The Black Shield of Falworth (1954)

 

 

 

Director:     Rudolph MatÚ.

Starring:     Tony Curtis (Myles), Janet Leigh (Lady Anne), David Farrar (Gilbert Blunt, Earl of Alban), Barbara Rush (Meg), Herbert Marshall (William, Earl of Mackworth), Torin Thatcher (Sir James), Dan O'Herlihy (Prince Hal), Patrick O'Neal (Walter Blunt), Craig Hill (Francis Gascoyne), Ian Keith (King Henry IV), Doris Lloyd (Dame Ellen), Rhys Williams (Diccon Bowman), Leonard Mudie (Friar Edward), Maurice Marsac (Count de Vermois), Leo Britt (Sir Robert).

during the reign of King Henry IV of England (1399-1413), a talented and ambitious peasant tries to work his way up the ladder to knighthood and to get the hand of the fair lady of  Mackworth castle

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

England in the reign of King Henry IV.  His Majesty is out hunting with others when he grasps his chest.  His fellow hunters, such as the Earl of Alban, ask him what's wrong and His Majesty says that it was a mild seizure that will pass.  But he does drop out of the hunt.  A friend of the Earl of Alban says if anything happens to the King, then Lord Howe would up, but the Earl says that the Council will still continue to run the government.  The friend says and the Earl of Alban will continue to run the Council. 

The hunters come to a farm house.  A young, handsome man named Myles is quickly ordered to hide up in the hayloft by a close family friend,  named Diccon Bowman, of Myles' father.  They then answer the knock on the door.  Meg and Diccon open the door and a soldier tells them to fetch some water for the Earl of Alban and his guests.  Diccon goes to get the water.  Alban's friend Sir Robert decides he likes the look of Meg and he goes inside the house to have his way with her.  He overpowers Meg, but Myles jumps down from the hayloft, pulls Sir Robert off of Meg and tells Meg to run.  Meg jumps out a back window. 

Sir Robert calls Myles an insolent, young swine and tries to kill him with his sword.  Myles tells Sir Robert that the lady under attack is his sister, but this has no effect on Sir Robert.  Nevertheless, Myles is so athletic that he's like an acrobat, bounding away from the thrusts of Sir Robert's sword.  Myles knocks Sir Robert across the room.  More hunters come in to subdue Myles, but he is just too agile to catch.  Myles has to retreat to the hayloft, but from there he jumps out the hayloft door onto a horse of one of the hunters.  He takes off with the horse as fast as he can.  The Earl of Alban shouts out that he will give a cask of his best Spanish wine to whoever "hunts down the peasant".  They ride out after Myles.

Diccon calls for his ward Meg to come out of hiding.  He tells her that Myles should be able to elude his chasers in the deep woods.  For their own safety, they decide to stay with Friar Edward for awhile. 

A couple of soldiers find the horse used by Myles not far from the church.  They inquire with Friar Edward if he saw the peasant with dark hair?  The friar says he saw 20 such men today at mass.  The soldiers give up and ride off.   The friar goes back into the church where Myles, Meg and Diccon are waiting. 

Myles talks about moving north where they can find new lands to cultivate.  The friar tells him that Myles' father never intended for Myles to be a farmer, nor Meg to be a farmer's wife.  He pulls out some items from a chest that Myles's father gave to him for safekeeping.  Myles uses the opportunity to ask who was his father?  But the friar says that he and Diccon were sworn not to reveal the name of the father.  Myles takes a look at a ring with the papers.  It's the black shield of Falworth, but the friar and Diccon won't say what it is.  The friar only says that if Myles is going to wear the ring, he could be killed for doing so. 

Meg, Myles and Diccon head to the Mackworth castle for asylum.  As they approach the castle, a woman rides past them shouting for the two men to stop the man behind her.  So that's what Myles does.  He holds down the fellow, named Walter Blunt, while the damsel in distress returns.  She laughs upon seeing Walter down on the ground.  Walter is mad and wants go after Myles, but Lady Anne tells Walter that the peasant thought he was protecting her.  Myles learns that Lady Anne had a bet with Walter that he could not catch up with her.  The lady gives Myles her handkerchief and says that Myles has won her everlasting gratitude for his brave deed.  Now she rides off.  Walter gets on his horse, saying that Myles is lucky that Lady Ann is pleased with him.  The implication is that Walter would have horse-whipped him to death or near-death.  He calls Myles a "bumpkin" and rides off.

