The Curator of Schlock #331 by Jeff Shuster
Sword of the Valiant
Now in widescreen!
Okay. Here’s a summary of my life in the last couple of months. I moved into an old southern manor house somewhere on the outskirts of the Florida Everglades. I had a servant named Jervis who cooked me fine food, but it turns out he just fattening me up for the kill. You see, I’m living in a house full of vampires, but they’re not saying they’re vampires, but they are vampires all the same. One is an hippie girl named Celestial, one is a biker guy named Bud, and the third is southern gentleman named Wallace Jameson Volkasin VIII (we call him Wally for short). I’d be a dead man or one of the undead, but Wally has employed my writerly skills to write a full screenplay for a treatment of what reads like a knockoff My Dinner With Andre. It’s been done, Wally. Don’t eat me!
While I take a break from this surefire Oscar contender, I want to discuss 1984’s Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (that’s a mouthful) from director Stephen Weeks. This was a Saturday afternoon staple of my childhood, kind of a low budget Excalibur, but it’s stuck with me all these years. A recent Blu-ray release has allowed me to revisit this movie, uncut and with no commercials. The producer credits of Golan and Globus may scare you off, but I urge you stick it out and enjoy this slice of 1980s sword and sorcery. The movie is inspired by the famous Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that many of us English majors had to read at some point in our academic career.
The movie begins with an unspecified king (Trevor Howard) rebuking his court of knights at Christmastime. He’s angry that none of them have great knightly deeds to boast about. There will be no Yuletide feast until the king has some proof that “knightliness still lives within these walls.” At that moment, the front door of the castle bursts open and in comes the Green Knight (Sean Connery) on horseback. The Green Knight wants to play a game. He asks that any one of the knights in the king’s court take up his axe and chop his head off with one blow. The Green Knight’s only demand is that after the blow is struck that he has the right return the blow in the same manner.
Not one of the knights comes forward. This angers the king and he decides to take the task upon himself until a humble squire named Gawain (Miles O’Keeffe) asks the honor of cutting the Green Knight’s head off. The king knights the young squire before he takes up the axe. Sir Gawain succeeds in severing the Green Knight’s head from his body, but that doesn’t stop the Green Knight from picking his head up and reattaching it to his neck. The Green Knight is about to return the blow, but refrains, offering Gawain a year’s grace before he returns the blow. The Green Knight even offers Sir Gawain the chance to escape his fate if he can solve a riddle by year’s end.
The rest of the movie centers around Sir Gawain’s many adventures on his quest to solve the Green Knight’s riddle. He encounters a black knight, a beautiful maiden, a wicked sorceress, and even manages to assemble his own band of merry men. For me, one of the highlights is a vile villain named Oswald played by Ronald Lacey. It was on this rewatch that I realized Ronald Lacey had also played the awful Gestapo agent Arnold Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Other highlights include Peter Cushing as the cunning Seneschal and John Rhys-Davies as the warmongering Baron Fortinbras. I’ve always liked this movie. Maybe it’s not on the same level as Conan the Barbarian or Excalibur, but it does the job. Maybe I’m still a romantic when it comes to brave knights in shining armor and beautiful maidens in distress.
Sir Thomas Sean Connery
I received my Blu-ray of Sword of the Valiant in the mail on October 31st, the same day that Sean Connery left this world. You’ll always be one of the legends of the silver screen. You made James Bond a household name. Rest in peace.