on 16 July 2005
The film was based on a play - The lovers and in parts of the film it shows, but the story paints a pageant of the 11th century and shows that the Christian relgion was still fighting the old Gods of the North in Europe (up to the 14th Century). After a first encounter between the Norman retinue of Chrysagon De Lacrue and Frisian (Norse) raiders, the film concentrates on the love story, which develops and shows the "Right (Droit)of the Seigneur" - a legalised rape that remained in Europe into the 14th century. Unfortunately, Rosemary Forsyth lacks either the acting experience, or personality to make Chrysagons betrayal of everything he has striven for with his sword for over 20 years, seem plausible. As his brother comments, "Why don't you just sleep with her?" Captured in the battle is a young boy who turns out to be the son of the chieftan who impoverished Chrysagon's father and by doing so made paupers of him and his brother Draco - by charging an extortionate ransom for their captured father. All fairs well at first, until Chrysagon claims the 'right of Droit Seigneur' and beds the village girl he is taken with on her wedding night. In the morning he cannot give her back and the villagers go to the Frisian chief with the news that the boy lives. It is sad that the film does not show that the Friesans and the villages share the same religion and relatives as the play did.
At this point the film suddenly changes pace, with the love making of Chrysagon and his serf "Lady" being literally interrupted by the first Frisian attack on the stone tower housing the Normans. The screen is ablaze with action as arrows fly, swords and axes swing and the Normans exert super-human effort to avoid being over run by hordes of barbarians. In short order we have a night attack to disable the draw bridge, a battering ram, the burning of the gate and a massive siege tower. The film carries on to a totally unexpected tragedy. Well worth watching if you like action films. Surprisingly, the whole thing was filmed in Hollywood, but it looks and feels like Belgium and the Normans look real and so does their tower. If you like period films that strive to be historically correct and exciting then this is a must.
A flop on its initial release and rarely revived since, The War Lord is one of the most interesting Sixties historical pictures. Dealing with the doomed love affair of a Norman knight and one of his vassals, Charlton Heston spent several years trying to get the picture into production (even approaching such unlikely potential directors as David Lean, Laurence Olivier, Carol Reed and Peter Ustinov) only to see it hacked down to two hours from final choice Franklin J. Schaffner's 171-minute rough cut to make it more of an action picture and highlight the siege finale.
There are obvious holes in the narrative, which may or may not be due to the cutting: it is never made clear why the dwarf turns against Chrysagon, while Rosemary Forsyth disappears for much of the last third of the picture while the battles rage. Budgetary limitations also make themselves felt in the unconvincing back projection. Similarly, while he maintains an imposing physical presence, Richard Boone gives the impression of having walked onto the wrong set by mistake every time he opens his mouth, but the rest of the cast fit their roles well, although the clash of accents makes itself felt on more than one occasion (Niall MacGinnis' Shire tones are wildly at odds with 'son' James Farentino's American, but thankfully no-one attempts a French accent). Yet these can forgiven in light of many of the film's achievements.
Although by no means at his best, Heston gradually impresses as the pauper knight who loses what he has fought his whole life to regain, ending his family line in the process over the only thing he has ever wanted for himself. Heston is well countered by Guy Stockwell, who mostly manages to prevent his role as his discontented brother spill over into cardboard villainy, while Joe Canutt's action scenes are well-staged.
Jerome Moross' superb, vividly romantic score is one of the best of the Sixties and the visual design of the film is particularly impressive and intriguing. Not only do his Scope compositions make the most of the Norman arches of the castle keep to contain the drama, but Schaffner imaginatively separates the lovers by foreground obstacles - a tree, a beam -in the early scenes, while in a later scene, as the war lord foregoes duty for love Heston is reduced to a silhouette, a shadow of his former authority and nobless oblige, while Forsyth remains perfectly lit.
The DVD transfer is not entirely satisfying but acceptable, though the only extra is the rather confused theatrical trailer that only highlights Universal's indecision over how to sell it, or indeed on what they were selling - even Heston's narration of it is uncertain of what kind of picture he's pitching.
