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Twelfth-century Lombardy lies under the iron heel of German overlord Count Ulrich 'The Hawk', but in the mountains, guerillas yet resist. Five years before our story, Ulrich stole away the pretty wife of young archer Dardo who, cynical rather than embittered, still has little interest in joining the rebels. But this changes when his son, too, is taken from him. The rest is lighthearted swashbuckling, plus romantic interludes with lovely hostage Anne. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When Warners' publicity department claimed that Burt Lancaster did all his own stunts, it raised the ire of veteran stuntman Don Turner, who stood in for the actor in at least three fight scenes although he sought no credit for the acrobatic scenes. See more »
Just as the boy Rudy is captured by the soldiers (and when he should be frightened), you see him grinning quite broadly at someone off-camera. See more »
I learned a long time ago, my lady, never trust a mountain cat when she stops snarling and never trust a woman when your back is turned.
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"The Flame and the Arrow" takes the story of Robin Hood and transfers it from England to Italy. The scene is set in twelfth-century Lombardy, at a time when that area was subject to the rule of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. The villain of the piece is Count Ulrich the Hawk, the cruel German overlord of Lombardy. The Robin Hood figure is Dardo Bartoli, a hunter and skilled archer who leads a group of rebels against Ulrich after being outlawed, with the mute Piccolo the equivalent of Little John. There is also another villain, the Marchese Alessandro di Granazia, and a Maid Marian figure in Anne of Hesse, a beautiful German aristocrat who takes the side of the Italian rebels and falls in love with Dardo.
The film which obviously inspired this one was the Errol Flynn version of "The Adventures of Robin Hood", made twelve years earlier. Burt Lancaster, who had previously been a gymnast and a circus acrobat, was an obvious choice to play Dardo, the sort of swashbuckling role which Flynn had made his own in the late thirties and forties. (Lancaster was to go on to play similar roles in other films such as "The Crimson Pirate"). Here, he gets plenty of opportunity to display his athletic talents, doing all his own stunts, many of which (such as the scene where he swings from the chandelier) were clearly inspired by "Robin Hood".
Unlike Robin Hood, who is normally portrayed as a Saxon nobleman leading his people against their Norman oppressors, Dardo has a personal reason for resenting the German rulers of Lombardy. His wife Francesca has left him in order to become Count Ulrich's mistress, and much of the plot concerns Dardo's attempts to rescue his son Rudy, whom Ulrich has kidnapped. I felt, however, that the film did not make enough of the Dardo/Francesca/Ulrich triangle. Francesca is a minor figure who plays little part in the action, and Dardo's climactic duel at the end of the film (paralleling the one between Flynn and Basil Rathbone in "Robin Hood) is with the secondary villain Granazia, not with Ulrich, who is portrayed as being too cowardly to face his rival man-to-man.
Burt Lancaster was a much more versatile actor than Errol Flynn; I could not, for example, imagine Flynn in "The Birdman of Alcatraz" or "Lawman" or "The Train". (Or if he had made a version of "The Train", it would have had had Labiche leaping from carriage to carriage across the roof of the train, fighting hand-to-hand duels against the Nazis in a desperate attempt to rescue the priceless artworks). Within his relatively narrow range, however, Flynn ruled supreme, and for all his athleticism Lancaster never quite brings to his role the panache and charisma that Flynn brought to his in "Robin Hood" and similar films.
Unlike some reviewers, I did not see the film as a "spoof" of the swashbuckling genre, a type of film which was always characterised by a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek tone. It was, however, a genre with its own conventions, and "The Flame and the Arrow" was clearly intended to fall squarely within those conventions, not mock or parody them as, for example, Mel Brooks did in "Robin Hood- Men in Tights". Although it is enjoyable enough it is not, however, among the best of the genre- certainly not when compared with films like "The Adventures of Robin Hood". 6/10
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