As one of most acclaimed and recognized figures of American literature, Mark Twain’s works have undoubtedly been mined for several film adaptations. Among the works filmed for the big screen include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960) and The Prince and the Pauper (1937), just to list a few right off the bat; the latter would be filmed again by the Salkinds in the 1970’s, this time under the title of Crossed Swords. Previously released on DVD by Lionsgate, Kino has licensed the film from Studiocanal for its Blu-ray debut.
The Production: 3.5/5
In 16th Century England, Tom Canty (Mark Lester) is a poor young man living a miserable existence as a thief under his abusive father (Ernest Borgnine). When an attempt at picking the pocket of a nobleman ends badly, he finds himself running right into Edward, the Prince of Wales (also Mark Lester), who notices a stunning resemblance to Tom. When the two decide to play a prank and switch places, it ends up having unintended consequences; both now have to live each other lives and the only one who knows about the prank – King Henry VIII (Charlton Heston) – ends up dying, leaving Tom as the heir apparent to the throne. It falls to Edward and Sir Miles Hendon (Oliver Reed) to make things right before the joke’s on the entire kingdom!
While filmed before successfully in 1937 with Errol Flynn, Crossed Swords is a lavishly mounted adaptation of The Prince and the Pauper done on a grand scale. The Salkinds (producers Alexander and Ilya) were no stranger to swashbucklers in the 1970’s – they previously tackled The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge (1974) – and that same opulent attention to detail is on display here; when you have cinematographer Jack Cardiff at your disposal, you’re bound to have a visually beautiful film. Under Richard Fleischer’s direction, the movie moves along at a smooth clip without being too jagged; there’s really not much to complain about here, except for the fact that a couple of the members of the all star cast are a bit out of place here (more about that in a moment). Overall, Crossed Swords is a fun little throwback to the classic swashbuckling movies of the Golden Age that’s – compared to the two Three Musketeers movies – free of the self-reflexive irony (not that there’s anything wrong with that) without sacrificing the enjoyment.
Cast in the main dual roles of Tom and Prince Edward, Mark Lester is much older than the novel’s description of the two (he was 18 at the time of filming compared to the novel’s 8); he left movies following the lackluster reception of this one. As Prince Edward’s protector and ally, Oliver Reed has one of the film’s best performances as Sir Miles Hendon; having already appeared as Athos in The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, Reed was no stranger to sword play and certainly looks convincing here. Another holdover from The Three Musketeers movies, Charlton Heston appropriately chews the scenery well here as the larger than life Henry VIII; as Tom’s brutish father, Ernest Borgnine is solid, but his few attempts at a British accent come off as stilted rather than authentic. Rounding out the cast here are Raquel Welch (another Three Musketeers alum) as Lady Edith Hendon, David Hemmings as Sir Miles’ scheming brother Hugh, Rex Harrison – making his first film appearance here since 1969’s Staircase – as The Duke of Norfolk, Harry Andrews as the Lord Great Chamberlain Hertford, Lalla Ward as Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth I, Felicity Dean as Lady Jane Grey, Graham Stark as the king’s jester, cult favorite Sybil Danning as Tom’s mother and George C. Scott in a scene stealing appearance as The Ruffler, the leader of a nomadic band of thieves.
3D Rating: NA
The 113 minute US release of the movie is presented in its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new 4K master created for this release. The film does open with the original Saul Bass designed WB logo following the MPAA rating bumper in case anyone was wondering. Film grain is organic with fine details and color palette faithfully represented with only minor instances of issues like scratches, dirt, tears or frame jitters present; this release likely represents the best the movie will ever look on home video and also represents an improvement in quality over previous home video releases.
The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue, sound effects and Maurice Jarre’s rich score are all faithfully represented here with minimal to no instances of issues like distortion, crackling or hissing present. All in all, this is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video and represents a major improvement over previous DVD releases of the movie.
Special Features: 3.5/5
Commentary by films historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell & Nathaniel Thompson – Newly recorded for this release, the trio share information about the movie and its cast and crew in a very jovial manner; a fun track worth listening to.
Interview with actor Mark Lester (18:49) – Newly filmed for this release, Lester shares his memories about his last film as an actor before leaving the movie business altogether.
The International Cut – The longer 121 minute cut of movie, previously released on DVD by Lionsgate and Anchor Bay, is presented here in standard definition.
Theatrical Trailer (2:08)
Bonus KLSC Trailers – The Return of the Musketeers, 100 Rifles, Sudden Terror & The Vikings
While it didn’t impress critics or audiences much during its initial release, Crossed Swords is still a fun and entertaining adaptation of Mark Twain’s classic The Prince and the Pauper. Kino continues its run of solid releases (I know, I sound like a broken record here) with a great HD transfer of the US release and a couple of solid special features, including the International Cut of the movie. Highly recommended and worth upgrading from previous home video editions.
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