DVD Review: The Scarlet Blade
Available on DVD from Monday January 16th, 2012.
Courtesy of Optimum Releasing, two particularly rare titles from Hammer make their long overdue appearance on DVD this January. The studio is best remembered for its horror output (including the Dracula series featuring Christopher Lee and the Frankenstein series with Peter Cushing) but plenty of other genres also got the Hammer treatment down the years.
The Brigand Of Kandahar and The Scarlet Blade are a pair of historical swashbucklers from one of the studio’s regular directors, John Gilling. Brigand has often been regarded as the most hard-to-find post-war Hammer film of them all (until now), while Scarlet is almost equally rare, having previously never had a video or DVD release in this country. Both films make an unexpected splash on the DVD market as of January 16th 2012.
Easily the better of the two is The Scarlet Blade. There have been comparatively few movies set during the English Civil War, the most lavish and comprehensive of the pick being the 1970 epic Cromwell, with Richard Harris ranting and roaring his way through the title role. This 1963 Hammer offering is a much more small-scale swashbuckler, but nevertheless, is a brisk and lively film which never taxes the patience.
More interestingly, it features an early appearance from the brooding Oliver Reed, perfectly cast as a tough but charming villain. Reed would go on to die 36 years later during one of his countless drinking binges, his death marking a sad but inevitable loss to the acting profession. It’s always pleasant to look back at his early work and remind ourselves what a fine actor he was, especially before years of alcohol abuse took its toll on his features and figure.
In fact, roguish Reed’s baddie is much more interesting in this film than the good guys portrayed by June Thorburn and Jack Hedley…. that, coupled with the fact that the other main bad guy – played by Lionel Jeffries – is also far more charismatic than the dreary heroes, is probably the film’s principal drawback!
Cromwellian soldiers, Colonel Judd (Lionel Jeffries) and Captain Sylvester (Oliver Reed) capture King Charles of England (Robert Rietty). Judd has a beautiful young daughter named Claire (June Thorburn). Little does the Colonel know that his daughter is actually a Royalist spy, totally opposed to her father’s political sympathies.
While Claire is seemingly intended for an eventual marriage to the handsome but ruthless Sylvester, the reality of the matter is that she is very much in love with Cavalier adventurer Edward Beverley (Jack Hedley). Edward and Claire realise that they must gather the sparse Royalist supporters together in their struggle to rescue the king.
The Scarlet Blade is pleasing enough whilst on, but soon forgotten afterwards. It presents a typically romanticised view of history, portraying the Cavaliers as whiter-than-white heroes and the Roundheads as tyrannical baddies with few – if any – likable qualities.
The film ends on a surprisingly sour note, much more downbeat and affecting than expected and this decision should be applauded. Improbable happy endings are incredibly common in most movies, so it’s refreshing to come across a film like this where tragedy exists and things don’t work themselves out perfectly.
On a less positive note, the performances are generally wooden and unconvincing (only Jeffries and Reed escape this criticism). Much of the dialogue is unconvincing too but this has more to do with the film’s innocent, old-fashioned charm than anything else and actually provides some unintended pleasures.
The Scarlet Blade is not a lost classic but neither is it an inferior waste of time. It is brisk, lively and perfectly watchable, a period adventure flick that passes the time very agreeably indeed – if you’re in the right frame of mind.
What’s more, the fact that a DVD company has seen fit to release such an old and generally forgotten title is a very encouraging sign indeed – let’s hope that more long lost obscurities get dusted down during 2012!
FMV Rating: ***