"At Last! The Magic Of CinemaScope (You See It Without Special Glasses)"
One of 20th Century Fox's early 'scope films (note extremely wide ratio of 2.55:1), "Prince Valiant" was based on Hal Foster's long-running comic, and the film marks an early attempt by a major studio to build a big budget production based on a comic strip - something a heck of a lot more common nowadays.
The transposition from paper to film is dramatically sound, but Dudley Nichols' script is still an extremely silly mix of cliches, extended chase sequences, and mock-heroics that try to recall the more buoyant theatrics of Errol Flynn swashbucklers. (Mind you, there's at least two amusing moments of sexual banter that managed to avoid the censor's prudish scissors, and some genuinely funny lines by irascible Sterling Hayden.) While the massive screen ratio forced veteran director Henry Hathaway to visualize the film in well-composed but staid master and medium shots, the film's exciting finale makes up for the film's slower first half, and should look impressive on a big screen TV.
Fox's surviving print looks good, and there's just a few scratches in spots. Grain levels are jarring in a poorly rendered optical when Wagner, sporting the silliest wig of his career, tumbles off a cliff, but it's an otherwise solid film transfer. Like the soundtrack CD, not all of the surviving 35mm music stems have aged without some harm, and a few moments show noticeable wow and flutter; additionally, whereas most of the film and dialogue make use of stereo positioning, the opening credits seem to be a pseudo-stereo mix, with a rough dissolve into the film's true stereo mix.
Franz Waxman's score is a luxuriant blend of Wagnerian fanfares, exuberant action writing, and an exquisite love theme for the Wagner-Janet Leigh romance (though Debra Paget is once again reduced to a pretty, lost, and pouty little thing); and for the archived theatrical trailer, the publicity department makes heavy use of Waxman's main themes amid brief narrative hype on the magic of CinemaScope.
In the archived newsreel, contract starlet Mitzi Gaynor shows us props from "Valiant," alongside such magnificently irrelevant crafts as cake decorating, glass blowing, and "the Union Label Queen" doing nothing whatsoever in connection with Medieval England.
Foster's "Prince Valiant" was later filmed in 1991 as an animated TV mini-series, and in 1997, in a smaller-scaled feature film.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan