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The Third Crusade as it didn't happen. King Richard Coeur de Lion goes on the crusade to avoid marrying Princess Alice of France; en route, he marries Berengaria to get food for his men. Berengaria.is captured by Saladin, spurring Richard to attack and capture Acre. But Saladin, attracted to her, takes her on to Jerusalem, and Richard is in danger of assassination. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
No history lesson but interesting look at different aspect of DeMille's genius
After the release of Ridley Scott's KINGDOM OF HEAVEN and 70 years after the premiere of DeMille's CRUSADES, I found it interesting to see the film. Cecil B DeMille is usually associated with ancient or biblical epics like TEN COMMANDMENTS, CLEOPATRA, KING OF KINGS or THE SIGN OF THE CROSS. However, after the two great epics of the early 1930s, he made a movie about a different historical period, the infamous crusades that aimed at protecting the Holy Land from the Muslim "infidels". The problem with this film, however, is that it looks historical but contains serious historical inaccuracies. Therefore, it cannot be treated as a serious historical epic and it is not a history lesson whatsoever. Nevertheless, it is a very interesting movie being an authentic look at DeMille's talents and a real 1930s movie. Consequently, it can still touch some of the 21 century viewers, particularly classic movie fans.
CHARACTERS: Most of the names that we hear in THE CRUSADES are historical. They are, however, showed in a different perspective and addressed to the audiences of that time. DeMille calls our attention foremost to Richard the Lionheart (Henry Wilcoxon) and his lovely wife princess Berengaria (Loretta Young). Richard is a man of courage, a king who, unlike other kings, is close to his people. But, he joins the crusade due to entirely different reasons than other kings. He does not have any faith in the cross he is to wear but wants to escape marriage with Alice (Katherine DeMille), the sister of Philip, king of France. On the way to the Holy Land, he meets the love of his life, Berengaria, a very noble and pure lady who, in the long run, changes Richard into a peacemaker and believer. These two characters are very well developed and their plot has much to say to today's viewer: the love between a man and a woman does not have to be based on sex only. Their love is mostly a spiritual love rather than sexual one (so appreciated by Medieval people). It is showed a bit humorously in the moment when Richard dares jump into his wife's bed, dedicated to John, Matthew, Luke and Mark... Another character that needs mentioning is the Hermit (C.Aubrey Smith). This is a man of great courage and faith whose sole aim in life is the cross. "Take the Cross to your hearts," as he says to the people in England gathered to join the crusade is a particularly powerful moment.
CAST: Even though Henry Wilcoxon plays the main role, he is not that good in this movie. As a matter of fact, I far more liked his performance in CLEOPATRA (1934). His acting, behavior of a proud man suits Antony very well but does not suit Richard that well. Stars who deserve highest attention in this movie are C.Aubrey Smith as the Hermit, Ian Keith as Saladin, and Joseph Schildkraut as Conrad, Marquis of Montferrat. Smith memorably presents a stereotypical hermit (this face and this voice!), Keith stresses Saladin's wisdom and an indefatigable desire to defend his religion. He shines in the scene when visiting the royal assembly. Finally Schildkraut undeniably deserves careful attention in his magnificent portrayal of conspiring Conrad. It is true that his role is distorted historically, but he does, in this performance alone, a terrific job. Loretta Young's performance, however, is far from masterpiece. Sometimes, she is sweeter than chocolate with sugar.
DIFFERENT DeMILLE: It is noticeable that THE CRUSADES, though an epic, concentrates more on message rather than lavish sets and costumes. As a result, DeMille is less noticeable than in lavish CLEOPATRA or THE SIGN OF THE CROSS. What we get here is the story, vivid characters, message of peace. That is very important to state since a lot of people associate DeMille ONLY with sets, visual effects, costumes and bathes. Here, he gives something more. It is true that there are monumental moments, like the siege of Acre or a touching scene of crusaders leaving their families for the Holy Land, but they are not in the main focus.
This film is filled with one more thing that I consider significant to mention, SYMBOLISM. It is in other DeMille's movies too, but never that much as in THE CRUSADES. The most memorable moment is a scene of salvation. Simple crusaders die and just before their last breath, they desire to touch the Cross. They climb high steps enlightened by the light coming from above. It is similar to Christians going to arena in THE SIGH OF THE CROSS, but here, it really seems that DeMille wanted to show a vision of heaven.
In the end, the film shows the victory of peace. It is a historical fairy tale but partly refers to the period of peace between Christians and Muslims termed by Saladin. This led another director to make a movie, 70 years later... THE CRUSADES, however, is still entertaining in some way. It is not for historians, but a must see for all DeMille's fans and all people interested in early talkies. 7/10!
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