happens in the final episode, so stay tuned for my next post–but don’t be surprised that there are some more stupid things that happen as well.

In the end, what has been the best part of Camelot? I’m intrigued by the nun, Sybil, and as over the top as Morgan is, I still like a good villainess. But the true kudos go to the castle of Camelot–it’s beautiful, and perhaps because it doesn’t have any badly written lines, it escapes criticism as part of the supporting cast.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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