Myles throws Lady Anne's handkerchief down on the ground.  Diccon reproaches Myles for this.

The trio reaches the castle and are let in.  Myles is very impressed and keeps running into things as he marvels at what he sees.  This brings some laughter at the bumpkin.  Myles goes to teach the two fellows laughing the loudest a lesson.  This leads to a fight which Lady Anne, again accompanied by Walter, has to order stopped.  Another man, named Francis Gascoyne, grabs hold of Myles in order to stop him from doing something else unwise.  Francis tells the trio that Walter is a serious enemy to have because he is the chief of the esquires.  It seems Francis is interested in the pretty Meg.  Myles asks him about the lady and is informed that she is Lady Anne, the daughter of the owner of the castle, Mackworth.  He adds also that now is a bad time to see his lordship, because the Prince of Wales is visiting.  And Prince Hal loves having long drinKing bouts. 

A drunken Prince Hal and his retinue come along with Mackworth.  The Prince and Mackworth go into the library where they can close the door behind them.  Prince Hal stops pretending to be drunk and he and Mackworth get down to business.  The two men are very worried about the future of England.  They want to stop the plans of the Earl of Alban.  Prince Hal says that he has heard that Alban wants Lady Anne to marry into his family.  Alban's brother is none other than Walter Blunt.  Mackworth says if Alban has his way, it will be the death of the Prince of Wales. 

When Lord Mackworth comes out into the main area, Meg and Myles get down on their knees before him and Myles hands him a letter from Friar Edward.  Mackworth has some trouble reading the letter, so the Prince of Wales starts to read the letter out loud.  As soon as Mackworth realizes who the letter is from, he takes the letter back, telling the Prince that it is of no importance.  He then tells the Prince that a friend of his for 20 years has written to ask him if he could take his son and daughter under his wing.  And so he will. 

Meg goes with a woman, Dame Ellen, while Francis takes Myles to see Sir James where Myles will become a squire at arms.   About Myles, Mackworth says:  "He's too rough a cub to be a page."

Sir James tells Francis that he will not break his entry rules to take in Myles as a squire at arms.  He is going to write him in his books as being "unclassified".  Francis grabs Myles and out they walk. 

Meg gives Dame Ellen a really hard time.  She doesn't want to wear the outfit worn by the women worKing with Dame Ellen.  A big row starts and Lady Anne comes in to break it up.  She tells Dame Ellen that she will handle the little troublemaker.  She tells Meg to come with her for a little talk.  But once Meg and Lady Anne are alone, Lady Anne tells her that she is glad to see that Myles' sister is just as peppery as her brother.  She says that maybe now things won't be so boring around here.  And now Lady Anne opens a big chest and starts taKing out dresses that Meg might be able to wear. 

Myles almost walks right into a sector where the senior esquires training to be knights stay.  Francis pulls him away before Myles gets into further trouble.  But trouble follows Myles as the seniors start to harass him.  Myles shoves a tomato into the face of one of the seniors and rubs it all around.  Walter jumps in to break it up.  And now Myles finds out that Walter is the brother of Alban.  At bedtime, Myles takes out his father's ring and looks at it. 

Myles starts his training.  Sir James singles out Myles for a demonstration.   He tells Myles to strike him.  The reluctant Myles finally does so and Sir James blocks the blow with his long cane.  He then knocks Myles around a bit and then knocks him to the ground.   Myles gets up and asks Sir James to switch weapons.  With the cane Myles comes at Sir James so fast and hard that he knocks him down.  Sir James tells Myles that he should never underestimate the enemy, as Sir James himself had obviously just done. 

After Sir James leaves, Walter comes over and makes Myles hold out his arm and sticks a heavy rock. The rock is not heavy at the moment, but it soon will become heavy.  Later Francis helps Myles cool his arm down.

At night Myles climbs up the castle walls and gets to Meg's room.  He tells her he wants to get to the library without being seen.  In the library he looks up the insignia on his ring in a book of noble families.  Walter and Lady Anne walk down the castle halls and Walter speaks of his coming marriage to Lady Anne.  Lady Anne asks Walter if the marriage is to take place because of love or because of the need for more political alliances?  He says one word from his brother to King Henry IV and Lady Anne would be commanded to marry him, but Walter says he doesn't want a reluctant wife. 

