The Flame and the Arrow

Virginia Mayo in The Flame and the Arrow (dir. Jacques Tourneur, 1950).

Swashbuckler set in medieval Spain, starring Burt Lancaster and his long-time acrobatic sidekick Nick Cravat. A charming piece of lusty folderol, with the added novelty that someone seems to have instructed the actors not to speak like they were doing Shakespeare (an annoying affectation in historical film to this day). The result, as I recall is also the case in Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ, is that the movie gains in familiar intimacy what it loses in high-church solemnity. Nevertheless, Cravat's Brooklyn accent was apparently a little too much, so they made his character a mute (as in The Crimson Pirate two years later, also with Lancaster). Scorsese had no such qualms with his actors in Temptation.

Tourneur is not working at the height of his powers here: there's not enough darkness and gentle eeriness, though at times these qualities peer through, as in the semi-tragic figure of the hero's ex-wife (Lynn Baggett), or the wryly melancholic troubadour Apollo (Norman Lloyd). And as in Tourneur's Canyon Passage, the technicolor is vivid, but just muted enough to lend an air of storybook fadedness. Look for a funny cameo by Philip Van Zandt as a disgruntled dance instructor.

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