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A group of British aristocrats, who call themselves "Knights of Avalon", isn't content with the system of justice and executes judgment themselves. Instead of just killing the people they believe guilty, they give 'em a chance in traditional combat. When one day Sir Grifford witnesses their sessions, they have to remove him too. His son and heir, Sir John from America, starts to investigate with help from Ms. Marion and Colonel Cook from Scotland Yard. Written by
Tom Zoerner <Tom.Zoerner@informatik.uni-erlangen.de>
Amiably daft action comedy that starts out semi-seriously only to get sillier by the minute, doing all it can along the way to gleefully rip off British TV series The Avengers.
What we're talking about here isn't finely wrought, minutely detailed art, but colourful entertainment broader than a castle rampart. The story and setting are original and interesting, and one could just barely imagine a serious film based on this premise, but playing the clown was probably a wiser choice, as it offsets the inherent eccentricity of the plot.
The action is plentiful and well executed, and it's lent freshness by the eclectic mix of armoured knights, cars, Cockney gangsters in suits and John Steed-wannabe Colonel Cook (Mills) fighting it out with his trusty umbrella. To me, the action and comedy highlight comes when gangster Sidney Gore (Glover) takes on an entire contingent of mounted knights using only his fists and a very bad temper it's actually quite glorious.
Like the action, performances are big, loud and ridiculous, few of the actors having seemingly heard the phrase "less is more". The exceptions are Birney as our wooden hero (who still makes a go at hamming it up on occasion) and Cushing, who only has two scenes, both of which are heartfelt and serious, making him look simultaneously impressive and completely out of place. The award for Most Over the Top Performance goes to Glover, with Leighton as his mother a close runner up. I'm not a fan of actors going that big, but Glover and Leighton almost gets away with it on account of their characters being innately funny. Pleasence doesn't reign it in either as the autocratic master of the knightly order, but when he goes over the top all that happens is that he becomes terrifying, so I'm OK with that.
Light, kitschy entertainment is what's on the menu, then, and Trial by Combat (also known in various markets as A Choice of Weapons and A Dirty Knight's Work) does what it sets out to do in delightful fashion, never losing its footing, but then again never trying for anything resembling greatness either. If one isn't feeling particularly brainy, a movie showing a charging car getting pierced by lance wielding knights can be ever so much fun, so I do wish more people got to see it. But this is a film that's hard to come by, which is a shame, since it's certainly better value for money than anything Roland Emmerich has ever made, and it isn't hard getting hold of his "films", is it? But much like the knightly code in the movie itself, Trial by Combat belongs to a different era, so I won't hold my breath for a proper home media release.
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