Walter takes Ann to see her father, but her father is still with the Prince of Wales.  Given this, Walter decides to bring up the subject of marriage at another time.  He leaves.  Anne tells her father that Walter was coming to ask for her hand in marriage.  The Prince of Wales seems to like the idea, because, as he says, they don't want to offend the Earl of Alban and his brother.  Anne, looKing very unhappy, decides to leave.  She goes into the library and her father follows after her.  There they both see Myles and Meg looKing through the book of heraldry. 

Father scolds Myles.  He sees the ring and asks Myles how did he come to have this ring?  Myles insists that it is his, but father pushes Myles out of the library and then goes back for the ring.  Meanwhile, the Prince of Wales has looked up the insignia on the ring and has discovered that it is the Falmouth ring.  When father returns, the Prince reads the note written on the Falmouth heraldry page.   It says:  "Falworth in the glorious reign of King Henry the family of Falworth was declared traitor, its estates confiscated, it's coat of arms struck from heraldry and its every member put to death. 

Walter now has Myles fetch the water for al the men in the barracks.  When Myles starts pouring water into the big water container, he is taunted once again by the seniors.  So Myles throws water on the two hecklers.  Now a whole bunch of fellows start ganging up on Myles.  They chase him all across the room.  Francis saves Myles for awhile by helping him out, but finally there are just too many for Myles.  They catch him and push him to the ground.  Walter grabs a wooden stool and is going to strike Myles with it, but Sir James arrives just in time to save Myles.  Sir James scolds Walter for engaging in brawling, saying that this is not appropriate behavior for a man who is about to be knighted.

Lady Anne tells Meg to write a note to her brother saying that everyday at 4, she and Lady Anne take a walk in the garden.  She adds that this way, Myles and Francis will probably show up to speak to them.

Myles and Francis start going over the wall, but are stopped by the presence of Dame Ellen.  Lady Anne deliberately knocks Dame Ellen off balance and she goes into a small pool getting all wet.  Now the woman has to leave the garden area in order to change her clothes.  Myles and Francis climb up and over the wall.  Lady Anne pretends to be a bit scandalized, but, of course, facilitated their being in the garden in the first place.  

Lady Anne tells Myles that she tried to find the coat of arms insignia in the book of heraldry, but she couldn't find it.  But, she adds, there is now a page missing from the book.  It was torn out.  Lady Anne's father calls for Lady Anne and the garden visit has to be cut short. 

Sir James reports to the Earl of Mackworth that Myles' progress has been tremendously fast.  He's very alive, alert and courageous.  Now after all the complaints about Walter, the squires look up to Myles as their leader.  The Earle says that he wants Sir James to find out if Myles' spirit can be broken.   So Sir James is ordered to work Myles twice as hard as everyone else. 

The squires are instructed in the proper way to dine for a gentleman.  Myles arrives late because he was finishing up the multitude of tasks given to him by Sir James.  After the lesson the squires start to leave.  A squire seems to throw water onto Walter deliberately.  Walter starts beating the smaller man, until Myles comes to his rescue.  Growing exceedingly angry, Walter grabs a weapon and tries to run it through Myles' body.  The Earle, Lady Anne and Sir James come in to see what all the noise is about.  Sir James is going to stop the fight, but the Earl tells him to let them fight, even if it might be to the death of one of the men.  Walter pushes Myles up some stairs, but he is knocked out as he is pushed down the steps by Myles.  Myles stands over Walter's body, but he does not strike the unconscious man. 

Then Mackworth tells Myles to come with him.  Myles complains about the reception he has received from the Earl and his men.  He has been treated more as an enemy than as a friend.  Myles says he will take his punishment and then leave the castle for good.  The Earl says he will do no such thing.  He is to start his training to become a knight right now. 

Sir James puts Myles in a suit of armor and tells the young man that he will wear this armor at all times, except for sleeping.   Myles objects and asks why?  So Sir James pushes him over.  Myles finds that he cannot get up again.  Myles has to be so accustomed to wearing the armor that it comes to feel like a second skin.  Lady Anne comes over to Myles and touches his armor.  This scandalizes Dame Ellen and she puts a stop to that right away.

