Medieval blacksmith John is the most skilled swordmaker in all the land and highly respected by his lord and master, that is until a minor indiscretion with an Earl's daughter results in his services becoming surplus to requirements. This is just the first step in a change in his fortunes that will see him embroiled in a dastardly scheme to usurp none other than King Arthur. Can the heroic John restore both his reputation and peace to the green and pleasant land of merry old England, winning the heart of a fair maiden along the way?
Historical accuracy is thrown out the window in this rather forgettable nonsense that blends elements of Arthurian legend, Zorro and numerous other clichés of historical adventure films. Alan Ladd, a year on from his iconic lead role in the classic Western Shane, is miscast as the hero John who adopts the guise of the Black Knight in order to right wrongs and save damsels. He gives a decidedly wooden performance and makes for a rather bland hero. Although he isn’t required to do much acting, simply riding around from place to place with a rather blank expression on his face as he gets involved in duels and rescue missions. Peter Cushing hams it up as the villain of the piece, the nefarious Saracen knight Sir Palamides, and his panto style performance is symptomatic of the rest of the cast.
There is a distinctly leisurely pace to the film, and despite its short running time there is no real tension to the plot. This is made more apparent by the fact that John is given a set time limit to prove his accusations involving one of King Arthur’s knights and an alleged Viking attack, failure will result in his death. Something that is forgotten about as the plot meanders on to its rather flat conclusion. The sword fights are perfunctory and most of the action scenes unimaginative, with the various duels by sword or lance never more than okay. The film’s big set piece lifts proceedings; a rescue mission set at Stonehenge involving druids, dancing girls, monks in cages and Saracens disguised as Vikings. The film could have benefited from more imaginative touches like this.
The Black Knight is a pretty standard by the numbers movie and feels as if it has been cobbled together from numerous scenes and ideas plundered from better films rather than any historical textbooks. But who looks to the silver screen for historical accuracy? Having said that at the very least you’ll finally discover why Stonehenge is now in such a dilapidated state.