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Camelot Movie Review

arthur king lancelot guinevere

1967 – Joshua Logan –

The story of King Arthur exerts a powerful hold over the minds of almost any generation. This film version of the Broadway musical is a retrospective: on the eve of his last battle, Arthur reflects about meeting Guinevere and establishing the new British culture of Camelot. All the elements are there—musings about Merlin and pulling the sword from the stone, the establishment of the Round Table with its motto of “Might For Right,” the sinister threat of the bastard son Mordred, the love triangle involving Lancelot and the Queen, and the emblematic sword Excalibur. In addition to the timeless strength of the story, the movie is visually beautiful. Splendid costumes and sets make the Middle Ages look quite opulent, and colors and costumes dazzle the eye. Specific scenes linger in the memory, like the wedding scene lit only by candles and the luminous faces of the happy couple or the fabulous bird-like robes and headgear of the regal pair. All the pomp and pageantry of chivalry are there on the screen.

So, why is this film one of the great box-office disasters? First, it is a musical and the story must be conveyed by song. None of the principal actors have a memorable voice, though all are serviceable. Guinevere is too whimsical, Arthur too quirky, Lancelot too operatic. They find their dominant mood, and vary little during the entire three hours. Furthermore, the three hours is the larger problem. Never has a film cried out for editing more than this one. Interludes drag by endlessly, whether they are Arthur explaining the concepts of law or the lovers musing on their futures. When the viewer watches banished knights trudge away, he wants to shout “Pick up the pace!” both to the knights and the director who thought this scene was needed.

Camelot does have some strengths that poor editing and singing cannot diminish. First is the essential humanity of the characters. These people are like us. Arthur finds it a little daunting suddenly to be king; Guinevere and Lancelot want to do the right thing but their attraction is just too strong; even Mordred's hatred mirrors our own dark sides. And the pain of adultery is almost palpable: three people who all love each other are caught in a situation that makes them all suffer dreadfully while hurting their loved ones as well. And the ending has such hope—hope that, in spite of our capacity to foul things up, great ideas do survive and flourish, and the future will be the better because we strive to make the great ideas come true.

Songs: “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight,” “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood,” “Camelot,” “C'est Moi,” “Guinevere,” “The Lusty Month of May,” “Follow Me,” “How To Handle a Woman,” “Then You May Take Me to the Fair,” “If Ever I Would Leave You,” “I Loved You Once in Silence,” and “What Do the Simple Folk Do?”

Cast: Richard Harris (King Arthur), David Hemmings (Mordred), Lionel Jeffries (Pellinore), Franco Nero (Lancelot), Vanessa Redgrave (Queen Guinevere), Screenwriter: Alan Jay Lerner Cinematographer: Richard H. Kline Composer: Ken Darby, Frederick Loewe, Alfred Newman Producer: Jack Warner for Warner Bros. Running Time: 177 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1968: Adapted Score, Art direction, Costumes, Music Direction; Nominations: Cinematography, Sound; Golden Globe Awards: Actor—Musical/Comedy (Richard Harris), Song (“If Ever I Would Leave You”), Score.

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