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Films of Henry Hathaway: Prince Valiant — 4 Comments

  1. Jim: I just discovered your wonderful site. Love this post and consider me one of those who first saw this film as an uncritical child and I still love to this day at my ripe old age of 48.

    It's one of my all time favorites, and boy do I get a lot of grief for that. But I think its one of the best comic strip (or book) movies ever made, even recognizing its flaws.

    I rather like Wagner as the callow youth. I find him easier to take than Sterling Hayden as an English knight. He looks like he'd much rather be doing a western. Mason is great in it, and Janet Leigh and Debra Paget are two of the loveliest ladies in medieval filmdom.

    The Franz Waxman score is a marvel, one of his very best. A few years ago the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed an evening of film music and they performed a short suite from the score. When that famous CSO brass section tore into the main title music I literally got goose bumps. It was thrilling beyond belief.

    I liked your write-up about the castle siege and the final duel. That sword fight is one of the very best ever staged and I liked how Waxman's score adds another dimension to the scene.

    The first half of the duel is performed with no music, but towards the end when Valiant picks up his father's sword – the Singing Sword – the music kicks in, not in triumphant fashion, but with an eerie, somewhat ethereal treatment of the Prince Valiant motif. It's as if the music is telling us it's here that Valiant is leaving boyhood behind and has become a man.

    Hathaway's camera compositions can't be beat either. I do have some problems with the DVD transfer. It's quite inconsistent in its colors and I would love to see it restored someday to its full Technicolor glory. Probably will never happen, but I can dream.

    I'm going to look forward to reading some of your other Henry Hathaway posts. Sorry for rambling so long, but I adore this movie.

  2. Welcome, Kevin! I know what you mean about that grief; last year at Cinevent in Columbus I had to bite my tongue when a friend dismissed PV as "a terrible movie." I didn't want to get in any fights; maybe he'll read this post and consider it my answer to him.

    I still kinda wish Richard Burton had played Valiant, but I see your point about Sterling Hayden. Let's say I wish Burton had played Valiant and Stewart Granger had played Sir Gawain.

    I see your point, too, about the DVD: I suspect the transfer was not made from Technicolor source material. However, I'm grateful to have the CinemaScope aspect ratio restored (Hathaway adapted to the wide screen far better than most of his veteran colleagues).

    Finally, my congratulations on your own blog, Kevin's Movie Corner — beautifully set up, perceptive and well-written, and nicely illustrated. I encourage my readers to check it out.

  3. Just stumbled onto this site myself (Thank you, Greenbriar Picture Shows). As a great fan of the strip, I still enjoy the movie for what it is: a playful (but never tongue-in-cheek) Hollywood swashbuckler.

    It's easy to pick on Wagner and Hayden, but the whole movie is overrun with obvious American accents (I particularly recall a Viking who reports to the Black Knight early on).

    True, they played fast and loose with Foster's mythology (Note that the movie trailer identifies Leigh as "Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles" when the film itself demotes Aleta to local nobility). But there's at least one action scene that comes straight from the comic page: In the big Viking battle, Val lures a pursuer out on a ledge while holding the end of a rope. Val leaps, and the rope sends the pursuer falling.

  4. Welcome, Donald; I hope you'll return often and continue to approve. (Grateful thanks, too, to my generous friend John at Greenbriar for the referral.)

    You're absolutely right about that luring-the-pursuer-onto-the-ledge moment in the movie, taken from the February 6, 1938 installment of the strip. I considered including that among my strip-to-movie comparisons, but decided I already had enough to make my point.