The Black Shield of Falworth Blu-ray Review
Although the previous SD release from Eureka was cropped to 1.78:1, the label's new BD transfer now sports its correct and historically crucial Cinemascope aspect of glorious 2.35:1 - which is a vast improvement already. Black Shield survives the ravages of time with an image that, whilst still somewhat faded and ill-defined, shouldn't upset lovers of vintage movies too much. I'm not sure how much restoration has been done on this, but the movie still offers plenty of those little fluctuations in contrast, scene-transition fades and wobbles and the odd nick and pop here and there. But, and this is the main thing, it still possesses more detail than before and doesn't distract with any overt digital tinkering - in short, no DNR has taken place.
With the precedent having already been set with the amazing clean-up job done on Robin Hood - to which this film owes a great deal - you have to make allowances for a lesser-regarded production such as this not coming anywhere near to the standard of Flynn's legendary classic. However, there are definitely occasions when this transfer shines. For a start, some colours really do lift from the screen with vibrancy and lustre even if the overall palette is a touch more restrained than you may expect from the golden age of Technicolor. Red, especially, is lent a life that looks superbly painterly even if it seems to have been a bit enthusiastically boosted. Check out the griffin on the Falworth shield, the hoops on the croquet lawn, the various crests and emblems on tunics and the blood-rich curtains that really spring out of the image and then, of course, there's that medieval lipstick!!!
Whites appear to have been boosted, too, with Lady Anne's dress actually quite dazzling, although that figure-hugging green number that she wears very early on in the film looks appreciably more splendid now, with lots of glimmering detail on show that was somewhat muted previously. Sequins catch the light - and the eye - with more allure than previously. Skin tones are pure Hollywood and very much of the era - ie, they weren't exactly realistic to begin with - but the BD bestows them slightly more consistency. Black levels aren't that bad and the relatively few night-time scenes look fine. Shadow-detail isn't exactly highly prioritised but, given the structure and style of the filming here and the vintage of the source, this should not pose a problem. If you want deep blacks, then Curtis' wavy locks should make you happy.
There's a great and very detailed shot of a horse's teeth and flaring nostrils during the pivotal joust and many other close-ups can be quite striking throughout, but there is a kind of mushy quality to many shots - noise and vintage grain swelling together to obscure and soften many of the backdrops and the distant landscapes in long shots. With the SD version, I had noticed some smearing with the brighter colours and images of intricate embroidery or heraldic flags, but this seemed less of a concern with the MPEG-4 transfer. Also, the slight shimmering that occurred with emblems and patterned costumes is much less distracting, the image holding more stability with tracking shots and panning movements. However, the same edge enhancement affects some of the more sunny outdoor scenes, haloing trees, knights in training, or guards atop towers and battlements. But a lot of these complaints can be brushed aside and forgiven by all but the most discriminating and picky of viewers. And, besides, Mate's sense of framing is maintained with distinction and there is a definite sense of depth to the image that can be very pleasing. Outdoor scenes of the training and the ladies playing croquet, or the jousting and Myles' first suiting-up in armour have a great spatial quality for such an older film. Even the indoor shots of Myles and Francis walking through the dormitory or the group scenes of courtly ritual taking place have an interesting sense of subjective placing within the image which is something that has been aided enormously by having the correct aspect ratio. For instance, there are now some simply terrific shots of characters loitering against a wall at one side of the frame, whilst a corridor yawns back into the distance elsewhere in the picture.
So, whilst no Robin Hood, Black Shield still does well with far less and fans of this bygone genre should manage quite nicely despite some of the unavoidable detriments that age has delivered.
This edition well and truly puts the last one in the shade but, even so, when judging this against other vintage titles now luxuriating in hi-def glory, the best it can hope for in the BD picture category is a 6 out of 10.
As before, the DD 2.0 mono track doesn't offer much for me to discuss really. The BD's audio may actually sound slightly cleaner and a little louder, but not by much - and, of course, this may just be down to me hoping that some improvement has been made.
The whole thing used to sound subdued and somewhat muffled, but I have to say that I didn't find that to be quite the case this time around. Voices, though still a little sunken within the mix, carried further and there was never an instance when I couldn't clearly discern what was being said. The formulaic and clichéd score still lacks strength, however, sounding brash and not terribly detailed. The bash and crash of swords, shields, lances and axes has some slight heft, but this all-important bombast is still hardly anything to write home about, though, to be honest, you can't expect much more than this delivers with a sound design that possibly never set the world alight in the first place.
Ultimately, this does its job with no errors and only a minimal amount of age-related issues.
Despite its important status as the first Technicolor film shot and presented in Cinemascope, Black Shield is not a major film by any stretch of the imagination and even though it features two big stars in Curtis and Leigh it didn't become a classic or much recalled entry in the historical adventure genre. Thus, it should come as no surprise to find that this release, as with the previous SD edition, has nothing at all to offer in the way of bonus features, not even a trailer.
The Black Shield Of Falworth is a valiant entry in a crowded genre. Provided you aren't looking for anything either historically accurate or emotionally connecting, you should have a ball. This was made at a time when Hollywood was in love with the myth of chivalry and Mate's film certainly indulges in plenty of wanton mayhem. Curtis, however determined he is to leap about the sets and “have at ye!!!” every five minutes or so, is still possibly miscast. But the sense of sheer fun is ever-present and with Janet Leigh looking absolutely ravishing (and quite pneumatic, too) and some better-than-average fight choreography, Black Shield is a great way to while away some undemanding time.
Eureka's new BD transfer is now a little bit more colourful, with its Technicolor palette looking more robust and bright, and the newly-found print used is mostly free from damage and detrimental processing. The audio doesn't have a great deal of presence, but nor does it present any errors along the way.
If you love sword-swinging derring-do with a hint of “Who Do You Think You Are?” style birthright unearthing thrown-in, you'll get a lot out of this. This is big daft fun that shrieks Saturday Matinee at you with unashamed enthusiasm.
Now that it is on Blu-ray, fans can certainly chuck away the earlier edition.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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