The Magic Sword/St. George and the Dragon/St. George and Seven Curses/The Seven Curses of Lodac (1962) -**Ĺ
It was probably inevitable that Bert I. Gordon would try his hand at a fantasy adventure movie sooner or later. He, after all, was in the big-damn-monster business, and by the 1960ís, Hollywood had grown weary of big damn monsters on the city-smashing model that had predominated since 1953. Nuclear mishaps, alien invasions, and geological catastrophes were out as monster motivators; Greek gods, Arabian sorcerers, and Medieval warlocks were in. Ray Harryhausen was among those blazing the trail, just as he had in the preceding decade, and where Harryhausen went, Gordon was sure to follow. Interestingly, Gordonís bid to cash in on the success of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad actually owes more to a parallel cash-in attempt, Edward Smallís Jack the Giant Killer. Like the latter movie, The Magic Sword is set (at least by implication) in a fairy-tale version of England, and concerns a quest to rescue a captive princess from a wizard who commands witches and giants, and a shabby but still pretty cool-looking dragon figures prominently in the climax. Gordon, however, managed something that his better-funded competitors either could not or simply didnít bother to tryó he secured the services of an actor who at least used to be a star.
Donít look for that former star in the heroís part, though. In accordance with the standard procedure for these movies, Gordon has entrusted the bulk of the derring-do to some good-looking young schnook with too little experience to ask for much of a paycheck, apparently on the theory that if the ladís teeth are sufficiently straight, white, and shiny, then we wonít notice that he can neither act his way out of a wet paper bag nor figure out which end of the swash is supposed to have the buckle on it. The youth in question is Gary Lockwood (later seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Ghost of Flight 401), and he plays an orphaned princeling by the name of George. George was adopted by Sybil (Estelle Winwood, from Dead Ringer and The Cabinet of Caligari), an ostensibly great witch who is evidently well past her prime; these days, she mostly just hangs out in her secret lair, kept company by a dapper chimpanzee and a bald guy with two heads (Nick and Paul Bon Tempi) who seems to be the magical equivalent of her sous-chef. George lives an equally hermetic life, having no apparent contact with the outside world except by spying on it via an enchanted pool somewhere in the woods around his foster motherís homeó and thereís nobody he spies on more than Princess Helene of Someplaceorothershire (Nightmare in Waxís Anne Helm). Our boy Georgie is getting in some primo ogling while the object of his perhaps somewhat twisted affections takes a bath in the courtyard garden of her fatherís castle and gripes to her handmaid about how her royal lifestyle precludes her from meeting any boys, when he witnesses an unexpected and most distressing turn of events. As Helene climbs out of the pond to get dressed, a considerably older but even more striking woman (Maila ďVampiraĒ Nurmi, of Plan 9 from Outer Space, in another of her all too few big-screen appearances) teleports into the garden and then out again with the princess in tow.
George instantly goes running to Sybil, ranting about Heleneís abduction; the old lady is not nearly as sympathetic as he expected. A sorceress of her stature being just about immortal, Sybil tends to lose track of how aging and maturation work for ordinary humans, and to her, twenty seems much too young an age at which to be capable of forming any strong interpersonal attachments. In fact, the other, far more important issueó that George has never so much as met this girl he professes to loveó barely seems to register with her. Nevertheless, after enduring his pestering for a bit, Sybil switches on her magic mirror, and sets it to eavesdrop on the throne room of Heleneís father (Merritt Stone, whom Gordon had used before in Earth vs. the Spider and Tormented). This brings to light the best reason of all for George to forget about Helene and any foolish notions of rescuing her, for the man who strides into the throne room amid peals of supernatural thunder to announce that the princess was seized by one of his agents is none other than Sybilís old and indescribably powerful enemy, Lodac the sorcerer (Basil Rathbone, from The Black Sleep and The Hound of the Baskervilles). At the height of her powers, Sybil would have been no match for him in a stand-up fight, so for George to take him on would be tantamount to suicide. George remains adamant, though, especially once he sees in the mirror Sir Branton (What Waits Belowís Liam Sullivan) coming forward to offer the king his services as a champion, in answer to which His Majesty pledges half his lands and Heleneís hand in marriage to whomever can effect her rescue. Finally, Sybil has a brainstorm. Hoping to distract George from Heleneís fate, she offers to let him see the stuff she has put together to be his coming-of-age present when his next birthday rolls around. George sullenly agrees, but his mood brightens considerably as each of the three gifts is unveiled. The first is Beyhar, ďthe fastest horse in the world.