Color, 1983, 102 mins. 1 sec.
Directed by Stephen Weeks
Starring Miles O'Keefe, Cyrielle Claire, Leigh Lawson, Sean Connery, Peter Cushing, Ronald Lacey, Lila Kedrova, John Rhys-Davies, Trevor Howard, Emma Burdon-Sutton
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-Ray) (US RA HD),MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Koch Media (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL), Umbrella (DVD) (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), MGM (DVD-R) (US R1 NTSC)

In Sword of the Valiantone of the more peculiar remake choices Sword of the Valiantin British film history, Cannon Films commissioned a flashy fantasy film from director Stephen Weeks (in the wake of I, Monster and Ghost Story) to craft a star-studded overhaul of his low-budget and little-seen 1973 film, Gawain and the Green Knight (itself a redo of an aborted earlier attempt in 1969), featuring Murray Head and Nigel Green in the title roles. Here get the undeniably unique casting of Miles O'Keefe and Sean Connery, with a raft of guest stars and plenty of gorgeous Welsh location photography to boost a film clearly aiming for the same viewers who made hits out of Conan the Barbarian and Excalibur. The result is closer to the bizarre tone of another earlier U.K. stab at the sword and sorcery craze, Hawk the Slayer, and it barely made a blip in its belated theatrical release in mid-1984 (bearing the full awkward title of Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) before shuffling off to become a bizarre footnote in Cannon history. That said, it's certainly ambitious and merits a look based on both its cast and its spacious scope photography as well as some oddball tweaks on the usual Arthurian lore.

When the grumpy King (Howard) frets that none of his esteemed knights have proven their mettle recently, an opportunity arises in court with the arrival of the Green Knight (Connery), who throws out a challenge that no one will be brave enough to face him in a decapitation contest. Only blacksmith Gawain (O'Keefe) accepts, and after being knighted on the spot, he separates the stranger's noggin from his shoulders in an apparent dry run for Connery in Highlander. However, the Sword of the ValiantGreen Knight proves to be supernatural and offers Sword of the ValiantGawain the opportunity to live one year before he'll come and claim his head in return, with the only salvation lying in a baffling riddle about the nature of life. Accompanied by the squire Humphrey (Lawson), Sir Gawain sets off on a string of arbitrary adventures across the land involving the beautiful Lady Linet (Clair), her craft mother (Kedrova), and the nefarious Oswald (Lacey), with other characters popping up like a crafty advisor played by Peter Cushing (in what amounts to a cameo) and the wily Morgan (Burdon-Sutton) on the way to a final confrontation between the two knights.

It's impossible to talk about this film without singling out the absolutely maniacal costume design, which runs the gamut from O'Keefe's pageboy wig and beefcake outfits to Connery's jaw-dropping appearance that looks like A Christmas Carol on acid. The story itself is something of a head scratcher, playing out like a quest narrative but never setting up any coherent rules or goals; instead we get Gawain and friends bouncing around from one incident to another, which certainly holds your interest even if you could essentially shuffle each ten-minute segment around in any random order before the climax. As mentioned above, it all looks quite pretty with Weeks even blasting some green key lights from off screen a la Excalibur during mystical moments, and apart from the outrageous miscasting of O'Keefe (dubbed here reportedly by Peter Firth and somehow selected over first choice Mark Hamill), the actors commit themselves well enough to sell the material. Basically it's the kind of film you throw on during a slow Sunday afternoon when you can just kick back and not spend too much effort trying to follow Sword of the Valiantthe plot, instead just enjoying all the horses, arbitrary splashes of magic, and familiar Sword of the Valiantfaces on display.

Though given widescreen DVD releases in Europe and Australia, this film suffered from severe home video mistreatment for decades in the U.S. including brutally pan and scanned VHS and DVD editions, the latter in 2004 from MGM. Sold by Ronin Flix and Diabolik, its Blu-ray debut in 2020 from Scorpion Releasing rights those wrongs with a striking widescreen transfer that restores much-needed luster to the film's visuals and all of its expansive compositions now presented intact. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo track was always a strong, boisterous mix with plenty of channel separation, and that's the case here as well with the sound quality excellent throughout; optional English SDH subtitles are also provided. A new video interview with Burdon-Sutton (11m3s) is an affectionate look back at the production involving Cushing's routine with eating pudding, her casting for the Morgan role originally written for an old man, the pleasures of shooting on location in Wales, and the brief bit of impromptu writing she did for her character that ended up in the final film. Then a combined featurette (28m24s) features composer Ron Geesin showing off the equipment he used to create the score, editor Barry Peters goes into the cutting process of the film, costume designer Shuna Harwood recounts the resourceful means used to wrangle up material like chain mail and appropriate armor, and production designer Derek Nice chats about location scouting with Connery (right after Never Say Never Again finished shooting) and doing extensive castle research. A very poor quality trailer is also included along with bonus ones for The Greek Tycoon, The Killer Elite, The Dogs of War, and King of the Mountain.

Reviewed on October 21, 2020