"Camelot"

Forget the knights -- bring on the nighties! Oh, for the days when movie tie-ins included negligees.


Stephanie Zacharek
November 16, 2000 1:00AM (UTC)

"Camelot"
Directed by Joshua Logan
Starring Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero, David Hemmings
Warner Studios; widescreen (2.35:1)
Extras: Making-of featurette, documentary about world premiere, isolated musical score, production notes, trailers

Joshua Logan's 1967 adaptation of the hit Lerner and Loewe Broadway musical is one of the most notorious flop extravaganzas in movie history, and it's best to watch it on a day when you have a high tolerance for glacial pacing. But I've seen it several times over the years, and despite patches of boredom, I've ended up being both moved and amazed by it every time. The costumes and set design are mesmerizingly beautiful. But even more than that, Richard Harris makes such a believable and mournful King Arthur that I always find myself drawn into his melancholy but sparkling spell. His Arthur (something like the one in T.H. White's wonderful and witty "The Once and Future King," also one of the movie's sources) is eminently sensible and romantic at the same time, a man for whom the loss of his Utopian dream and that of his queen are equal tragedies. In fact, it's losing the girl that may hurt this boy the most.

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But then, what a girl. Guinevere is played by the luminous Vanessa Redgrave, who radiates such an unusual blend of sensuality and calm that you can understand why a man would risk his kingdom for her. Her strength is so subtle and deep-rooted that it makes her eventual emotional crumbling heartbreaking to watch. Her paramour, Lancelot, the man whose actions helped build and destroy Arthur's legendary Round Table, is Italian stud muffin Franco Nero, who has his own share of surprisingly affecting moments, as when he revives a knight who's suffered fatal wounds in a tournament.

The story focuses mostly on the triangle between Arthur, his best friend Lancelot and Guinevere; the formation and disintegration of the Round Table are given short shrift. The tragic love story may be the most interesting angle anyway, but Logan's lack of attention to the other knights (they're more a blur of armor than a collection of distinguishable characters) makes the movie feel oddly misshapen. And the musical numbers might have been staged more simply -- sometimes they feel cluttered and busy, when they should be intimate. But at least Logan's attention to detail (including a costume budget that amounted to more than $2 million alone) always gives you plenty to ogle.

The extras, unfortunately, are a lot less dazzling: Many of them are just collections of facts typed up on-screen, and they're layered over images from the movie, which makes them difficult to read. But those factoids, along with a promotional featurette made at the time of the movie's release, do provide a few interesting tidbits about the making of the movie, particularly details about the production design and John Truscott's costumes (which both won Academy Awards for the picture; the movie's third award was for best adapted score). We learn that the movie's locations included eight different castles in Spain, and that its Round Table weighed 2,750 pounds. We also learn that one of Guinevere's more elaborate costumes -- a robe made of shimmering metallic "fish scales" -- weighed 64 pounds. (In the featurette, you get a glimpse of crew members giving the rather fragile-looking Redgrave a hand as she moves around the set between scenes.)

But the weirdest detail is embedded in the TV documentary of the movie's gala world premiere: It's an ad for a line of special "Camelot Collection" robes and nightgowns (in comfortable tricot) marketed by Stevens. The nighties are worn by comely cuties in outlandish late-'60s hairdos, wandering about the misty woods, some of them leading horses. Let it not be forgot that once there was a spot where licensing deals didn't involve action figures. From here, it sure looks like Camelot.


Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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