Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Swordsman (1948)

THE SWORDSMAN (1948) is a Scottish adventure film from Columbia Pictures distinguished by its beautiful Technicolor cinematography.

THE SWORDSMAN is similar to other Columbia films of the era, such as A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS (1945) and THE BANDIT OF SHERWOOD FOREST (1946), insofar as it is an exquisitely beautiful viewing experience. The film's lush Technicolor helps atone for a story which is only moderately exciting; indeed, Technicolor marvels such as this film should be savored by those who love movies of this era.

Larry Parks plays Alexander MacArden, who returns to his clan in Scotland after a decade in England. He meets Barbara Glowan (Ellen Drew) of a rival clan, and his love for her helps cement his determination to end their families' century-old feud, which he views as outdated and pointless.

Lord Glowan (Holmes Herbert) and Alexander's father (Ray Collins) are willing to make peace, but Barbara's cousin Robert (George Macready) refuses, especially as he wants Barbara for himself. Robert is a man so evil that he would kill his own brother (Marc Platt) for standing in the way of his plans.

The film would have honestly worked better with a different lead actor, as Larry Parks simply isn't well-suited for playing a dashing Highland rogue. He's earnest but fairly one note in the role and doesn't seem to fit in a period story.

Someone like Cornel Wilde would have been more appropriate casting; it's ironic I say that, as for many years I didn't care for Wilde, but he's grown on me in the last year or two, and Wilde's Olympic-caliber fencing skills would have enlivened the proceedings. Someone more charismatic such as Douglas Fairbanks Jr. or Richard Todd would have been even better and upped the film's romantic heat a notch or two.

Ellen Drew surely never looked lovelier on screen than she did here as a Technicolor beauty. At times her voice and expressions rather curiously reminded me of Gail Russell, yet Drew as Barbara has a radiant confidence which was not part of Russell's persona.

It was a nice surprise to have Marc Platt turn up in a dramatic role as Barbara's "good" cousin, the ill-fated Murdoch. Platt had starred in Columbia's musicals TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT (1945) and DOWN TO EARTH (1947); TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT is a personal favorite film of mine. This was the last of his '40s films for Columbia. In 1954 he played Daniel in MGM's SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS. Platt passed away in April of this year at the age of 100.

The supporting cast of THE SWORDSMAN includes Edgar Buchanan, Nedrick Young, Michael Duane, Robert Shayne, Ray Teal, and Billy Bevan. A messenger looked very familiar, and I suddenly realized it was Jock Mahoney! The stuntman and bit player who would later be a Western star certainly turns up in a lot of movies.

I did chuckle to myself as the movie began, because the movie's Scotland looks just like the San Bernardino Mountains! The film's locations were unmistakeably shot in Southern California. There are also some fairly well-done matte paintings.

THE SWORDSMAN was directed by Joseph H. Lewis (GUN CRAZY) from a script by Wilfrid H. Petitt. It was filmed by William Snyder, who also filmed the previously mentioned Technicolor adventure THE BANDIT OF SHERWOOD FOREST. THE SWORDSMAN runs 80 minutes.

THE SWORDSMAN is available on a lovely DVD-R from Sony/Columbia.

THE SWORDSMAN is just an average film from a storytelling standpoint, but it receives an A Plus for appearance. A beautiful film on a very fine-looking DVD.


Blogger john k said...

I love THE SWORDSMAN and in many ways it's a sort of
Scottish Western!
Must admit I never even noticed Jock Mahoney,time to give
the film another look!
Totally agree that the Sony MOD is jaw dropping to say
the least regarding it's stunning picture quality.
I must say that I thought Larry Parks was rather good in
the film. I also enjoyed Parks in another Columbia film
of similar vintage RENEGADES directed by George Sherman.
In RENEGADES Parks plays the doomed member of an outlaw
clan and again I thought that he was pretty good.
RENEGADES is a deeply romantic Western and would probably
appeal to people who don't normally care for Westerns.

5:47 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your feedback, John! I'm glad you got to enjoy this one. Let me know if you spot Mahoney next time! The print was just gorgeous. I'm glad you enjoyed Larry Parks more than I did. I felt a bit guilty dissing him as I'm such a fan of his wife and loved seeing her show in person...he just seemed miscast to me. Just checked and I recorded RENEGADES from TCM on VHS some time back, must pull that tape out! Thanks for the recommendation.

Best wishes,

10:22 PM  

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