Disney Film History: The Sword and the Rose

The Sword and the Rose

The Sword and the Rose

The early 1950s was an interesting time for Walt Disney and company. They had worked as a single unit all the way up until the end of World War II, but in the 1950s, they split the company in half. Mind you this wasn’t by choice. Money being held up in the United Kingdom left Walt Disney no choice but to make films in the UK while simultaneously making films in the US. It’s common knowledge, especially if you’ve read my previous articles about Treasure Island or Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, that the UK withheld money from going overseas during WWII so any money made by Disney overseas in Europe had to stay there. So while the animation department was full speed ahead in Southern California, Walt decided to take on his new found interest of live action films starting with the previously mentioned films in England. The third of these UK films was somewhat of a mysterious mirage to me. I had heard about The Sword and the Rose and had seen great critical acclaim for it from guys like Leonard Maltin, however nobody I ever knew had seen it. So what is this film?

To know the story of The Sword and the Rose, we have to look at Walt’s previous film from the UK, Robin Hood and His Merrie Men. That film was directed by Ken Annakin, produced by Douglas Pierce, and written by Lawrence Edward Watkin. Why do these names matter? Because Walt liked them so much as a team that he put them all in charge of The Sword and the Rose. It’s pretty simple actually, one film succeeds so the same people are put in charge and the next film will also succeed. Right? Not entirely.

Richard Todd as "Charles" and Glynis Johns as "Mary"

Richard Todd as “Charles” and Glynis Johns as “Mary”

Having the company split in two and at a great distance, Walt couldn’t oversee everything and with the success of Robin Hood, he gave the crew for The Sword and the Rose freedom to make the film as they chose, which included dialogue mostly, which is something that can make or break a film. For The Sword and the Rose, it seems to have dragged it down. The film, based on Charles Major’s “When Knighthood Was in Flower”, the film is a pretty complicated love story similar to that of Shakespeare. Due to overly complicated dialogue, the film drags or seems to overly confuse.

Beyond the story, the costuming and sets are wonderful which is no surprise due to Disney pulling out a much larger budget than any of the previous two films shot in the UK. I can understand Leonard Maltin’s mention of the film as a masterpiece due simply to these elements, and yes the story is a good one, but for the general public, possibly to talk-heavy.

Walt Disney on set

Walt Disney on set

The film premiered on July 23rd, 1953 and like the company itself, movie goers and critics were split. Stateside, the film was a moderate success, giving enchantment of a medieval England, but for the English audience, the saw it as a flop. They would have been correct as the film flopped under budget making only $2.5 million at the box office.

For myself, this was the first true dud that I’ve encountered that didn’t even have the potential for future retribution, similar to that of Fantasia or Bambi. The only good thing to come from The Sword and The Rose is that set designer Peter Ellenshaw, who does some of the best work of the film, was given a lifetime contract at Disney and would soon be hard at work on a new film about a submarine.

Josh Taylor
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Posted on January 23, 2014, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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