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Monday, September 21, 2015

THE BLACK ARROW (1948)

This version of the oft-filmed Robert Louis Stevenson War-of-the-Roses novel is from indie producer Edward Small, known for pinching modest budgets into lux-looking literary swashbucklers (THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO/’34; THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK/’39). But director Gordon Douglas, moving up from cheap programmers like the DICK TRACY series, is hemmed in by the backlot locations of Columbia Studios where Small had a production deal. Even with the sprawling novel whittled down to a sort of ROBIN HOOD knockoff, it’s undercharged, and a size or two too small. (Poor Edgar Buchanan fails³ in the familiar Alan Hale, Eugene Pallette and Patric Knowles ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD/'38 spots.) Louis Hayward makes a bland hero as the young knight, home from war to find his Uncle (purring, slithery George Macready) running the castle after murdering Hayward’s noble father. (Shades of HAMLET.) Fortunately, there’s a network of support from secret forest dwelling fighters, including the vengeance-seeking Black Arrow bowman who helps lead him to the truth by including a message with every lethal shot. The film’s not bad, just blah. The one real kick comes late in the game when an unexpectedly fair-minded, funny, even sympathetic Duke of Gloucester (pre-Richard III days) comes on the scene. Too bad he can’t make damsel-in-distress Janet Blair worth fighting over.

DOUBLE-BILL: Producer Small took a more traditional approach to RICHARD III in TOWER OF LONDON/’62 with Vincent Price as villain King and Roger Corman as villain megger. Far less interesting than the balanced cameo seen here, but the film has its supporters.

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