Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Magic Sword (1962)

American director Bert I. Gordon cornered the market when it came to giant creations, whether man, monster, or animal. This includes such titles as The Amazing Colossal Man, Earth vs. the Spider, Food of the Gods, etc. But he did occasionally branch out onto other projects, including 1962 fantasy effort The Magic Sword...

George is a lovestruck young man, watching the princess Helene from afar, while living with his magical foster mother Sybil. One day he witnesses the princesses' kidnap by the evil sorcerer Lodac, and is determined to go out and rescue her. Sybil is unwilling to endanger her son's life, but George tricks her and takes a few magical items to help him, including six foreign knights of times past. The band face many dangers, but there's no stopping their quest to save Princess Helene...

The Magic Sword is a cheesy but thoroughly enjoyable fantasy picture. It's simple in the best way, and gathers together many quintessential fantasy elements and tropes. We have the young man embarking on a dangerous quest, making allies and enemies along the way as he journeys to save his love from an evil sorcerer. These are are all told in a good way, that feels traditional, and never badly cliched.

Where The Magic Sword does run into problems is in two departments. First is the tone. This is a fairly lighthearted movie for the most part, but some moments get unexpectedly dark, like the fate of the two princesses! I kept expecting them to be saved somehow, or for it to be a misdirect, like they were secretly shrunk, and it only looked like a dragon ate them to scare the main girl. But nope! They're dragon chow.

The other issue is a mix of that, and a bloated cast. There are a lot of characters, so understandably the 6 knights aren't the deepest. But the movie also feels the need to kill one off in just about every scene! Yeah, it frees up the cast, so they have a bit of wiggle room, and the audience gets less confused, but you really have grave doubts about this merry band when they've got such a high mortality rate! I mean, come on, =, these are magical knights, you're supposed to take care of them! Luckily they do all get a happy ending,

Gary Lockwood is a decent enough lead, carrying the brunt of the movie well, while Anne Helm is nice in her relatively short screentime. Basil Rathbone is a great villain. You'd never know he was the heroic Sherlock Holmes as he intones with his evil booming voice. Horror host Vampira (Maila Nurmi) has a memorable though unrecognizable role as the old hag. Estelle Winwood is a delight too as the forgetful and dotty but caring Sybil. Liam Sullivan is suitably shifty as the treacherous Sir Branton. The Bon Tempi twins are a fun addition as the magic Siamese twins. And lastly, the 6 knights all do fine jobs, even if their accents are amusingly spotty.

The effects in a movie like The Magic Sword is an important part, as a fantasy movie that looks cheap or unconvincing can be a death knell. Thankfully this does not disapoint. We've got two-headed twins, ogres, wicked old witches, ghosts, and other varied dangers. As can be expected from a Bert I. Gordon film, there is still a giant monster here, in the form of the dragon that George must face in the final battle. It's a fantastic design, that moves convincingly, and interacts well with the actors and environment.

This is a good looking movie overall. The sets for the medieval castles and hovels all look neat, and the natural scenery is always pleasing to the eye too. There are spookier locations, like a misty swamp. The whole production may not have had the biggest budget, but it uses it well.

Little problems aside, The Magic Sword is a great time! A rousing, slightly dark but family friendly fantasy romp, that's sure to entertain. Perhaps Bert I. Gordon's best film, it makes me wish he'd tackled fantasy more often...

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