Merlin & the Sword,
a.k.a. Arthur the King

directed by Clive Donner
(Vestron, 1985)

This is really sad. Unable to find a copy to rent and always willing to give Arthurian movies a chance, I actually spent money on this one. But there's little or anything in Merlin & the Sword to merit the expense, to say nothing of the time I spent watching it. Yes, it's that bad.

While it's likely this ranks among the all-time worst Arthurian films, the entire cast approaches this B-movie tripe as if it were high drama.

It begins with a simpering Dyan Cannon as Katherine, an American tourist too smug in her own fantasies to listen to her tourguide's words as she wanders off to explore Stonehenge. She falls through a hole and lands in a hidden cave with Merlin (Edward Woodward) and Niniane (Lucy Gutteridge), who have been trapped there for centuries and have apparently never bothered to talk about the events preceding their imprisonment. But their visitor gets them gabbing, and soon Merlin is recounting the glory days of Camelot when Arthur (Malcolm McDowell) and Guinevere (Rosalyn Landor) ruled the kingdom.

Instead of his usual foes, the Saxons, this movie pits Arthur against barbarian Picts, led by a grimy, gutteral Liam Neeson, and the anachronistic Vikings -- perhaps because they found a spare horned helmet in the prop room. Oh, and let's not forget the zombie knight, a pathetic "special effect" that was intended, no doubt, to be scary.

There's plenty of fighting, but this is the worst fight choreography I can recall seeing -- ever. I mean, it's really bad. So, too, is the rest of the cast.

Rupert Everett's Lancelot is gawky and pointless, unworthy even of the big rubber dragon he must slay. At least Gawain (Patrick Ryecart) shows some charisma and wit, but his silly subplot takes him to a castle inhabited by a Transylvanian abbess, three very arrogant princesses and a pig-faced girl with a curse (Ann Thornton).

Candice Bergen plays a two-dimensional Morgan Le Fay, who plots Arthur's downfall in a big orange fright wig. Joseph Blatchley's Mordred is a sniveling fool, and his massive armies are reduced by this version to a lone dagger in a dark room.

If I haven't been clear, I'll be plainer still: Avoid this one. There's a reason this movie was filmed in 1982 and held for three years before its television release. It's bad. Bad. Very, very bad.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 8 July 2001