First up in Neko-chan’s new “Lil’ Kitten Classics” reviews, is the MGM/ UA Fantasy Adventure film “The Magic Sword” from waaaay back in 1962. I fondly remember first seeing this on a Saturday morning during my “Sword & Sorcery/ Fairy Tale” movie phase.
It’s a simple film from a far simpler time, and the synopsis I found reads: “In this fun-filled adventure-fantasy, a rookie knight embarks upon a valiant quest to save a princess who has been captured by a malicious magician. Along the way he must battle the usual assortment of dragons, ogres and other mythical beings. He is assisted by a good witch who gives him a magic sword. Unfortunately, the magic fails and suddenly he must find his own magic from within.”~ Sandra Brennan, All Movie Guide
Mind you… this is a film that was originally targeted for children, much the very same as this lil’ girl was when I first saw it that Saturday morning all those years ago. So if you are expecting the sword slashing savage action of “Conan the Barbarian” or the mystical special effects and epic story of “Lord of the Rings” you are going to be sadly out of luck. However, if you, too, saw this one as a kid, then you’ll be hard pressed not to remember it as a fun film, even after all these years…..
But…. the big question is, does it have enough nostalgic kitsch and quaint goofiness to still hold up after all these years? I guess you’ll just have to “Read On” to find out…..
We start our film as our hero George (played by Gary Lockwood) spends his days pining away for the love of the beautiful Princess Helene (Ann Helm from another genre classic “Nightmare In Wax”) and spying on her through the magic of his foster mother’s mystic pool. His mother, Sybil (played with her best “Bewitched” impression of Endora by Estelle Winwood) , is a witch…. a real honest to goodness spellcasting, cauldron stirring witch right out of Macbeth. Why she wanted to raise an orphaned princeling as her son is never quite explained… but since she lives alone in a dank cellar lair out in the haunted woods with only a chimpanzee and a two headed butler for company, maybe it’s not too much of a stretch to understand her need for an outlet for her motherly love.
George is a strapping young lad… and he’s at that age where spending time peeping at lovely young princesses as they skinny dip can only lead to one thing. When he spots Helene being magically abducted by a sultry minion of the sorcerer Lodac (played by genre giant, Basil Rathbone) naturally he’s all fired up to finally leave the woods, the mystic protection of his mother, and go to Helene’s rescue! Unfortunately…. Sybil is in no mood to let her precious boy go up against an evil sorcerer of Lodac’s quality. Besides… he shows her how her father, the King, has everything under control. He’s all ready to send Sir Branton (played by Liam Sullivan), his best Knight, on a secret mission to singlehandedly defeat the evil threat of Lodac’s “Seven Curses” and save Helene. Ummmm? Say what? Sybil really thinks George can be swayed by the argument that some other guy will handle things and “get the girl”? Nope… just not gonna happen….
So she tries to distract him by showing him the nifty magic items she just been saving for when he finally “becomes a man”…(guess the peeping hobby wasn’t clue enough that he had already reached that stage, eh? Hehehehe!!). We start off with a magical war horsey named Beyhar, whom Sybil claims is the fastest horse in the world…. Then it’s on to a nifty set of impenetrable armor….. proof against any weapon made. Finally, the mystical sword Ascalon, capable of defeating all Black Magic and opening any locked door!! Ummm? Wait a minute, Neko-chan? Isn’t this just the sort of stuff a smitten young man might need to save a kidnapped princess? Apparently Sybil doesn’t make the connection, and ends up getting locked in a secret vault so George can “borrow” his gifts early and set out on his quest. Ooops! Sorry, Mom!!!
As he leaves, he runs across a final piece of dumb luck, 6 frozen Knights that he accidentally wakes up with Ascalon and despite the weirdness and improbability of it all, they all immediately pledge themselves to George and his quest. (Ah well… don’t worry about such plot contrivances… they didn’t bother Neko when she was a wee girl, and they dont bother her now…. we just gotta accept the idea & roll with it!) Luckily these guys, Sir Dennis of France (played by Jacques Gallo), Sir Pedro of Spain (played by David Cross), Sir Ulrich of Germany (played by Leroy Johnson), Sir Anthony of Italy (played by Taldo Kenyon), Sir James of Scotland (played by Angus Duncan), and Sir Patrick of Ireland (played by John Mauldin), don’t seem to be too upset at having been frozen…. (or that Sybil hadn’t unfrozen them) and the whole “International League of Justice Knights” just seem happy to get in on the action…. (Boy… are these guys gullible or what? Can you just say “free cannon fodder”… or in this case “monster chow”…)
Anyway… they ride like the dickins to get to the palace in time for George to get himself and the gang added to the rescue mission…. despite the protests of Sir Branton…( Yeah, yeah… he’s secretly a bad guy working in league with the evil Lodac…. as if it’s THAT hard to figure out…). They set out and within five minutes or so the run into the first of Lodac’s “Curses”… a big old ogre who looks like the bastard love child of Quasimodo and Chewbacca and who promptly squooshes two of our brave knights in a deadly battle against his rear projected scariness. (Yep… “cannon fodder”… See, Neko told ya so!!!) George is upset, but neither he nor his companions are willing to turn back, despite Sir Branton’s advice that they do so before even more of their brave number meet other horrible fates.
