1954 feature film
Mel Ferrer's final film for MGM was a major studio epic
and the first film ever shot in Cinemascope. Based on the celebrated Arthurian legend, it stars Robert Taylor as Sir Lancelot, Ava Gardner as Queen Guinevere and Mel Ferrer as King Arthur
with Felix Aylmer as Arthur's loyal mentor Merlin, Anne Crawford as his half sister Morgan Le Fay and
Stanley Baker as her ambitious husband Modred.
Based on Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, the film unfolds literally without the usual fantasy elements,
opening with Arthur's quest for the British throne after withdrawing the
legendary sword from the stone. Knowing he has mortal enemies in his half
sister Morgan le Fay and her ruthless husband Modred, he quickly unites
with Lancelot, the most accomplished swordsman of the nation. They meet in
one of the film's better sequences as two crusty combatants, crossing swords
for hours before finally calling their exhaustive duel a draw. When Lancelot
discovers his opponent is
his great idol Arthur, he falls to Arthur's feet and is immediately knighted for his loyalty.
The prolonged war that follows
cements the two men's close friendship, but immediately after Arthur's
victory, they quarrel bitterly when the new King chooses to
mollify Morgan by accepting Modred into his inner circle. Considering this a
sign of weakness, Lancelot leaves Camelot in anger before getting to meet Arthur's
fiancée, the beautiful Guinevere. Returning the day of the wedding, Lancelot
realizes with deep dismay that Arthur's new wife is the alluring lady he had earlier rescued and now loves.
Morgan and Modred recognize immediately the attraction Guinevere and
Lancelot have for one another, as does Merlin, but the hapless Arthur trusts
them both and makes
Lancelot her personal champion, thus setting into motion the eventual downfall of all
three of them. After Lancelot is banned from Camelot and Guinevere is sent to
a nunnery, Arthur's tentative hold on the crown begins to crumble, and he
loses his life in the only battle fought without Lancelot by his side.
Robert Taylor had recently starred in "Ivanhoe," a huge hit for MGM in 1952, and
"Knights of the Round Table" was an endeavor to capitalize on that success.
Shot entirely in England during the summer of 1953, the film is lushly
photographed, elegantly costumed and broadly conceived - MGM at it's
colorful best. Although the actors were asked to speak their lines in
stilted Old English, the movie has withstood time well as an example of MGM
at its excessive finest, but for the very same reasons, the film loses
impetus in its more intimate moments. Clearly a star vehicle built around
Taylor, the Arthurian legend itself becomes suffused, making Arthur little
more than a pawn. Still, it's an attractive role for Mel Ferrer, who wears
his mantle royally, and his death scene is one of the more moving moments in
Obviously an important extravaganza for MGM, the finest talent the studio
had to offer was behind it, including Padro S. Berman as producer and
Richard Quine (who'd worked with Taylor seven times before) as director,
appropriately overblown music by Miklos Rozsa and elaborate costumes by
The actors were all in a state of personal unrest as this film unfolded -
Robert Taylor was undergoing a painful separation from Barbara Stanwyck, Ava
Gardner was embroiled in the most tumultuous years of her marriage to Frank
Sinatra, and it was during the shooting of this epic that Mel Ferrer met and
fell in love with Audrey Hepburn. Still, the trio of stars became
comfortable chums during the shoot and years later when pressed to name his favorite co-star
(excepting Audrey Hepburn), Ferrer said Ava Gardner was particularly special to
him, perhaps because she always seemed a little sad. Although this was
the first time Mel Ferrer worked with Richard Quine, they also became
friends, and the troubled director (who was to commit suicide in 1989) later worked on projects with both him and Audrey.
The movie is readily available in all formats, but the DVD edition released
in 2003 includes an opening welcome from Mel Ferrer.