The War Lord

1965, Movie, NR, 123 mins


This accurate accont of medieval life opens with Heston, an 11th Century Morman knight, driving off a group of Frisians intent on invading a primitive Druid town. Heston, lord of the town, later spies Forsyth as she bathes in a stream. Forsyth is engaged to Farentino, son of the town's leader MacGinnis. Using the law of le droit du seigneur (a custom which allows a lord to take any bride he desires on her wedding night), Heston has his way with Forsyth. In the course of the evening Heston and Forsyth fall in love. When she refuses to leave the knight, her spurned husband vows revenge. Farentino goes to the Frisians, telling them their king's son is a prisoner in his village. Stockwell, Heston's brother, tries to take over as lord, and the siblings engage in a duel. Stockwell is killed, and Heston returns the captive prince to the Frisians. The band also takes in Forsyth for her own safety. Heston is attacked by Farentino's men and, though wounded, the knight is able to get away to the woman he loves. This period piece is a fine example of cinema's ability to recreate long-gone eras. The period detail is exact, from costuming to the imposing tower from which Heston rules the village. The violence is brutal and bloody, with a savagely relistic climactic battle. Heston is fine in his role and is given excellent support by an ensemble that never stoops to histrionics. Stockwell, actor Dean Stockwell's brother, made his acting debut in this movie, as did Farentino. In one fight sequence Heston engages in some well-choreographed swordplay with Joe Canutt, son of legendary Hollywood stuntman Yakima Canutt. Despite its many excellent qualities, THE WAR LORD did only moderate box office in the US Misunderstood by studio officials, director Schaffner's final cut was subjected to further editing despite his wishes. Shaffner claimed these imposed cuts removed "those fragile but always terribly consequential subtleties that you put into a film, so important to character, motivation, and reaction." Heston also was disappointed with the final results, though the movie remained one of his personal favorites. In his autobiography The Actor's Life Heston wrote "...the studio was convinced from the beginning that they had the ingredients for a huge tits-and-armor piece. If we'd been allowed to shoot in the English marshes with an English cast, away from the studio's enthusiastic urgings that we spend more money on flaming siege towers, I think we'd have the film we envisioned." Be that as it may, the essence of the filmmakers' intent was not removed. THE WAR LORD remains an intelligent historical drama, exciting and atmospheric while never losing sight of the human passions that are its driving force. leave a comment

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