Intermittently throughout the summer, we'll be taking an historical tour of the Hollywood blockbuster by examining an older film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to a major new release. This week: David Lowery and A24 have brought us a moody art-film version of most beloved of 14th Century romances in the form of The Green Knight. Let us now turn to the second of two earlier versions of the same tale - both of them from the same director, no less!

I would not like to get in the habit of comparing the output of Cannon Films, the legendarily cheesy '80s production company operated by trash geniuses Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus, and the filmography of Alfred Hitchcock, who belongs on any serious list of candidates for the title of best director in the history of cinema. But the film whose full title is [takes breath] Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight leave us non choice. It is on the tiny list of films that found a director remaking his own movie, with Stephen Weeks returning to adapt the 14th Century Middle English Romance Sir Gawain and the Green Kight eleven years after first doing so with 1973's Gawain and the Green Knight, and adapting it more or less exactly the same way. The script credited to Weeks, Philip Breen (the co-writer and producer of the original film) and Howard C. Pen starts by making exactly the same changes to the original material, expanding on some of them and re-arranging a couple of scenes, but generally following the structure of the earlier film pretty closely.

The difference, then is that this is, just, well, a Golan-Globus production. Gawain and the Green Knight isn't terribly good, but it's got a kind of poised, respectable sensibility to it, a feeling that everybody was trying their best do to right by the classic romance, even when their best wasn't very good. Sword of the Valiant is overblown, nonsensical trash. For this exact reason, Sword of the Valiant is by some distance the more delightful film to watch, right from the moment that Sean Connery appears as the Green Knight, all dressed in shiny green pieces of plastic armor with a sort of vaguely leafy motif, as well as a big set of antlers. It makes him look somewhat like a Transformer who becomes a Christmas centerpiece. To top it all off, literally, he's been covered in a sprinkling of glitter that makes his beard all sparkly.

Impressively, this wondrously mortifying get-up - the dumbest Connery ever looked in a movie outside of Zardoz, I daresay - doesn't seem to have dampened the actors spirits. On the contrary, Connery is downright peppy in the small but showy role, hamming up a storm and exuding far more energy than nearly anything else from his late-'70s/early-'80s dark period, when he was taking shitty roles because the good roles weren't coming (the shooting of Sword of the Valiant overlapped with the shooting of Never Say Never Again, for context's sake; the difference between Connery's obvious resentment at being yanked back in to playing James Bond and his jolly doofus enthusiasm for playing the tacky Green Knight is night-and-day). I will not go so far as to say that Connery's domination of the film's opening scene - in which the Green Knight shows up at the court of King Arthur (Trevor Howard) one Christmas Day for a rousing game of "chop my head off with an axe" - promises that Sword of the Valiant is going to be "good". For one thing, the editing and directing are both zipping forward like a drunken jackrabbit, giving us the perilous feeling of being well along into the first act before the story has even started. For another the effect of the beheaded Green Knight is amazingly godawful, a robot head that looks neither like Sean Connery nor anything that ever had living skin stretched over it, and whose stiff mouth movements do not at all correspond to the words Connery has overdubbed in some pretty hollow sound mixing (which does kind of work, probably by accident, to give a feeling of ethereal spookiness to the moment. Still, by the end of the first scene, when the Green Knight merrily clomps off and promises to do the same to young idiot Gawain, freshly knighted by Arthur just for the occasion, it's not hard to hope for a film that will be playfully cheesy and basically good.

Instead, what we get is so-bad-it's-good, and we've already seen some of that in the opening scene as well, and that staggeringly bad head is part of it. Another part is that Gawain is played by Miles O'Keefe, the good-sport whipping boy for bad moviedom based on his terrible work in the atrocious Ator series.* He's not good, though given that his single biggest point of comparison is Murray Head in Gawain and the Green Knight, he doesn't come off as particularly over-the-top bad. What is over-the-top bad is the hideous blond Thing that has been draped over his head, a shoulder-length Prince Valiant-style wig with a giant puff of bang perched at the top of it. If it is not the single worse wig I have ever seen in a motion picture, surely it is at least on the shortlist. Coupled with O'Keefe's unerring habit of using a perfect little O of shock for all his reaction shots, his eyes and mouth forming circles that are all almost exactly the same size, the effect from the minute we first see him till the minute the film ends is that Gawain is the most goofy-looking motherfucker in all of the annals of '80s sword and sorcery cinema, and that's a cycle of films almost peerlessly suited to making its actors look goofy.

So we've got a hammy-ass villain, a loopy goofball of a hero who can't act, and that's all in the first scene. Honestly, Sword of the Valiant never passes the bar it's set for itself at this point, and it doesn't help that Connery only shows up a handful of times across the film's 102 minutes. Even so, Sword of the Valiant is a pretty feisty blend of chintzy kitsch and the cheery energy of little children racing around the back yard using sticks as broadswords. Which I believe is precisely what I said about Gawain and the Green Knight. But the kids here, are, like, high on sugar. The difference between the two can be best summed up as this: in Sword of the Valiant, Gawain's faithful squire Humphrey (Leigh Lawson) flourishes what looks awfully like a bottle-opener in one early scene to help uncouple the knight's armor, so that he can pee. Just dumb, tasteless bullshit like that.

The story follows as Gawain bumblefucks his way into the lost kingdom of Lyonesse and falls in love with Linet (Cyrielle Clair), a lady of that castle; he then devotes all of his energy to finding her as she is magicked away and then tangled up in the affairs of both good and bad kings and lords, and then quite randomly near the end, he meets back up with the Green Knight. It is both more legible and less coherent than Gawain and the Green Knight, and it makes room for quite a bizarrely over-qualified cast of people on hard enough times and/or late enough in their career that Cannon could afford them: besides Connery and Howard, there's also John Rhys-Davies, Peter Cushing, Lila Kedrova, and Wilfrid Brambell, all come along to show up for a scene or two or three and vanish more or less without fanfare. Weirdly, the same thing has happened behind the camera: one of the film's two cinematographers is the great Freddie Young (the other is Peter Hurst), whose presence does not in any way keep this from looking flatly overlit in its interiors, generically hazy in its exteriors.

As the plot shuffles its way forward, Ron Geesin's score squawks forth a dreadful synth fanfare, anonymous Ye Olde England-style "taa-daa!" music that gets used repetitively throughout the film, including at least a couple of moments that are pensive or sad or otherwise totally unsuited to the "taa-daa!" approach; it is the nice little cherry of mindless ineptitude that perfects the whole thing. Sword of the Valiant is a hoot of a crappy movie, cheerfully artless, enthusiastically cheap, and convinced that if it barrels forward through its script, we won't notice how crudely the scenes have been slapped together. Honestly, it's not wrong: by every measure this is worse than Gawain and the Green Knight, and by every measure I had much more fun watching it. And if good isn't to be had, at least it's dumb fun.




*Notably serving as the basis, if not quite the butt, of one of the most iconic jokes in the history of Mystery Science Theater 3000: "Just how much Keefe is in this movie?" / "Miles o' Keefe."