Meanwhile, we learn that Princess Helene has some real trouble in Lodac’s creepy castle. Seems Lodac doesn’t plan on ransoming her at all…. and he isn’t the sort to ravish nubile virgin princesses either…. he’s got this big ol’ dragon you see, and it’s on a fairly strict low fat diet of princesses. D’oh!!! Luckily Lodac seems to have lots of princesses he can abduct for this…. and he feeds it two of them just to give Helene a private cell to call her own. Oh…. and since he’s ever so evil, naturally he uses his magic to show her a vision of the brave knights… George included… on their way to her rescue. Helene really perks up here, as she hadn’t even known any cute guys were looking for her. Also… it’s handy for later, since up till now, Helene hadn’t even heard of George… and that would have been a sticky things later when he shows up to profess his love for her. Ahhhhh, young, improbable fairytale love!! Don’tcha just feel it?
We move right along… and the quest continues as more of George’s valiant knights get killed by all sorts of nasty magical things and cheesy special effects…. there are misty haunted swamps filled with deadly pools of acid, a crazy flaming microwave thingee that cooks you alive if you look at it, a hidden cavern full of soul eating ghosts, and my personal favorite… the shapeshifting seductress hag that lures men to their doom…. (the French guy, of course… Hehehehe!!) It doesn’t help that Sybil breaks out of the secret vault just in time to help George…. naturally by screwing up her mystic ceremony and dispelling all his magic toys…. D’ohh, again!!
Eventually, even without them, George reaches the castle…. he has to you see, he’s completely out of knights by now, and yes…. he stupidly falls for the old “shapeshifting hag disguised as the real princess” trick. Sir Branton tries to trade the magic ring he stole from Lodac for Helene…. and then HE promptly falls for the same trick….. stupid, stupid villain, Seems it was the only thing protecting him from Lodac’s revenge…. Anyway… George gets tied up and hauled away and Lodac brings the real Helene by his lonely cell just to rub his face in it all. We get our standard romantic movie scene as Helene and George see each other, make the romantic goo-goo eyes that made lil’ Neko go all “Eeuuwhh, gross!!” way back when, and then Lodac drags her off for Dragon din-din time. But, don’t worry, all is not lost!!!
Sybil has decided to magically teleport herself to Lodac’s castle and confront him herself… even though it’s probably a stupid thing to do…. A cage full of tiny, tiny people escape from Lodac’s minions and then find Ascalon so they can cut George free. Yes… things are speeding up, but then this film only runs about 75 minutes so they better hurry…. hehehehe!! It’s Dragon slaying time… and we get to see the biggest budget item of the movie… the ferocious giant two headed puppet dragon and it’s flamethrower breath!! Really!!… While goofy and fake looking by today’s standards, as a kid, I remember this big ol’ critter was pretty impressive. Anyway… Sybil remembers the proper spell to give George back Ascalon’s power just in time to put the proper whuppin’ on mister dragon, pickpockets the ring away from Lodac and then turns into a big black panther in time to go all feral on his butt. Yay!!
We end this lil’ epic back at the castle, where Sir George and Princess Helene get married to rule the kingdom together, and even the dead knights come back from the great beyond thanks to the new magical powers Sybil has with Lodac’s ring. All ends happily ever after…. just like you thought it should.
So…. all in all, how does “The Magic Sword” hold up now that I’ve seen it through the eyes of a grown up Catgirl and not with the memories of an impressionable wee kitten? Well… put quite simply it’s an atrocious film…. with a terribly simple plot that has enough holes in both logic and continuity that are big enough to fit that giant puppet dragon through. It’s a pale imitation of another similarly themed low budget “epic” “Jack the Giant Killer” from 1961 (which Lil’ Neko also saw waaaay back then….) and the film that inspired that one, the vastly superior classic “Seventh Voyage of Sinbad”. Neither of them reached that level of filmaking but at least they were… for the time…. charming in their very crudeness. I wouldn’t want to pay big money for this one… but luckily I found the Canadian DVD release for it in the bargain bin for a delightfully reasonable 3$ US.
Given that… Neko gives “The Magic Sword” a nostalgia boosted 2 “Meows” out of 5. It’s just not a good film… but hey, the price is right, the memories of youth are precious, and it’s far from being the absolutely worst film I ever watched….. and the lil’ kittens out there would probably be as entranced by it even today as lil’ Neko-chan was back then….
And as I wasn’t able to find a Trailer online yet, I’ll have to get back to you all once I find one.
Till then, “Meow, meow for now!!”