Walter and two of his friends come out of a passageway and see Myles in armor.  One of the friends asks why would Sir James teach a farm hand to be a knight?  Walter doesn't know, but he says he is going to the court of King Henry III to talk with his brother and there he will find out why. 

Sir James teaches Myles how to ride a horse with his armor on.  With training, Myles is able to jump fences and  weave through obstacles.  As a final test, Sir James decides to challenge Myles to a joust.  Sir James wins the first joust, but Sir James wants to go again.  The second time Myles knocks Sir James off his horse.  When the men come together, Sir James tells Myles:  "Well done!"

In the garden Myles tells Lady Anne all about the joust.  He also tells her that Sir James told him that he will take Myles with him to fight in France, so the French knights can laugh themselves to death at Myles.  The thought of Myles having to fight now worries Lady Anne.  Myles, however, wants to talk of something else.  He has learned that King Henry IV has knighted Walter Blunt and it is said his plans are to return and marry Lady Anne.  The Lady gets upset and says she doesn't want to talk about that now.  Myles asks her directly if she is going to marry Walter Blunt.  He upsets her and she rushes back into the castle. 

Myles starts climbing back down the wall, only to be discovered by Sir James and the Earl.  The Earl demands to know how long this has been going on?  Every week for about a year.  The Earl tells Myles that this time he has gone too far.  The conversation stops as messengers arrive to tell the Earl that the King is coming to the castle for a visit.  He will arrive soon this very day.  The messengers leave.

The Earl says that Myles is confined to his quarters until the Earl can think of a proper punishment.  Myles leaves.  The Earl tells Sir James:  "I may turn this visit into something Alban did not intend."

Myles and Francis talk in the barracks.  Sir James comes down into the barracks to tell Myles that he will be jousting with the champion of Burgundy.  Myles thinks this is part of the punishment --- to be made a fool of before the entire court and the King.   Sir James gets a bit angry and tells Myles that this is not a punishment.  Myles will be representing the Earl and the castle in this joust and he thinks that Myles has a good chance of defeating the famous champion. 

Sir James now takes Myles and Francis to the Great Hall where the nobles are having a fancy dinner.  Myles sees Lady Anne laughing and having a good time with Walter Blunt.  The trio goes up to the King, who is very interested in seeing the jousting challenger.  Walter speaks up and says that Myles can't joust because he is not a knight.  This little ploy backfires on Walter because the King agrees to make Myles a knight so he can joust with the champion of Burgundy.  Lady Anne smiles at this turn of events. 

Lady Anne speaks later to Myles in private.  Myles tells her there isn't much they can do about the situation because the King himself is here to announce her betrothal to Walter Blunt.  She gives Myles a handkerchief with her insignia on it.  She says she wants everyone to see her handkerchief and to know that it is Myles that she loves.  They embrace and kiss. 

Myles with the large handkerchief tied around his left arm comes in to be knighted.  Walter gets upset and asks Lady Anne why does Myles have her handkerchief around his arm?  She only says that Myles honors her by wearing it.  The King taps Myles on both shoulders with his sword and Myles is a knight.  Then Myles is given his shield with the insignia of Falworth on it.  One of the advisers to the King, Alban, says that this is the shield of the traitor Falworth.  The King has Myles arrested.  Alban also wants the King to arrest Mackworth for high treason for providing shelter for the son of Falworth.  But the King says he will let the High Court of Chivalry decide the matter.  Meanwhile, Myles and Mackworth will be held in the castle under guard. 

The Earl of Mackworth now tells Myles that he was in France when Falworth was accused of being a traitor.  Before Falworth could even stand trial, he was killed by the Earl of Alban.  Alban did this to get the castles and estates that belonged to Falworth and that should belong to Myles and his sister.  Myles is upset with the Earl for denying him the chance to kill Alban.  The Earl says he still will have an opportunity to kill Alban.  Why otherwise would the Earl have had to train Myles so hard?  Obviously to be ready for just this type of confrontation.   Before the High Court of Chivalry Myles will have a chance to clear his family name and the right to challenge Alban to trial by combat.  Once Alban is dead and Myles cleared of the treason charge, then the Earl himself will be freed from the charge of treason. 

Anne is upset with her father for his not telling her or Myles about his intrigue.  She tells Myles that she would have run away with him.  Myles is happy to hear that, but he says his father's death must be avenged before anything else can happen.  Walter comes in to take Myles to the dungeon. 

