The Black Knight (1954)
An Earlier Dark Knight
There is no skirting around this "The Black Knight" is not good in fact it is one of the most boring knight movies you will probably watch despite the fact it stars Alan Ladd. And the reason why it is bad other than the fact that Ladd looks very much out of his comfort zone trying to play a swashbuckling hero is that it offers up little which is new or interesting. We get fight scene, horse riding, another fight scene and the some talking with an inevitable romantic subplot but none of it feels exciting. In fact there are only two things that really stands out and are memorable about "The Black Knight" one is a scene which sees a castle enveloped in billowing smoke the other is Patricia Medina who's beauty is simply stunning and the camera highlights it.
John (Alan Ladd - Shane) has been the loyal blacksmith to the Earl Of Yeonil (Harry Andrews) for many years, just as his father was before him but John has a problem because he has feelings for the Earl's daughter Linet (Patricia Medina - Hotel Reserve) and she has feelings for him. When the Earl finds out he requests that John leaves and as he does he sees the Earl's castle come under attack from a group of Saracens dressed as Vikings. When King Arthur (Anthony Bushell) refuses to believe John that Sir Palamides (Peter Cushing) and his Saracens lead the attack John with the help of his friend Sir Ontzlake (André Morell) becomes the mysterious Black Knight and sets about proving that Sir Palamides was behind the attack and also stopping him from his plans to over throw King Arthur.
So "The Black Knight" is basically a swashbuckler, a medieval adventure movie which sees the good guy defeat the nefarious bad guys and win the girl, a formula used in many of these 50s adventure movies. The thing is that the storyline ends up becoming unimportant as it goes here there and almost everywhere but never real does anything. We see Palamides plot to kill the Black Knight, we see him kidnap Linet the daughter of the Earl Of Yeonil and we see King Arthur and his men destroy Stonehenge to stop Pagan ritual sacrifices, a scene which now is comically bad. But none of it is interesting and basically the storyline plays for time till eventually it runs out of ideas and we get the big heroic finale.
This wouldn't be an issue if the "The Black Knight" contained some exciting action nut it is some of the flattest most unoriginal swashbuckling action I have watched. A sword fight going up a flight of stairs, a battle between knife and mace as well as a jousting scene, you can see exactly the same sort of action in other movies done with more vigour. And sadly when it comes to the heroic finale it is a bit of a mess because it becomes a melee of action rather than focusing on the one battle which is that of John versus Palamides.
Now I like Alan Ladd as an actor he made some great movies in various genres but he really looks uncomfortable in "The Black Knight". Whether he did not feel comfortable in the swashbuckling role or thought the script was shallow I don't know but it all feels very reserved as if he was unwilling to commit to the action and felt unsure what he was meant to be doing. Then again he isn't the only poor performance in "The Black Knight" although Peter Cushing as Sir Palamides is nicely villainous. But it is Patricia Medina who makes the biggest impact, not because her character is great or that she does any great acting but because she looks stunning and the camera loves her.
What this all boils down to is that "The Black Knight" is not very good either as a movie about knights or just as a swashbuckling adventure. It feels ordinary with nothing really exciting about it and with Alan Ladd looking very uncomfortable playing a swashbuckling hero we end up not having a confident hero to get behind.
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