While a full restoration is at best unlikely, with its for the most part successful attempt to recreate a past world largely ignored by Hollywood (though one of the film's central plot devices was reused in Braveheart) the film retains an uncommon flavour and texture of its own that separates it from its contemporaries. It may not be the masterpiece it wants to be, but The War Lord is an admirable and unique piece of work.
on 14 March 2014
In 11th century Medieval Europe, a Duke sends his trusted knight (Charlton Heston) to a small Druid village to protect it from Frisian invaders led by their Prince (Henry Wilcoxon). But it is at this village where the knight meets his downfall, not by Frisian soldiers but a young village girl (Rosemary Forsyth) who captures his fancy then his heart. Based on an unsuccessful play THE LOVERS by Leslie Stevens, Franklin J. Schaffner's (PATTON) film is essentially an intimate love story trimmed with movie epic pretensions. Unfortunately these elements seem to be fighting each other rather than meshing together. It doesn't help that the supposed 11th century European topography is clearly Southern California. It doesn't have the look or feel of an Epic and it's not just the obviousness of the Universal backlot. Its scale just seems small and that wizard of the camera Russell Metty (SPARTACUS) can't do much to punch it up especially when required to use rear projections. Heston provides the necessary gravitas material like this requires but he's playing with a second string cast of mostly Universal contract players like Forsyth, Guy Stockwell and James Farentino who don't measure up. With Richard Boone, Maurice Evans and Niall MacGinnis.
The Eureka DVD sports a handsome anamorphic wide screen (2.35) transfer.
It was nice to see this rather neglected film so positively reviewed recently in the Daily telegraph, just prior to an airing on Sky movies classics. It has long been a history favourite of mine. It is very unlike so many other Charlton Heston costume dramas. I think particularly of those admirable Hollywood epics "Ben Hur" and "El Cid". This is a more intimate and well crafted epic in my opinion, and made a big impression on me when I first viewed it many years ago. Up until this film Hollywood had glamorized the feudal period out of all recognition. "The Vikings" was immense fun but Tony Curtis with his distinct Bronx accent struck a rather discordant note. The anachronistic castle used in the film did not help its street cred with nuts and bolts historians. Errol Flynn's earlier paen to the extravagent glories of Hollywood "The Adventures of Robin Hood", was impossibly romantic hokum. Glorious hokum it must be added! But "The War Lord" was the first such film to really satisfy the historian and those cinema goers wishing to see a well crafted film.
In the film Heston plays a knight who defends a village on the marshy coast of 11th century Normandy. He comes up against the bloodthirsty Frisian indvaders who set siege to his castle in a bloody encounter. There are also problems with the villagers when Heston decides to excercise his ancient right of droit de seigneur (or right to bed) on a very pretty local girl. To the victor go the spoils, or do they? The pretty girl in question does not look like your average medieval peasant girl it must be said.
The film accurately depicts the period as a dirty, brutal, poverty stricken time. It is a good study of the social stratification imposed by feudalism, that some might argue lingers to this day. The screenplay which was co written by British born John Collier is refreshingly erudite and perceptive. Collier was better known for his work on "Alfred Hitchcock Presents". The fighting is well staged and particularly impressive was the siege scene, where the tactics and brutality of this method of warfare are graphically presented. The efforts to achieve historical accuracy are clearly evident here. California substitutes rather well for feudal Europe and Charlton Heston has never been better in the lead role, playing an innately decent man struggling with his demons to fine effect. But it is that magnificent and much under rated American actor Richard Boone who steals the acting honours as Heston's sullen and dutiful bodyguard Bors. He looks and acts every inch the world weary, battle scarred veteran campaigner he plays.
The film has dated well and is still superior to many of the costume dramas made today. "Troy" and "300" were entertaining enough, but lightweight in comparison to the consummate craftsmanship of this film. It is also much better than the vastly overrated and overblown "Braveheart". In fact I struggle to think of anything better. I look forward to seeing the more recently released "1066", which sounds more promising. We shall see! This film deserves to be much better known and I would suggest if you have not seen it then you do so. Unfortunately the few available copies on either region are rather expensive. Perhaps reflective of a growing cult following! Highly recommended.
