Movie Review: The Sword in the Stone (1963)

Title: The Sword in the Stone
Release Date: December 25, 1963
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions

The Sword in the Stone is an animated adaptation of T.H. White’s first novel based on Arthurian Literature (his work also inspired Camelot a few years earlier).  The Disney version distills the rich and detailed novel down to a few scenes in which Merlin becomes the tutor for Wart (young Arthur) and turns him into fish, squirrel, and a sparrow to teach him lessons.  The standout scene of the movie is a hilarious wizard’s duel between Merlin and the evil Madam Mim.

As a child, I disliked this movie because it was such a poor adaptation of the novel I loved.  As an adult, I am more forgiving and can see the movie’s charm and humor.  Still, I think The Sword and the Stone is below Disney standards.  The limited animation style betrays the possibilities for the fantastical worlds of Arthurian England.  And while Wart’s voice is suitably preteen, it’s odd that he is the only character with an American actor while being voiced interchangeably by three actors.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Camelot (1982)

Title: Camelot
Release Date: September 26, 1982
Director: Marty Callner
Production Company: Home Box Office (HBO)

The revival of the Broadway musical Camelot played at the Winter Garden Theatre (just before it was infested by Cats) in 1981-1982 and this film for HBO is a taping of a live performance.  When I was a child, this was my introduction to the musical and Arthurian legend in general.  I later saw the 1967 film adaptation of Camelot which was a bit meh, and I attended a touring company performance in the 1990s.  I enjoyed that performance although it starred Robert Goulet as King Arthur which seemed a misuse of his vocal talents.

For me this 1982 version of Camelot remains the gold standard.  It stars Richard Harris as Arthur, and I’ve forever been a fan of Richard Harris since first watching this. I’m glad I was able to find it again on the library resource Hoopla. Harris brings humanity, gravitas, and humor to his role as Arthur.  Camelot reduces it’s source material (T.H. White’s The Once and Future King) down to the essential love triangle among Arthur, Guenevere, and Lancelot.  Meg Bussert and Richard Muenz perform and sing terrifically as Guenevere, and Lancelot.  I’m also delighted by Barrie Ingham’s hilarious performance as Pellinore.

If you like Camelot, or you’ve never seen Camelot, you owe it to yourself to watch this version.

Rating: *****

Movie Review: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) #atozchallenge

I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Release Date: April 3, 1975
Director: Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones
Production Company: Python (Monty) Pictures | Michael White Productions | National Film Trustee Company

King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his faithful servant Patsy (Terry Gilliam) recruit knights for the Round Table including Sir Bedevere the Wise (Terry Jones), Sir Lancelot the Brave (John Cleese), Sir Galahad the Pure (Michael Palin), and Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Sir-Lancelot (Eric Idle). They decide not to go to Camelot because it’s a silly place, but instead God (Graham Chapman) sends them on a quest to find the Holy Grail.

They have many adventures including being taunted by French soldiers, avoiding a fight with a three-headed knight, facing the peril of a castle full of young women, buying a shrubbery for the Knights Who Say “Ni!,” slaughtering a wedding party, fighting the Rabbit of Caerbannog, and crossing the bridge of death.  On the precipice of realizing the Grail quest, the surviving members of the party are arrested by the police.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

In the mid-80s my family discovered Monty Python in reverse order starting with The Meaning of Life.  I was scandalized by The Life of Brian so was not interested in watching more Python, but I walked in while my sister was watching at the Black Knight scene and was sucked into The Holy Grail. It swiftly became my favorite Monty Python movie.  When I was a freshman in high school, our history teacher showed the movie in class to give us the “feel” of the middle ages. We only watched part of the movie, but after school a friend and I snuck in and watched the rest of the movie.  Later, I had my VHS recording of the movie and went through a phase where I watched it every day after school.  It is likely that I’ve watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail more times than any other movie, although Ghostbusters and It’s a Wonderful Life are strong contenders.

What Did I Remember?:

I’m pretty close to having this movie memorized.

What Did I Forget?:

Minuscule details about swallows.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

This is a movie made by highly educated people who did their research on life in the Middle Ages and English folklore.  My history teacher was right about the movie having the “feel” of the Middle Ages even if everything happening is silly. The movie overs a satire of Medieval romance, militarism, religion, political identity, musical theater, and the seriousness of academia.  It also has a knight who keeps fighting when all his limbs are cut off, Knights Who Say “Ni!,” and a killer rabbit. The balance of satire and pure silliness is suburb.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

I confess that I think movie fizzles out after they cross the Bridge of Death.  I get what they were doing with the police showing, but it just never was all that funny.

Is the Castle Anthrax sequence sexist?  It’s certainly creepy that the occupants are aged “16 to 19 1/2.”  It’s funny that the version I streamed for this review includes a scene originally cut from the movie where Carol Cleveland breaks the fourth wall to exclaim how much fun she is having.  It’s almost as if it was reinserted to address the problematic elements of this sequence.

Is It a Classic?:

A definite classic, and a top-10 all-time comedy.

Rating: *****

Ten more all-time favorite movies starting with M:

  1. The Madness of King George (1994)
  2. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
  3. Mary Poppins (1964)
  4. Modern Times (1936)
  5. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
  6. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
  7. The Muppet Movie (1979)
  8. Murder By Death (1976)
  9. My Cousin Vinny (1992)
  10. My Fair Lady (1964)

What is your favorite movie starting with M? What is your guess for my movie starting with N (Hint: it features the debut movie performance of one of America’s most beloved performers)?  Let me know in the comments.

Book Review: The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White

Author: T.H. White
TitleThe Sword in the Stone
Narrator: Neville Jason
Publication Info: Naxos AudioBooks (2008), originally published in 1938

Summary/Review: For a long holiday road trip with my son, I thought he’d enjoy this introduction to Arthurian mythology.  I did it with some hesitation, as The Once and Future King was one of my favorite books as a child and I feared it may not hold up to nostalgia.  I’m pleased though that this first installment of the tetralogy is still an enjoyable, modernist spin on the story of King Arthur, filling in the story of Arthur’s childhood. Of course, I always thought the The Sword in the Stone was the best of the four parts.  One thing I didn’t know is that White actually made major changes when he incorporated The Sword in the Stone into The Once and Future King, and while I can’t really remember enough to recognize most of the changes I was surprised that Disney didn’t actually make up the duel between Merlyn and Madame Mim.  Another thing I didn’t notice is a kid was just how blatant the anachronisms are, with Meryln living backwards in time making them a running gag.  Knowing how much White loved hunting, I also noticed that he puts a lot of detail into his descriptions of hunts throughout the book, something I must have glazed over as a child.  What remains the same is that the book contains a lot of humor, adventure, animal lore, a cameo by Robin Hood (er, Robin Wood), and surreptitious pacifist social satire.  And my son, well he covered his ears a lot during the scary party, but insisted we keep listening to the story and that we move on to The Witch in the Wood next.

Recommended BooksThe Dragon Stone: A Tale of King Arthur, Merlin & Cabal by John Conlee, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, and The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
Rating: ****1/2