Quick question, are you a diehard fan of the studio Hammer? If you’ve answered yes then congratulations, you’re on the right review. If however you answered no, and you don’t like old films (I know there are some of you out there) then you’ll probably want to sit this one out and go watch Sherlock at the cinema or something. For now though we return to our diehard Hammer fans (or HammerHeads as I like to imagine they call themselves) who will no doubt be dancing in the street with delight at the release of the previously rare Scarlet Blade which has previously never had a video or DVD release in the UK.
Released alongside another rare ‘classic’ The Brigand of Kandahar, The Scarlet Blade is easily the better of the two, and the one worth seeking out if you feel like some classic swashbuckling action. A case could be made that there have been all too few (although I’m not sure anyone who would put this forward) films released about the English Civil War. If you were to take a quick trip to Google, you’d discover that beyond the 1970 epic Cromwell, there isn’t much else on offer than the 1963 film, The Scarlet Blade.
So if you’re a fan of the English Civil war, prepare for fun and excitement as Cromwellian soldiers, Colonel Judd (Lionel Jeffries) and Captain Sylvester (Oliver Reed) capture King Charles of England (Robert Rietty). We join the story in 1648 as Colonel Judd (Lionel Jeffries) has just commandeered Beverly Manor. This is obviously naughty so we have the Scarlet Blade and his merry men (this film has more than a hint of Robin Hood about it) as they rage a guerrilla campaign against the baddies. Things then take a turn for the romantic as Judd’s impressionable daughter Claire (June Thorburn) becomes a co-conspirator with the Scarlet Blade. This co-conspiracy quickly leads to love with the man who her father is after and soon Captain Sylvester (Reed) joins her cause as well. If it all sounds like a perfect opportunity for swooning then you’d be right. It is, there is, and it’s all rather pompously lovely.
The Scarlet Blade has more than enough story for it to fill its 80 minute running time, although you’ll never shake the feeling that the director Gilling fails to input enough decent action or realistic romance to make this worthwhile discovering. There are enough character shifts to shame an entire season of 24, while the script seems a bit confused about what is going on as well. Things aren’t helped either by the fact that the heroes and much less charismatic and interesting than the villains.
I did however like that the film ends on a surprisingly depressing note. Despite all the wooden acting and 60‘s cheese the downbeat, tragic ending is rather shocking and a delightful twist. So although it’s been a rare film over the years, I’m afraid to say that The Scarlet Blade is just simply ‘ok.’ It’s not a rediscovered classic, nor is it a historical waste of time. Instead it raises the worst sort of response – indifference.
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Images: Marcus Brooks