The War Lord stars Charlton Heston, Richard Boone, Rosemary Forsyth, Guy Stockwell, Maurice Evans, Niall MacGinnis, Henry Wilcoxon and James Farentino, amongst others. It's directed by future Oscar winning Director Franklin J. Schaffner (Best Director for Patton), and the screenplay is by PJohn Collier with the adaptation coming from the play, The Lovers, written by Leslie Stevens.
The War Lord harks back to days of yore as we enter the 11th century and ancient Normandy. The film successfully brings the period down to the nitty gritty and doesn't glamorise either the characters or the way of life of the various social dwellers. Time has been afforded the pagan mythologies that existed back then, whilst the upper class' rights such as "droit de seigneur" (ius primae noctis) forms the back bone for our story as Heston's Duke falls for the Druid peasantry virgin (Rosemary Forsyth) he has claimed his right too, tho his inner conflict with the ways irks him so. Thanks to Schaffner the film manages to blend its dialogue heavy plot with some well crafted battle scenes, with the use of weaponry and tactics particularly impressive. You can see that this hasn't just been thrown together as a cash in historical epic featuring Chuck Heston. The cast are strong, particularly Boone and Stockwell, while Jerome Moross (score) and Russell Metty (cinematography) capture the time frame with skill.
Rarely talked about in terms of historical epics, or even Heston epics come to that, The War Lord is however one of the more tightly written and thematically interesting movies from the genre. 7/10
This is one of my most favorite movies ever! I can watch it endlessly and every time its magic works perfectly! It is so good that it would be a sin to give any spoilers so let's just say that this is a very good attempt at a historical drama happening in the Dark Ages of Europe.
The story takes place in early XI century in northern France. In this times Europe finally started to recover from the terrible times of Great Migrations (476-955) and the emergence of new states, like Kingdom of France and Germanic Empire, brought finally some stability to populations.
It is during this time that Chrysagon de la Crue (Charlton Heston), a redoubtable knight in service of "Duke William of Ghent" (a fictitious character) "who held a coastal area in Normandy" (and therefore would have to be a vassal of King of France), arrives in the domain that he received as a reward. He is supposed to rule the place and get income from it, but also defend it against barbarian plunderers from Frisia (a land divided today between Netherlands and Germany). He brings with him another knight, his younger brother Draco, as well as a handful of faithful soldiers, or, as they were called in this time in France "sergents d'armes" - commoners who served as foot soldiers under the command of a knight for a wage. That covers the first two minutes of the movie... and about the rest of the story I will say nothing.
There are many excellent things in this movie. First let's say that "The War Lord" tries really hard to stick to the reality of the XI century in Western Europe. Costumes, weapons, armor and fighting tactics are really well described (well, there are of course little imperfections, but this simply can not be avoided). The siege scenes are particularly excellent and I count "The War Lord" as the BEST MEDIEVAL SIEGE MOVIE Hollywood managed to produce ever, before "The Lord of the Rings"! The survival of some pagan customs in remote corners of Christian France is also very well shown.
Then there is the love story. It is incredibly good, poignant, full of fire, beautiful, plunged in the middle of broken taboos and pagan magic. Bronwyn (Rosemary Forsyth), the girl Chrysagon falls in love with, is (mostly unwillingly) the perfect example of "femme fatale". Passions rising around her will devour the whole place of action with burning flames (literally) and then wash it with a river of blood.
The scenario is very good (it is an adaptation of a Broadway theatrical piece) and all the actors give an excellent performance. Other than Heston and Forsyth, special mention goes to Richard Boone, who plays Bors, personal servant to Chrysagon and chief sergeant of his soldiers, as well as to James Farentino, who plays a wealthy local farmer.
And then finally there are Frisian barbarians, who ARE NOT in any way related to Vikings (contrary to what is sometimes suggested). In XI century Viking raids on Europe were mostly a thing of the past, with the notable exception of Ireland, which dealt with them finally in 1014, year of the famous battle of Clontarf. No horned helmets here, no red bearded giants and no dragon ships - just a thousand honest, hard working, highly efficient, blood thirsty, pagan, terminally blond barbarians on a murderous rampage...)))
