The master of spectacle, Cecil B. DeMille, provides superb pageantry in this fanciful version of the bloody Third Crusade. Henry Wilcoxon, as King Richard the Lion-Hearted of England, is bold, brave, but sometimes boring. Loretta Young seems hopelessly miscast as his beautiful, though
ignored, queen. However, the film is still an utterly captivating, glamorous interpretation of an ancient era of iron men and wily infidels. It opens with Saladin (Ian Keith) sacking the city of Jerusalem, slaughtering the resident Christians with alacrity. He is confronted by the venerable C.
Aubrey Smith, a holy zealot known as The Hermit, who defies him; the Hermit threatens, that if he is spared he will travel throughout Europe and raise a mighty host of crusaders who will return to the Holy Land and destroy Saladin and his infidel followers. The Moslem ruler, supremely confident of
his power, haughtily spares the Hermit, who then goes to King Philip of France (C. Henry Gordon) and inspires him to lead the crusade. Smith accompanies Philip and his sister (Katherine DeMille) to England where Richard is to marry her, as they were betrothed when children. Richard puts Philip
off, which worries the French King who believes that Richard will later invade France unless this royal union is cemented. The Hermit states that anyone taking the Cross in a pledge to the holy crusade is automatically free of any other promises. Richard leaps at the opportunity, vowing to lead
the great crusade and enlisting every able-bodied man in England. He assumes complete command, much to Philip's chagrin, and the armies depart for France. Short of supplies in Marseille, Richard obtains great quantities of food from the King of Navarre (George Barbier), agreeing cavalierly to wed
his daughter Berengaria (Young) in return for the goods. Richard sends one of his aides to her tent with his broadsword (his symbolic presence) since he is busy elsewhere. Berengaria then marries the sword in an elaborate ceremony. When he actually sets eyes on her, Richard is stupefied by her
beauty and begs forgiveness for humilating her. She has nothing but contempt for the unchivalrous monarch and insults him, so in a rage he orders her to accompany him on his march to the Holy Land. A series of battles follow as Palestine is wrested from infidel control. A magnificent attack on
Acre is followed by victory but at a high cost. The enemy troops are equal to the men of iron. The European kings become divided on how best to conquer Jerusalem, with Conrad of Monferrat (Joseph Schildkraut), Frederick of Germany (Hobart Bosworth), and Philip disagreeing with Richard's plan to
attack. Meanwhile, Berengaria is kidnapped by Saladin's men and held hostage. The ensuing clash of two massive mounted armies is one of the many highlights of this spectacular film. Dismounted and surrounded, Richard fights like a madman, killing his enemies by the score. After the battle he
surveys his countless dead and then goes under a flag of truce to meet the mighty Saladin, who proves to be a refined, cultured man of great sensitivity. The Moslem ruler tells the vanquished Richard that he will return his wife to him and that the crusaders will be allowed into the Holy City to
worship at their beloved shrines. However, Richard himself will not be allowed to enter the city. Berengaria joins her husband on a hilltop, and they watch the grateful crusaders enter Jerusalem, their love for each other having replaced Richard's vainglorious ambitions as a conqueror.
DeMille brought author Harold Lamb to Hollywood to work on the script after buying the writer's book, The Crusade: Iron Men and Saints. Lamb soon learned that the facts meant nothing to the director; the Hermit, for example, actually inspired The First Crusade, not the third. DeMille cared for
only those elements of history that lent themselves to his interpretation, and history to DeMille was largely a matter of human masses moving toward a single goal. As with all the producer's historical epics, THE CRUSADES suffers from that stilted, often leaden DeMille feel, as if the director
were moving props about instead of people. Still, the sets and action prove astounding, along with wonderful costuming and unparalleled crowd scenes. THE CRUSADES cost Paramount a fortune, which was not initially returned at the box office. Studio boss Adolph Zukor was aghast to see that the film
lost more than $700,000 its first time around.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: The master of spectacle, Cecil B. DeMille, provides superb pageantry in this fanciful version of the bloody Third Crusade. Henry Wilcoxon, as King Richard the Lion-Hearted of England, is bold, brave, but sometimes boring. Loretta Young seems hopelessly mis… (more)