Saturday, November 5, 2022

#2,857. Crossed Swords (1977) - Kino Lorber Releases


I will set down a tale…
it may be history, it may be only a legend, a tradition.
It may have happened. It may not have happened.
But it could have happened

Producer Alexander Salkind and director Richard Fleischer assemble an all-star cast for 1977’s Crossed Swords, a retelling of Mark Twain’s classic story The Prince and the Pauper.

A chance meeting between peasant Tom Canty (Mark Lester) and Edward, Prince of Wales (also played by Lester) results in the two, who look identical to one another, exchanging clothes. Edward had been looking for a costume for a palace masquerade ball, and feels that Tom’s ragged outfit would be a perfect disguise. But instead, the palace guards mistake Edward for a commoner and have him removed from the castle. Frightened and out of his element, Tom finds himself thrust into the role of heir apparent to the throne of England!

With the help of mercenary Miles Henden (Oliver Reed), Edward tries desperately to convince the world he is, in fact, the prince. His situation becomes even more precarious when Henry VIII (Charlton Heston) dies, and all of England prepares for the upcoming coronation of his successor. If Edward doesn’t figure out a way to prove his true identity, Tom will instead be the one crowned the new King!

Mark Lester is good as both the prince and the pauper, conveying the changes that each character undergoes as they’re forced to live the life of the other. Tom eventually starts acting like a prince, and announces his intention to marry Jane (Felicity Dean), lady-in-waiting of the princess Elizabeth (Lalla Ward). As for Edward, he gets a first-hand look at the poverty that grips most of England, as well as the injustices many are forced to endure. As a result, he vows to rule more humanely than his oft-tyrannical father. That is, if he can somehow convince everyone he’s the rightful heir.

Despite playing the film’s two main characters, however, Lester is upstaged at nearly every turn by the film’s amazing supporting cast. Oliver Reed bellows and huffs as Miles, the professional soldier who takes it upon himself to protect Edward, all the while believing the young man has lost his mind (like everyone else, Miles doesn’t think for a second Edward is the real prince). Even better is Charlton Heston’s turn as the sickly Henry VIII, conveying both the king’s treacherous nature (he orders his old friend the Duke of Norfolk, played wonderfully by Rex Harrison, arrested on a trumped-up charge of treason) as well as his genuine affection for his only son (there’s a sweet scene in which Henry, realizing the end is near, has a heart-to-heart with Tom, who, try as he might, can’t convince the king he’s not his son).

Rounding out the cast are Ernest Borgnine (whose British accent leaves a lot to be desired) as Tom’s abusive father; Raquel Welch as Miles’ beloved, Lady Edith; George C. Scott (a slightly better accent than Borgnine’s, but still nothing to write home about) as Ruffler, leader of a colony of beggars and thieves; and David Hemmings as Miles’ conniving brother Hugh. All are strong, though it’s Reed and Heston who stand head and shoulders above the rest.

Featuring a handful of swordfights (most involving Miles, many of which he loses) and some effective comedy (Tom, mistaken for the prince, is asked to lead a dance during the masquerade ball, and ends up tripping everyone around him), Crossed Swords is an entertaining watch, and is innocent enough in the telling (rated PG, there’s little violence and even less profanity) that the whole family can enjoy it.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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