Hold onto your chain mail; you’re in for a glorious medieval romp with master filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille’s The Crusades (1935), his burly and immensely entertaining pageant about Richard the Lionheart (the extraordinarily photogenic Henry Wilcoxon, the leading man in DeMille’s previous blockbuster Cleopatra). Mammoth forces align against worthy Islamic foe Saladin (DeMille regular Ian Keith), offset by political treachery (Joseph Schildkraut as the oily Conrad of Montferrat), religious fervor (C. Aubrey Smith, with those patented eyebrows, plays The Hermit) and bumptious humor (Alan Hale as Richard’s ironic troubadour Blondel). Loretta Young, in the longest wig Max Factor ever devised, portrays Berengeria, princess of Navarre, who’s offered to Richard in a cattle-rich marriage to offset the cost of holy war.
The pace is unflagging while DeMille supplies a panoply of visual splendor. The siege of Acre, with its electrifying cavalry charge, physically bolts you out of your seat. Employing his usual Paramount A-list production team, DeMille’s mighty spectacle is the pinnacle of classic Hollywood golden-age filmmaking. This gorgeous show was DeMille’s personal favorite, no doubt because it wasn’t a big hit on its first release (although it was successful in the Arab world, due to its sympathetic treatment), and C.B. was really a softie at heart, contrary to his own publicity. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7515 or visit www.mfah.org/films.
Sat., June 9, 2012