The Crusades (1935)

I’m not sure if this or Cleopatra was uncle Cecil’s first Production Code-era film; either way it’s certainly toned down some from The Sign of the Cross, which we saw earlier… this time it’s another tale from Christian history, i.e. the third crusade; the film’s IMDB entry concisely describes this period as having been “given the DeMille treatment with more spectacle than history”. My medieval history is fairly poor, but a quick examination of Wikipedia revealed how distorted the history is here; indeed, it’s almost like DeMille decided historical accuracy be damned, there was potential to reduce one of the less attractive events of European/Middle Eastern relations to a backdrop for a romantic comedy of a fairly bleak sort. For the first hour or so, that’s arguably what we get, too; Richard joins the crusade to escape marrying the French king’s sister, while en route to the main event he’s forced into a marriage of convenience with the king of Navarre’s daughter Berengaria, and what ensues is a classic case of an initially not terribly happy couple slowly realising they do love each other after all, with Saladin coming in like the rival suitor. Apart from having bugger all to do with the historical events (and there are more such inventions to be found in the film), this kind of sits ill with the rest of the narrative, which, if you’d forgotten amidst the romance, is all to do with the Christian world at war with the Muslim world. Ultimately, though, there’s another sense in which the story is really about the humbling of Richard Coeur de Lion; Henry Wilcoxon plays him as a fairly complicated, far from straightforwardly heroic and not always easily read figure, the nature of whose actual religious faith is somewhat obscure here. What we effectively get is a man who joins the crusade to escape an obligation, then finds love, and somewhere along the way seems to also find the god that motivates the men serving under him. Interesting to see Joseph Schildkraut playing the Judas figure again; interesting too to see the film ascribe some degree of honour to Saladin, the enemy figure, by showing him refusing the latter’s assassination offer. Not a film I’d return to often, I suppose, but it’s released through the same budget label what released Sign of the Cross, and for only five dollars this time. If the film’s not a masterpiece, I certainly can’t bitch about the price…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s