Distant is right, you need binoculars to get close to some of the action in this early 'Scope extravaganza, particularly in its latter half. Derived from a somewhat scholarly comic-strip it promises fun and thrills but is hampered by plodding direction and a general lack of pizzazz though Franz Waxman's score does its damnedest,trumpets to the fore,to suggest flourish, bounce and sparkle. Robert Wagner makes a stolid protagonist as the Viking prince seeking asylum with King Arthur after his father's Christian kingdom is taken over by pagan rebels. Valiant finds friends, romance and secret foes at court - Sir Gawain (Sterling Hayden) begins mentoring him for possible knighthood, Princess Aleta (Janet Leigh) captures his heart but not fully his confidence and the silky-smooth Sir Brack (James Mason), Arthur's illegitimate cousin, schemes to seize the throne with the aid of said pagan rebels. Brack succeeds in delivering Valiant into the hands of his enemies who imprison him with his parents in their castle on the coast. Spearheading a fightback Val slays the pagan leader and returns to Camelot to denounce and challenge Brack in personal combat..
With its all-American guys and gals and polished Brit support it plays like a cross between IVANHOE and one of those high-school football movies where the young hothead and the veteran jock or coach bruise and banter, fall in love with the same girl and sub for each other on the day of the big game though the tournament-scene here with its last-minute replacements is so draggingly handled you feel like impaling someone yourself. The action set-piece against the pagans is a confused if not incoherent milling of bad-guys and loyalists shot from about half-a-mile away so you can't tell one side from another and in almost impenetrable darkness which makes you care even less. It's spiked however by a timely reference to the HUAC hearings in Washington when Valiant refuses to "name names" to his inquisitors. Though Sir Gawain doesn't figure in these scenes Hayden himself, in real life, did just that thing to save his career. The final set-to in Camelot, protocol hurriedly abandoned as broadswords clash and clang around and about the Round Table, is certainly a gripping piece of thud-and-blunder and when it's over Valiant gets his knighthood.
Mason,top-billed,provides the class, hovering discreetly till it's time to reveal his intentions, not too much of a surprise and hardly among his more distinguished roles while Hayden, moustachioed, provides genial muscle and a line "Sire, he crowned me with a rock," when describing to the court his first accidental encounter with Valiant which catches the mix of idioms beautifully and it's a pity the script didn't carry more of them. Brian Aherne as Arthur, Donald Crisp as Val's dad and Victor McLaglen as a loyal Viking are wasted in glorified bit-parts but Barry Jones is amusing as Aleta's father, struggling to marry off his picky child to a socially-appropriate partner. Gawain is initially smitten with her himself leading to a misunderstanding by Val but while she's away being penned-up by the pagans turns to her shy sister Ilene (Debra Paget). The right guys end up with the right gals, Valiant wins his pennant and Fox, no doubt, pleased the fans.