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THE SCARLET BLADE
DVD . Studio Canal.

The Scarlet Blade“1648 ­ this is the story of a band of freemen who defied a tyrant” states the opening caption of this 1963 Hammer swashbuckler, though in reality, its heroes are battling Cromwell’s soldiers in order to restore that very definition of democracy, freedom and equality, the Monarchy during the English Civil War. There’s no room for any ambiguity about who is on the right side here though, as the Roundheads, led by the unlikely figure of Lionel Jeffries, are all opportunist, hypocritical and cowardly, while Jack Hedley’s rebels are as noble as they come.

Hedley is the title character, real name Edward Beverly, who is leading a band of rebels as they attempt to free King Charles I from the Roundhead forces who have captured him. They are aided by Claire Judd (June Thorburn), daughter of Colonel Judd (Jeffries) a former Royalist turncoat, and by Captain Tom Sylvester (Oliver Reed) who briefly switches sides thanks to an infatuation with Claire. But when she declares her love for Beverly (about five minutes after meeting him, a plot point so ludicrous that even Reed’s character remarks on it), he betrays the rebels. Meanwhile, Hammer regular Michael Ripper, in a bigger role than usual, wanders around in blackface as gypsy Pablo.

Unlike many of Hammer’s other tales of derring-do (including The Brigand of Kandahar, released alongside this on DVD), The Scarlet Blade is pretty dull stuff. Director John Gilling ­ who, like Reed, was a Hammer stalwart at this time ­ brings surprisingly little vitality to the story, given his other work for the company, and while Reed is as impressive as ever, his character is hard to take seriously, flipping between loyalties as he does. Worse still, the love triangle at the centre of the story is astonishingly uninvolving, and you can imagine rows of ten year old boys stamp their feet in frustration as this played out at the local cinemas.

In the end, the film fails because the battles scenes are strangely lacklustre, the characters on both sides too unsympathetic and the story too one dimensional. What’s more, being unable to avoid historical fact means that the ‘heroes’ don’t even achieve their goal.

The Scarlet Blade (or, as an alternative title sequence included here calls it, The Crimson Blade) is, unfortunately, something of a failure ­ a rare misfire from a company who’s 1960s action-adventure films are generally well worth seeing.

DAVID FLINT

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