Ē The second is a thick coat made out of some cheap, shinyÖ wait, that canít be rightÖ No, I knowó itís an impenetrable suit of enchanted chainmail! And the third, as those of us who are watching the movie under its most common title have surely guessed by now, is a magic sword. This is ďAscalon, the bladeó none other like it since the world was made,Ē and it not only out-performs all other swords with respect to sharpness and tensile strength, but holds the power to dispel black magic and open any locked portal. Now weíre all thinking what George is thinking at this point, arenít we? With an arsenal like that at his disposal, why the hell not pick a fight with Lodac? Itís just a matter of figuring out how to make Sybil hand over the swag a few months early. George goes about it by tricking his foster mother into heading downstairs to the hidden cellar where her father had his magical laboratory, and then sealing the enchanted trapdoor behind her. Itíll take a couple of hours for Sybil to rig up a spell that will overcome the mystical lock, and by that time, George will be well along the road to rescuing Helene. On his way out, though, he takes a moment to use Ascalonís spell-breaking power to free six legendary knights whom Sybil had stored as ceramic figurines for no very obvious reason. When Sir Dennis of France (Jacques Gallo), Sir Pedro of Spain (David Cross, from The Creation of the Humanoids), Sir Ulrich of Germany (Leroy Johnson), Sir Anthony of Italy (Taldo Kenyon), Sir James of Scotland (Angus Duncan, from Simon, King of the Witches and Sweet Sugar), and Sir Patrick of Ireland (John Mauldin) find themselves restored to their normal state, and learn that thereís a glorious quest to be undertaken, they all agree to accompany George as his retainers.
George is going to need the help, too. Lodac wants Helene not for ransom (although he clearly does finance his empire of evil at least partly by kidnapping princesses and selling them back to their families), but for use in a generational revenge scheme. The kingís father executed Lodacís sister for witchcraft decades ago, so now the wizard plans to spread the pain around a bit by feeding Helene to his pet two-headed dragon. Conflict amuses him, though, so heíll allow Branton or George or whomever feels like attempting a rescue seven days to give it their best shot. (It takes about that long to ride from the kingís castle to Lodacís.) But Lodac also interposes seven curses between Helene and the knights, a succession of awful perils that they will have to overcome before they can so much as lay eyes on the princess. Thereís a giant ogre; a mist-shrouded swamp ensorcelled so as to separate any party that ventures into it, and to set them wandering into pools of caustic poison; the witch who abducted Helene in the first place, who can take on any number of forms; a vast, radioactive desert (leave it to Bert I. Gordon to wedge radioactivity into a sword-and-sorcery flick); a cave full of ghosts with a disappearing entrance; and naturally an army of goblins, bird-men, and evil dwarves (yepó thatís Angelo Rositto, alright) manning his castle, to say nothing of the dragon itself. Hell, you donít even want to know about Curse Seven! And just in case all that werenít enough to keep anybody from springing the princess before the dragonís suppertime, Lodac has a double agent in the kingís court, too.
Let me be honest with youó the reason you donít want to know about Curse Seven is because Lodac never gets around to laying it! Thatís the kind of movie The Magic Sword is. Itís the sort of film in which a bunch of shit happens, but a lot of it never quite manages to have much to do with anything else. The kind in which plot threads are resolved arbitrarily or not at all, while motivations almost never come completely into focus. Itís a dumb movie, and a strange movie, and a fairly thoroughly illogical movie, but itís also pretty damned entertaining precisely because of its refusal to do the sensible thing so long as an insensible alternative presents itself. It features a remarkably comprehensive sampling of Gordonís inimitably cheap-ass effects techniques, as well. It has the expected great big thing in the form of Lodacís ogre. It has packs of doll-sized characters running around the sorcererís castle, as in Attack of the Puppet People. It has a more developed version of Tormentedís ghost effects. And in an unusual departure for Gordon, it has an elaborate if rather clumsy puppet to represent the dragon. If nothing had been required of the dragon except to pose for publicity stills, that puppet might have been sort of impressive, too. Itís very detailed and anatomically unusual, and the flames smoldering in its nostrils like pilot lights when it isnít actively spraying fire at its prey are a cool (if obviously practically motivated) touch. Finally, The Magic Sword benefits from the presence of both Basil Rathbone and Maila Nurmi, even if the latter is both underutilized and hampered in most of her scenes by an appallingly shitty rubber mask. (Incidentally, if you want your old hag to seduce a hero in the guise of a comely wench, what the hell sense is there in casting Danielle De Metz [Return of the Fly, Valley of the Dragons] as the sexy alter-ego when youíve already got frigging Vampira under the ugly-face mask?!) The Magic Sword certainly does nothing to raise the average for 1960ís fantasy adventure movies (indeed, it does a fair amount to lower it), but it does have plenty of the old Gordon charm.