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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Wagner’

This latest Fantagraphics reprint of Hal Foster’s wonderful strip begins with an insightful article by Mark Schultz, which says about everything I’ve thought that makes this strip so worthwhile. I have to admit the plots tend to become repetitive, and as wonderful as the illustrations are, the soap opera feel of the storyline becomes a bit tedious, but Foster shined for two things in particular—the breathtaking landscape scenes he did and the way he could draw a face and convey expression in it.

PrinceValiant9I’ve always liked to draw since I was a kid, but I have never been able to pull off realistic-looking faces. Foster was a master at this and someone we could all learn from. In this opening essay, Schultz talks about how Foster depicts Valiant and Aleta’s relationship through his ability to show their feelings for each other, as well as how they mask those feelings. Schultz says Foster was unique in this ability to reveal the characters’ internal lives through their expressions and body language, and I very much agree.

This particular volume picks up with the end of Valiant’s efforts to bring Christianity to Thule—and with rather alarming results. Valiant is shown destroying Pagan idols, something that in the twenty-first century I found upsetting and disgusting because we tend to be more open to diversity in these days, and while I was raised a Christian, I couldn’t help but feel the unfairness of this behavior, and when the destruction of these idols infers that they are false because they do nothing to avenge themselves, I can’t help noticing that Foster has the Pagans burn the Christian church down next, and the Christian God doesn’t intercede either, which leaves the reader wondering whether either God is real or exists, at least from Foster’s viewpoint. Of course, the Christian church is rebuilt, and then Valiant and Aleta go off on adventures, leaving the religious theme behind for now until later in the volume when Valiant ends up in Ireland and meets St. Patrick.

Valiant and Aleta part ways early in the volume because Aleta wants to go visit the Misty Isles, but Val ends up being called to help King Arthur in fighting against the Saxons who have allied with the five kings of Cornwall. By the time these battles are done, Val has introduced the idea of using stirrups for the knights, which is often introduced as a reason why King Arthur was successful and able to hold back the Saxons in several Arthurian novels that have been published since then, though I’m unsure who first introduced this idea into Arthurian literature—perhaps it was Foster.

But the real highlight of the volume, as Schultz remarks, is how Aleta manages as a woman to gain control in the Misty Isles, putting down a possible rebellion in her kingdom through her female presence and her cleverness. One of the things I really love about Foster’s storytelling is that while there are battles and swordplay and violence, many of the conflicts are resolved through Aleta or Val’s trickery and cleverness. It’s always more fun to trick or outsmart an enemy than to have to kill him. Bullies and cowards then end up showing their true colors and getting what they deserve.

A trip to the Holy Land, although not overly dramatic, but again with a little trickery to save the day, rounds out the volume along with the introduction of a girl character, Diane, who becomes friends with Valiant and Aleta’s son, Arn. Arn seems to have really grown up in this volume and transition from being a toddler to now a young boy; the strips from his viewpoint are refreshing, plus Diane appears to be a clever young version of Aleta.

The volume concludes with an essay about the 1954 film version of Prince Valiant starring Robert Wagner. The essay puts the film in context with what was happening in Hollywood at the time and changes in the movie industry, as well as discussing the film’s reception. It was rather a flop of the film, but it’s still a film I find entertaining (see my previous review of it at https://childrenofarthur.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/prince-valiant-in-glorious-technicolor-a-review-of-the-1954-film/), though it takes a lot of liberties with the strip. Apparently, Foster wasn’t too crazy about the film either, according to the article.

Volume 10 has just been released this month, so watch for my next review soon. In the meantime, Volume 9 has plenty to entertain.

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