Saturday, July 27, 2013

Stand Back As Bert I. Gordon Unsheaths His "Magic Sword"!

Ah, good morrow, movie lovers! As you may have heard, Kate Middleton (the Duchess of Cambridge to you) has squeezed out her first royal pup, a fresh prince named George. In honor of the little tykes birth, let's visit another Prince George (played by Gary Lockwood of "2001" fame) in the Bert I. Gordon epic, "The Magic Sword"(1962).

As Renaissance-type music warbles on and fancy-pants credits drift before us, we are introduced to good sorceress Sybil, played by the delightfully doddering Estelle Winwood. Dressed in medieval garb and a Ronald McDonald fright wig, Sybil's worried because her adopted son George (Lockwood) is itching to move out AND has developed the hots for one Princess Helene (the Barbara Eden-ish Anne Helm).

When did young George meet the princess? Well, they actually haven't met, per se. See, George has been watching Princess Helene via a magic pond. We'll leave the legalities and the underlying psychological implications of George (or anyone else) conducting a "courtship" in this manner for another day.

As it turns out, Princess Helene is also itching to cut the parental cord and experience life beyond the palace walls. As she complains to her lady-in-waiting, "Even a princess needs romance!" Unfortunately, it's about this time that Helene is kidnapped--and as George has witnessed the whole thing via the magic pond, he runs home screaming for Sybil to help.

Using her Magic Mirror, Sybil tunes into the palace throne room where the bushy-bearded King (who resembles Grady from "Sandford and Son") is informed by one Sir Branton (Liam Sullivan) that his royal daughter has been snatched. Then, to the sound of blaring trumpets, emerges the evil sorcerer Lodac (Basil Rathbone), twirling a flared cape Liberace would swoon for. It is he who has kidnapped princess Helene and in seven days will feed her to his pet dragon. Why? Because the current king's father had Lodac's kid sister burned at the stake for witchcraft. Now that Helene is 18 (the exact age of Lodac's sis), Lodac plans on offing the king's daughter in retaliation, making everything even Steven.

What the horrified king and his court don't know is that Lodac has quite a princess snatching scam going. It works like this: First, Lodac kidnaps some princesses. Next, be blackmails their fathers with demands they have no chance of meeting. The royal dads then send "their bravest knights" to rescue the princesses, but nasty Lodac has seven curses lying in wait that always vanquish the brave knights. Inevitably, the seven day's time-table expires (just as Lodac knew it would) and the princesses are tossed to his pet dragon. You have to admit, the whole operation is pretty slick.

Later, when Princess Helene admonished Lodac for being "evil and cruel", he heatedly defends himself. Look, Lodac points out, princesses are eaten by dragons in their neck of the woods on a daily basis. On the other hand, he's only tossing one, possibly two, princesses to his dragon every seven days. Thus, a princess has better odds of escaping her fate as a dragon snack with him than, say, in her own kingdom, where dragons are running around unchecked.

An interesting argument, but we'll leave it for later.

The king, meanwhile, promises Helene's hand in marriage to the fellow who can bring her back alive. That makes George totally flip out because he, after all, in in love with Helene and if anybody is going to marry her, it's going to be him--not Sir Branton, who volunteers to save the princess. Sybil warns George that he is too young (he's 20) and inexperienced to fight Lodac. She insists George wait until he's 21, when he'll receive some swell birthday gifts like an impenetrable suit of armor, a fancy sword and a company of seven knights just waiting to be defrosted.

But George, who is a bit of a whiner and a pouter, wants to save Helene NOW. So he locks Sybil in the basement, grabs his birthday presents, defrosts his knights and high-tails it over to the castle.

As it turns out, Sir Branton isn't too happy when young upstart George shows up with his company of defrosted knights. The two men bicker over who loves Helene the most until King Grady orders them to shut-up, team-up and save his daughter. Judging from Branton's uppity behavior, viewers might wonder if he's a bit shifty. They would be correct. In fact, Sir Branton and the evil Lodac are actually in cahoots with each other. It seems that Branton has stolen Lodac's all-powerful ring and refuses to give it back. Thus, the two no-good-nicks came up with a cunning plan: Lodac kidnaps Princess Helene, but Branton is allowed to rescue her. Once he has all the glory and the princess for his wife, Branton will give Lodac back his ring. Naturally, nobody else knows about this.

So George and company and Sir Branton set off to free Helene. When Branton isn't urging them to turn back, the gang is quickly confronted with Lodac's seven curses, which include ogres, blood sucking hags, boiling swamps full of Jell-O, blistering rays and ghostly apparitions that resemble, well, nothing much of anything. George uses his cunning and magic to defeat the curses, but his knights are felled one by one. Interestingly enough, Sir Branton also emerges unscathed, but that might because he's suspiciously detained elsewhere when danger strikes. Unfortunately, just when George needs his magic the most, it vanishes. Turns out that poor Sybil, who has managed to free herself from the basement, tried to conjure up a spell to help George defeat Lodac, but gummed up the works instead. Feeling responsible and worried about her son, Sybil transforms herself into a dove and flies off to help.

At Lodac's castle, George and Helene finally meet and get all kissy-face. While trying to escape, the couple are ambushed by Lodac's army of pointy headed mimes. Even worse, Princess Helene suddenly dumps George for Sir Branton. Before the happy couple departs, however, Branton returns Lodac's all-powerful ring. Then he prepares to give his princess bride a big, sloppy kiss when--surprise!!--Helene morphs into a blood sucking hag. Branton cries foul and Lodac responds by mounting his noggin on the wall. Then the evil sorcerer strings George up on a rack-type thing-y and prepares Helene to be dragon dinner.

Yet just when it seems all is lost, the main characters catch a break. A group of shrunken villagers, held captive by Lodac, escape from their cage and set George free. He then suits up to do battle with Lodac's pet dragon (a pretty good effect, I'll grant you). While Helene shrieks like a dental drill and George battles the dragon, Sybil finally appears. The senior citizen sorceress not only renews George's magic powers, but she steals Lodac's important ring (he really needs to keep a better eye on that thing). Then, Sybil transforms herself in a puma, all the better to rip the evil Lodac to shreds.

"The Magic Sword" concludes with George and Helene getting married and a beaming Sybil promising not to soil herself at the reception.

If "The Magic Sword" sounds like innocent, Saturday matinee-type fun, that's because, well, it is. However, this medieval love story/adventure is a real departure for director/producer Bert I. Gordon, who specialized in sci-fi monster movies about giant giants ("The Amazing Colossal Man"), giant grasshoppers ("The Beginning of the End"), giant ants ("The Empire of the Ants"), giant rats ("Food of the Gods") and, well, you get the idea. The only giant in this flick is a two-headed dragon which, as I said, is actually pretty decent as these thing go.

In conclusion, "The Magic Sword" doesn't slice, dice or make Juline fries, but it did allow old troopers Basil Rathbone and Estelle Winwood something to do besides wait for the undertaker. You could do a lot worse if you partake of "The Magic Sword", and if you are a real bad movie fanatic like me, you probably have. I have, anyway.

So, until next time, save the movies!