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CRUSADES, THE (director: Cecil B. De Mille; screenwriters: Harold Lamb/Dudley Nichols/Waldemar Young; cinematographer: Victor Milner; editor: Anne Bauchens; music: Rudolph G. Kopp; cast: Loretta Young (Berengaria), Henry Wilcoxon (Richard the Lionheart), Ian Keith (Saladin), C. Aubrey Smith (The Hermit), Katherine DeMille (Alice of France), Joseph Schildkraut (Conrad of Montferrat), C. Henry Gordon (Philip the Second, King of France),Ann Sheridan (Christian slave), George Barbier (Sancho, King of Navarre), Alan Hale (Troubadour); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Cecil B. De Mille; Universal; 1935)
“Blowzy inaccurate medieval era epic on the Holy Crusades is pure Hollywood balderdash, nevertheless it’s an immensely fun spectacle.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Cecil B. De Mille’s (“Carmen”/”Samson and Delilah”/”The Ten Commandments”) blowzy inaccurate medieval era epic on the Holy Crusades is pure Hollywood balderdash, nevertheless it’s an immensely fun spectacle.It should be pointed out that De Mille went to great trouble to make sure the accuracy of the costumes, props, and sets were not to be doubted. The film uses the Crusade as a lesson for the brutish Richard the Lionheart (Henry Wilcoxon) to learn humility.

De Mille has thousands of extras wielding swords and a boorish, hotheaded Richard the Lionheart determined to rescue his feisty, sweet blonde queen Berengaria (Loretta Young) from the honorable infidel chief Saladin (Ian Keith). Writers Harold Lamb, Dudley Nichols and Waldemar Young relate it to the story of the Third Crusade, and set the film in the year 1187. It’s pieced together from the characters and events from all the Crusades, which went on for two centuries–thereby rendering the storyline historically unreliable. The loose history presented relates it was a time when Christians backed the Crusades from motives that were pure to base, and the powers sought to take control of the Holy Land from its Moslem possessors at any cost.

It opens in the 12th century, and shows in a sweeping De Mille trademark style of filming that Jerusalem has fallen to Saracen invaders, who cruelly treat the Christians in the Holy Land. We view the elderly bound in chains, a blonde Christian woman (Ann Sheridan) and nuns sold into slavery by sneering Arab slave-traders, and the cross toppled off the city walls. The pious wandering Hermit (C. Aubrey Smith) witnesses the slaughter and rape of the Holy City by Saladin and returns to Europe to get revenge. He enlists King Philip of France (C. Henry Gordon), but the conniving king frets that Richard might steal his throne while he’s away and as a safeguard tries to force Richard to marry his sister Princess Alice (Katherine DeMille, Cecil’s adopted daughter) as promised by Richard’s late father King Henry II . But the non-believer Richard instead opts to lead the Crusades and thereby have his promise of marriage voided.

When Richard’s army is starving in Marseilles, the minor ruler, the slippery King of Navarre (George Barbier), will give Richard cattle only as a dowry if he marries his daughter Princess Berengaria. Richard reluctantly accepts, and sends his sword in place during the wedding ceremony. When Richard’s unwanted bride is captured by Saladin, the Christian king suddenly finds he wants her back and as a result he sacks at night the walled city of Acre and almost gets through to Jerusalem. Saladin nobly sends Berengaria back to Richard and agrees to an alliance to have the Holy City open to Moslems and Christians alike. Richard returns to Europe, to only find the European Christian rulers are less honorable than the infidel ruler. The oily Conrad of Montferrat (Joseph Schildkraut), an ally of the king of France and confidante to Richard’s two-faced ambitious brother Prince John, who wants Richard’s crown, schemes to have Richard killed.

There’s enough history to make this historical drama at least childlike satisfactory in quality and it provides an ample heroin-like dose of showy absurdity for cinema addicts to get a buzz. It serves as a guilty pleasure for those who can forgive De Mille for his excesses and not have a guilt-trip for actually liking such tripe.

It was a box office failure only because it cost so much to produce.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”