Quentin Durward Film Details
Overview: A Scottish knight in France to facilitate a marriage between a rich and beautiful countess and his aging uncle becomes involved in court intrigue.
Tagline: MGM presents in CINEMASCOPE and COLOR…Sir Walter Scott’s The Adventures of Quentin Durward
Review: This is a fascinating and intelligent film that is not only an exemplary model of how the classic Hollywood cinema works, but traditional storytelling in general. Although Robert Taylor’s age obscures the point, the story is that classic narrative arc, the growth of a young man into maturity. The film’s fascination lies in the tensions inherent in this development. This kind of arc is usually patterned by doubling and opposition, obstacles for the hero to overcome, a black defeated by his white. Such is the ambiguity of this story that Durward’s arc is never fully cathartic or resolved. This is an historical epic, so the oppositions are fairly familiar, the most obvious being the tension between public duty and private desire. The impoverished Durward is hired by his aged uncle to investigate the satisfactoriness of a proposed bride for a political union. Hence a private occasion – the reunion of an uncle (with the Oedipal function of father-figure to be superceded by the son) and nephew – is turned into a public one. Both are intimately connected, depend on one another, and create the grid-like pattern of the story, just as these ideals or duties create a grid around the characters’ personal feelings. It is significant that this film whose ideological site is the supercivilised realm of the aristocracy, with its codes, rituals, obligations, language – should force its lovers to proclaim their feelings in a ‘natural’ environment, a meadow-banking forest into which Isabelle has run to hide from the barbaric implications of civilised society. Durward’s development is symbolised in a number of ways, for instance through clothing – we first see him in a new outfit bought for him by an uncle embarrassed at his relative’s penury; he manages to gain entrance to the King’s boudoir by disguise; his appointment to the latter’s service involves an elaborate sequence of dressing up in armour. This increase of importance through clothing is appropriate in a society that expresses itself in ritual, and allows the King to complain of the literal discomfort of the Crown as a piece of head gear, as well as the onerous duties it symbolises. However, Durward’s increasing status, despite his noble birth, is based on simultaneous humiliation, as he has to beg for the money he subsists on, like a child awaiting pocket money. One would expect his development to involve a rejection of dependence, taking decisions in his own right, but even at the end, having saved the girl and the monarch’s neck, his future happiness and status is dependent on the politic whim of two rulers. The great irony of Durward’s development is that his progress is one of obsolesence. Repeatedly, his code of chivalry is mocked as irrelevant in a world of Machiavellian power games – further, Isabelle’s companion’s reminiscences suggest, anticipating Terry Jones in ‘Chaucer’s Knight’, that chivalry was based on the spectacle of barbarity than spurious nobility. Durward’s bravery and honesty is usually contrasted with the opportunism and unsporting thuggery of his rivals; and yet, in his use of disguise and deception, in his economy with the truth; in his spiralling of oaths that leave him trapped in a labyrinth of obligation, Durward’s so-called chivalry is undermined throughout, and heavily dependent on the quick-witted duplicity of the likes of Hayraddin. ‘Durward’ is gratifyingly intelligent for a Hollywood history film. This is not to suggest that it is very entertaining. Taylor lacks sparkle when his Scotch-with-an-American-accent isn’t preposterous; the wonderfully sparky Kay Kendell is wasted in a muted love-interest role; the less said about George Cole’s minstral act the better. The fact that Durward and his enemy look the same is probably an attempt at Freudian doubling, with de la Marck the black opposite of Durward’s supposed integrity, but the fact that they both look like Vincent Price in one of his less grave moments makes their struggle impossible to take seriously. This kind of thing is so predictable that plot must give precedence to presentation, be it the sprightly choreography of Curtiz’s ‘Adventures of Robin Hood’, or the near-absract pageant of Mann’s ‘El Cid’. Thorpe never rises above workmanlike adequacy, with little sense of colour or action – his postcard views of chateaux and the like have no resonance because they have no meaning beyond a bland attempt to please the eye. The fight scenes are muddled – although one scene with Durward whipping a leathered man carrying a red-tipped iron while Isabelle looks on clutching a ladder has an overwhelming omni-sexual charge. Robert Morley, however, is terrific as King Louis XI, a sadistic Machiavellian monster with thoroughly amiable manners.
Country: United Kingdom, United States
Duration: 103 min
Genre: Action, Adventure, History
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