Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Sword and the Rose (1953)

THE SWORD AND THE ROSE (1953) is a fine Disney adventure-romance set at the court of Henry VIII.

In the postwar years Walt Disney had funds in England which could not leave the country due to legal restrictions, so he used the money to make a series of films there, beginning with TREASURE ISLAND (1950). Disney next produced a trio of period films in the UK starring actor Richard Todd.

THE SWORD AND THE ROSE was the second of the three Todd films, following THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD AND HIS MERRIE MEN (1952); both films were directed by Ken Annakin, with James Robertson Justice in support. Justice would go on to appear with Todd in the third film, ROB ROY: THE HIGHLAND ROGUE (1953), as did THE SWORD AND THE ROSE stars Glynis Johns and Michael Gough. Ken Annakin had other contractual obligations so Harold French directed ROB ROY.

Johns turns in a sparkling performance in THE SWORD AND THE ROSE as lovely Mary Tudor, who is ordered by her brother Henry (Justice) to marry the elderly King of France (Jean Mercure). Mary, however, loves commoner Charles Brandon (Todd), the Captain of the Guards.

The crafty Mary has diplomatic skills surpassing the most experienced statesmen, and she carefully "manages" her brother and negotiates her way to eventual happiness. The climax of this 92-minute film is an exciting rescue and sword battle, followed by a most satisfying conclusion.

It doubtless goes without saying that this is historical fiction, with the emphasis on "fiction." The screenplay by Lawrence Edward Watkin was based on WHEN KNIGHTHOOD WAS IN FLOWER by Charles Major. It's a top-drawer script smoothly balancing romance, intrigue, and action leavened with considerable humor. The dialogue and intricate plotting is fairly sophisticated for Disney; children can enjoy it as a colorful, fast-moving action film, while their parents enjoy watching Johns as calculating Mary, thinking three steps ahead of everyone in her orbit.

Todd is handsome and gallant, having a chance to shine in the film's final act, but this is Johns' film all the way, with a nod of appreciation to Justice for his excellent work as Henry VIII. Johns is a particular delight in scenes where she "innocently" manipulates those around her, including two kings and the man she admires, to achieve the desired results. These skills are particularly useful when she wants to keep the repulsive old King of France at arm's length.

The previously mentioned Michael Gough plays the Duke of Buckingham, who pretends to support Mary's romance with Brandon while plotting to wed her himself. The film's supporting cast also includes Jane Barrett, Peter Copley, Rosalie Crutchley, and D.A. Clarke-Smith.

This lovely movie features stunning matte work by Peter Ellenshaw; on one level the viewer is aware that paintings are frequently used as the backgrounds, yet they're so very beautiful it doesn't matter if they're not completely realistic.

THE SWORD AND THE ROSE has had a release on VHS, but curiously the only U.S. DVD release has been a Disney Movie Rewards edition which is only sold by various secondhand vendors at considerable expense. Fortunately ClassicFlix has the DVD in its rental inventory, and the film can also be streamed for a fee at Amazon Instant Video. As of this writing it's also available on YouTube.

Like THE SWORD AND THE ROSE, ROB ROY has also only been issued in limited quantities for the Disney Movie Rewards program. I've been hoping for years that Disney would release both films on regular retail DVDs, as they did for THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD. So far, I'm still waiting, which is a great shame.

THE SWORD AND THE ROSE is a Disney film which deserves to be much better known. In the meantime, this enjoyable film is very much worth renting or viewing via streaming.


Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I always loved it and was my favorite of this group of Disney films--meaning the English-made ones; I saw them all when I was a kid, perfect for a movie-loving boy of my age who liked this kind of movie but was already up for more adult movies too.

Given your glowing words for Glynis Johns, I will note a coincidence about her. A few nights ago we watched an HBO special that had been made awhile ago about Stephen Sondheim. It was Glynis Johns who introduced the beautiful "Send in the Clowns" in the musical A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC but the clip of her doing it in this show was unfortunately pretty short. However, my wife and I found her doing it on the soundtrack album on YouTube--the definitive, moving version of the song--as well as a stage recreation of it done some years later.. Anyway, seeing her in the Sondheim special and then hearing her sing the song reminded me of how entranced I was by her back in 1953, and in THE SWORD AND THE ROSE most of all.

11:28 PM  
Blogger grandoldmovies said...

I feel that Richard Todd was an underrated actor; he had a thoughtful, brooding quality which was leavened by a confident charm. I like his performances in Stage Fright and particularly in The Dam Busters, which he really holds together; he makes heroism non-bombastic but something to aspire to in that film.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Blake, I loved reading of your appreciation for this film and Glynis Johns. Although I had read of the movie in Maltin's DISNEY FILMS years ago, it seems a bit like a "hidden gem" -- I'd love more people to see it. Johns' performance was really quite special and I loved reading about A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, I will look for that.

GOM, I bought THE DAM BUSTERS not long ago after seeing a couple of scenes on TCM. I must bump it higher on my "to watch" list! Thanks for your thoughts on Richard Todd.

Best wishes,

10:05 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I haven't seen this since I was a little girl, but I remember it well because that's when I fell for Richard Todd. (blush)

1:12 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

The movie is fun and certainly beautiful to look at, but I remember it mostly for Glynis Johns' passing as a male.
Now this is a "movie cliche" that you have to just let slide because the female almost never looks or sounds even remotely masculine. But this one is the extreme example of that. Glynis puts boy's clothes on but remains in full Technicolor makeup -- lipstick, blush, mascara, eye shadow, and false eyelashes. It's ridiculous and way beyond extreme. Still a fun movie, though.

For what it's worth, my candidate for best, most believable movie instance of female passing as male is Barbara Hale in WEST OF THE PECOS, one of those Tim Holt movies you love so much. Somehow, the beautiful Hale manages to make a perfectly acceptable "boy."

9:55 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your memories of this film, Rick!

I also enjoyed WEST OF THE PECOS. That one had Robert Mitchum in a Tim Holt-style movie complete with Richard Martin as Chito -- I believe Tim may have still been serving in the war at the time.

Best wishes,

11:10 PM  

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