This came at a transitional point for the epic swashbuckler genre – it’s academy ratio (with gorgeous Jack Cardiff Technicolor cinematography) and built around ten-years-into-his-heroic-stardom Tyrone Power, who is trim and athletic with his shirt off in torture and bath scenes but looks terrifyingly like his leading lady’s Dad in love scenes (Power always had an air of incipient middle-age, even in his heyday).
Its first reel is all Saxons-v-Normans stuff, with bastard son Walter of Gurnie (Power) left a pair of boots in his natural father’s will, and clashing with the Norman family into whom his Saxon knight father married … also verbally sparring with King Edward I (Michael Rennie), who wants to unite England but hasn’t yet convinced his subjects (and the hero) this is a good idea. After a bit of rebelliousness with his archery-proficient rebel outlaw pal Tristram Griffin (Jack Hawkins) that plainly sets the film in Robin Hood’s greensward, Walter leaves the country on a roundabout trip to Cathay, falling in with the armies of Mongol warrior chief Bayan (Orson Welles) along the way.
Talbot Jennings’ script is based on a novel by the forgotten Thomas B. Costain (The Silver Chalice) and literally covers a lot of ground, though it gets a bit weirdly earnest in all the debate about the rectitude of slaughter and conquest, with the hint that the hero is more complex (and unpleasant) than anyone connected with the film want him to be – Power still trails some of his Nightmare Alley shiftiness – and that’s even before we factor in a romance with Maryam aka Mohammed aka the Black Rose (Cecile Aubry), an escaped harem girl who acts as if she were about twelve, and a hurried late-in-the-day bit where Walter and Tristram are taken for prophesied god-savours by the Chinese and then the hero doesn’t do anything to save the people who expect him to … leaving a whole city to be sacked and massacred by the jovial but merciless Bayan as he scuttles home with the instructions (in Chinese?!) for a printing press, gunpowder and the compass which he turns over to Friar Roger Bacon (Henry Oscar) and the King to whom he finally bows, being rewarded with a knighthood and a name (Sir Walter Fitz-Ralph, natch).
Welles, barging in and taking over, is just right for his scenes, bringing menace and charm but the film lets his character slip out of sight – surely, he was worth a big death scene, even a duel. Also lurking about is a wide variety of talent – Bobby (later Robert) Blake and Alfonso Bedoya from Treasure of the Sierra Madre are cast as Arabs (Bedoya sounds, like several characters, as if he’s been dubbed by Peter Sellers – which, according to the IMDb, is actually the case), Finlay Currie and Gibb McLaughlin are Saxons, James Robertson Justice, Mary Clare and Laurence Harvey are Normans (Harvey seems to be set up as Walter’s half-brother/nemesis, but just glowers), Herbert Lom adds to his collection of piratical Mid-eastern types, and there are lick-and-spit cameos for George Woodbridge and Torin Thatcher. We get a lot of landscape (mostly Morocco), castles, palaces, costumes (steel hats with spikes), crowds and portrait shots, but surprisingly little action – though Power walks (sans shirt, of course) on a rope between blades as he’s whipped with pig-bladders and there’s some trick archery. Aubry is adorable, if weirdly cast – she married a sheikh she met while on location, quit acting, divorced, and wrote the novel Belle et Sebastian – which led to a TV series and a band. Music by Richard Addinsell. Directed a bit stiffly by Henry Hathaway.