This movie is a splendor, a treasure, a wonder. To buy, watch, keep and re-watch. Enjoy!
on 18 April 2014
Contrary to what others have posted, I found this bluray transfer to be superb and worthy of one of my favourite films. Don't intend reviewing the film as everything's already been said. The booklet is also a nice bonus although there are no further extras on the disc as the description lead us to believe might be included...
on 14 April 2008
A really fine and resonant film. Brilliant historical detail and great acting by Heston, Guy Stockwell and Richard Boone. Rosemary Forsyth is lovely and plays a rather undeveloped part well. Set design, costume and action scenes are first class, script is a bit heavy-handed but a tremendously entertaining and rewarding film.
on 14 December 2010
Charlton likened the initial reviews of his co-production with Universal Studios to "a kick in the balls". The plain fact is that the viewing public and the critics who served them were not ready for this type of film. People had been raised on the sort of visual diet that had been provided by films such as "Ivanhoe" which was released in 1952.
The Middle Ages, in common with any other period in recorded history, had its own cultural values which were expressed through a peculiar cultural language. In this case what was dealt with was the ethic of Feudalism which was essentially an elaborate system of service which incorporated a code of reciprocal obligations between the lord and his vassals. This service cpuld take on a military form and it was this one that was exercised by the Duke of Ghent's most trusted knight, one Chrysagon de la Crux. Ostensibly he was being rewarded for twenty years of loyal service by being granted his own fiefdom which he held in the name of the Duke of Ghent.
However, there are underlying and unresolved tensions that exist between Chrysagon and his younger brother Draco. The latter resented living in his elder brother's shadow and wanted the rewards of merit in his own name. The falconer, Fulc, also seeks status and does not like being the butt of demeaning jokes that emphasise his dwarfism. Eventually, after the initial repulse of the Frisian raiders, it is Chrysagon's falling in love with Bronwen, a young village woman betrothed to Marc, the ward of Odins, the village Elder, that serves to bring all the latent stress to the boil.
The whole code of honour and trust which is so vital to the functioning of Feudalism is threatened by the refusal of Chrysagon to return Bronwen to the village following her spending the night in his Donjon where he had exercised his right of Droit de Seigneur.
All the protagonists express their resentment in various ways: the villagers switch their allegiance from the Duke to the Frisians, Draco fiercely reminds his elder brother of the obligations of Feudalism, Fulc joins the villagers (after being deprived of the opportunity to make a personal servant of the captured son of the chief of the Frisians). The Frisians come to free their leader's son, but are again repulsed. After relief brought by Draco through the good offices of the Duke, both the former and Chrysagon are involved in fight which results in Draco's death.
Sickened by the violence and the killing, Chrysagon makes a truce with the chief of the Frisians and entrusts Bronwen to the latter's safe keeping.
Marc tries to kill Chrysagon because of his feelings for Bronwen, but is summarily killed by Bors, the retainer of Chrysagon.
The film ends with Chrysagon setting out with Bors in order to make his peace with the Duke of Ghent (who had transferred the feifdom to Draco because of the behaviour of Chrysagon towards Bronwen).
Throughout the whole drama the one real hero in all this is Bors. He alone is loyal and supportive to all whom he works with and reminds Chrysagon of the obligation that the Duke had placed on him to guard and guide Chrysagon and he alone has remained a man of honour in the true Feudal sense. This is just as well because Chrysagon's feudal training does not stand him in good stead when faced with dealing with strong emotions, in this case sexual love.
The film is dark in atmosphere and dignified in expression. It deserves to be seen many times over as it will always provoke thought about a period in history which is far removed from the values of our own day.
A long overdue release for a real classic. I saw it many years ago and am delighted that its finally come out on dvd - its been on my wish list for years.
Other reviews have covered the plot - the career knight who is tasked with ruling a village and how he breaks the covenant with his people not by exercising droit du seigneur, but by refusing to give the girl back.
There is action in this film, but the real central focus is on the unlikely autumnal romance. Supported by truly beautiful music, there is something about the atmosphere of this film which may haunt you as it has done me.