Tuesday, November 20, 2012


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

In my review of Stephen Weeks' 1984 SWORD OF THE VALIANT-- which is essentially a remake of this 1973 flick-- I wrote:

IMDB informs me that SWORD's director Stephen Weeks had already made a film version of the medieval British tale "Gawain and the Green Knight," which I don't believe I've seen. It surely must be better than this phlegmatic tale of "when knighthood was in the toilet." 
Now that I've seen the earlier film, I rate its use of mythic symbolism as "fair" for one reason: it doesn't have those meaningless riddles voiced in the 1984 film, which supposedly guide heroic Gawain to his next meeting with the Green Knight.  In place of the riddle-schtick, in this film Weeks pays a little more attention to structuring the film around the passing of the seasons as Gawain spends a year in search of the Knight.  This isn't very deep symbolism, though, any more than Weeks' conception of the Knight as a vegetative spirit.  I wrote of SWORD:

The only time Weeks treats any element of his fantasy-world as having a symbolic value is at the end, when Gawain meets the Green Knight again, escapes beheading and slays the Knight, who implies that he is some sort of vegetable spirit, who rises only to be felled again. But this "value" sounds cribbed from some grad student's paper on Frazer's GOLDEN BOUGH, and has no spirit of its own.
The 1973 GAWAIN isn't much better in terms of its myth-symbolism, aside from the focus on the passing of the seasons. 

Weeks plays fast and loose with the sexual aspects of the original GAWAIN poem, in which wandering Gawain finds his way to the castle of a Sir Bertilak. Bertilak's queen attempts to secretly seduce Gawain and fails, though at the story's conclusion it's revealed that it was all a test; that Bertikak is the Green Knight, who spares Gawain's head, and the queen is Morgan Le Fay, merely pretending at seduction.

From this, possibly cribbing from assorted other knight-tales, Weeks puts forth a sequence in which (a) the wandering Gawain kills a hostile Black Knight, (b) the Black Knight's queen tries to make Gawain marry her, and (c) the queen's handmaid Linet, a more age-appropriate lady, saves Gawain from this Fate Worse Than Death, using a sorcerous invisibility ring.  Later Linet does copy one action of the queen from the archaic poem, giving Gawain a magic sash to protect him from the Green Knight's axe.  But Weeks evinces zero curiosity as to why Linet happens to be such a mistress of sorcery.  I did find myself wondering if Weeks' scenario-- in which Gawain is threatened with marriage to a crone but is saved by a beautiful young woman-- might have been Weeks' response to another famous Gawain-story, "Gawain and the Loathly Lady."  But this may be giving the writer-director too much credit, since he doesn't manage to put across any of the original story's complex sexual politics.

Though lead actor Murray Head isn't as bad an actor as Miles O'Keeffe in SWORD, he's still just as pedestrian as Weeks' script and direction.   About the only thing SWORD does better is the casting of the Green Knight, for Nigel Green delivers a flat performance, while Sean Connery provides the best scene in the more lacklustre SWORD.

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