Alban speaks for the prosecution.  Myles will now speak for himself.  He says that Alban is a foul and tainted liar.  Now Myles challenges Alban to trial by combat.  Alban accepts the challenge. 

Alban is not finished with his treachery.  He further convinces the King that all this is but part of a conspiracy against the King himself.   The King tells Alban:  "I leave my safety in your hands."

But Mackworth is on the ball too.  Sir James comes in to tell Mackworth and the others that Alban has replaced all the Mackworth guards with Alban guards.  Mackworth recognizes this as a part of Alban's conspiracy against the King.  He tells the Prince of Wales that he must leave immediately for tomorrow the King and the Prince, as well as anyone of high import loyal to the King, will be at the mercy of Alban and his guards.  The Prince of Wales sees that he  has to leave immediately,  but will be back with armed forces before Myles has a chance to have his duel with Alban.  The Prince takes Lady Anne and Meg with him. 

The Prince, however, is not allowed to leave through the gates.  A worried Lady Anne now tries to make a deal with Walter for the safety of just her father and not Myles.  Walter agrees and Lady Anne asks permission to leave the castle.  Walter tells her to go to castle Alban and wait for him there.  He will send two guards with them for their protection. 

On their way to castle Alban, Lady Anne and company pass by the home village of Myles and Meg.  She tells the guards that they will stop at a local farm house for some refreshment.  Meg goes inside the house and comes out with Diccon.  He brings water for the ladies, but red wine for the guards.   Diccon then quickly kills both the guards.  Lady Anne tells Diccon that they are going to Sir Hubert for help. 

The joust is about to start.  When it does, Alban has a good start and Walter is very pleased.  But when they have to fight hand to hand so to speak, Myles gets the upper hand.  Now Walter is very worried and he gives the signal to two of his guards to use their crossbows to kill Myles.  The two crossbow arrows half-penetrate Myles' shield.  The two Alban guards are now attacked by two guards-in-training from the barracks and working  for Myles.  Both of the regular guards are killed.  Other archers fire three arrows at the King.  The Prince of Wales grabs his father out of his chair and the arrows land in the chair being used by the King to watch the show.  And now everyone starts fighting.  Francis is wounded by an arrow. 

Alban's soldiers surround Myles and Alban decides to make a run for it as he sees that his plot is not going to succeed.  Myles breaks away from soldiers and chases after Alban.  He jumps from his horse onto Alban and they both fall to the ground.  In the fight with Alban, Myles kills Alban.  The wounded Francis now stabs Walter to death.  Sir Humphrey and his men arrive.  The gate is opened and the new arrivals pour into the castle yard.  Alban's soldiers surrender. 

The King reinstates the family name of Falmouth.  Now Myles is Lord Falmouth.  Now Francis hugs and kisses Meg and Lord Falmouth hugs and kisses Lady Anne.

 

The film is not that historical, but the problem of conspiracy against King Henry IV and his reign gets at the main problem facing the King. "Henry spent much of his reign defending himself against plots, rebellions and assassination attempts."  There were at least five risings against King Henry IV:  in 1400 there was the Epiphany Rising that tried to restore Richard II to the throne;  from 1400-1415 there was the Glyndŵr Rising in Wales (1400ľ1415), led by Owain Glyndŵr; and three attempts by the Percy family between 1402 and 1408 that included the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403), a rebellion in northern England (1405) and the Battle of Braham Moor (1408).

The King was able to put down these rebellions in part due to the military skills of his eldest son, Henry of Monmouth (who later became King Henry V, 1413-1422). 

This film is pretty much a classic costume drama, without much history.  Tony Curtis was good as the hot-headed Myles and Janet Leigh as Lady Anne was also good.  Of course, Tony and Janet were husband and wife (married 1952 to 1962).  Tony had already been in 22 movies by the time he did this particular film.  In 1963 Curtis married the second of his five wives, Christine Kaufmann, the 17-year old German co-star of his latest film, Taras Bulba.  He divorced her in 1968.  The other three wives were:  Leslie Allen (1968ľ1982);  Lisa Deutsch (1993ľ1994); and Jill Vandenberg Curtis (1998-2010; his death).

The film has some twists in it, but they are relatively easy to predict. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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