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THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER (1982)
|“Know you now, of days long past; the time when the world was young; when sorcery thrived, and wild adventure was always in the offing....”|
Director: Albert Pyun
Starring: Lee Horsley, Kathleen Beller, Richard Lynch, Simon MacCorkindale, George Maharis, Richard Moll, Anthony De Longis, Joe Regalbuto, Peter Breck, Robert Tessier, Anna Bjorn, Earl Maynard, Christopher Cary, Nina Van Pallandt, James Jarnigan, Christina Nigra
Screenplay: Tom Karnowski, John Stuckmeyer and Albert Pyun
Synopsis: Titus Cromwell (Richard Lynch) and his men land on Tomb Island, where the demon-sorcerer Xusia (Richard Moll) is entombed. Cromwell has in his company a witch, who he commands to resurrect Xusia. She succeeds in doing so, and the sorcerer demands to know what is wanted of him? Cromwell explains that he has tried and failed to conquer Ehdan, the richest kingdom in the world, and knows that he cannot succeed without supernatural aid. Unwisely, one of Cronwell’s followers expresses doubts of Xusia’s powers; the sorcerer responds by throwing the witch across the room with a single glance, and then drawing her heart out of her body. Xusia agrees to help Cromwell win the kingdom, but warns him that he, too, will have what should be his.... Even as the people of Ehdan celebrate twenty years of peace under the reign of King Richard (Christopher Cary), Cromwell’s army, with the help of Xusia, plunders the land. However, Xusia is severely weakened by his exertions. Cromwell takes advantage of his situation, plunging a dagger into his back and pushing him over a cliff. In a desperate battle, Richard’s oldest son is mortally wounded, living only so long as to tell his father that their forces are destroyed. Richard orders his queen, Malia (Nina Van Pallandt), to take their younger children and flee. He then gives to his oldest surviving son, Talon (James Jarnigan), a triple-bladed sword, telling him that it will be his duty to avenge his father, should he, Richard, fall. There is a final battle, and Richard’s forces are defeated. Even as Talon searches the battlefield for Richard, he sees his father a prisoner of Cromwell, and must watch as he is executed. At the urging of his father’s advisor, Talon goes after his mother and the children to try and protect them, but he is too late: Malia and her third son are killed, while Talon’s young sister, Elizabeth (Christina Nigra), is carried off. Talon himself is attacked, but manages to defend himself with his triple-bladed sword. He escapes, and flees the land to become a wanderer, an adventurer, a warrior.... Many years later, a band of mercenaries led by Talon (Lee Horsley) detour from their next assignment into Ehdan, to do what Talon calls “paying a debt”, although he does not explain himself. They are observed by a figure in monk’s robes, who makes his way into a cave occupied by Xusia, risen once more. Xusia gloats that before long, he will have his revenge upon Cromwell.... Meanwhile, despite his power and riches, Cromwell himself has grown obsessive and mistrustful, seeing a vengeful Xusia in everyone who comes near him. Machelli (George Maharis), Cromwell’s war chancellor, organises his generals to crush the rebellion that is fermenting under the leadership of Prince Mikah (Simon MacCorkindale), considered the rightful heir to the throne, and his sister, Princess Alana (Kathleen Beller). As Mikah is giving orders to one of the rebel leaders, Rodrigo (Anthony De Longis), Talon and his men enter the same tavern, where they learn of the local state of affairs. Outside, Mikah meets with his informant, on the basis of whose intelligence the rebellion is being planned: Machelli. Mikah then makes his way to Alana, who has managed to obtain a map of the palace, including the position of a number of secret passageways, from Cromwell’s concubine, who is sympathetic to their cause. However, even as Mikah gives orders that the rebellion will begin the following day, he and Alana find themselves surrounded by Cromwell’s troops. Alana escapes, but Mikah is captured, and learns that Machelli has betrayed the rebellion....
Comments: There are quite a few “firsts” about The Sword And The Sorcerer. Although it came in the wake of, and was obviously inspired by, earlier fantasy films such as Excalibur, Dragonslayer and in particular Conan The Barbarian, this was the first of the true sword ‘n’ sorcery films that would flood the cinemas of the 1980s, even as its more distant forebear, the Italian pepla, had done throughout the 1960s. It is not surprising, in this context, that many of the later sword ‘n’ sorcery films (including some of the very worst ones) would originate in Italy. In addition, The Sword And The Sorcerer was the first movie ever helmed by notorious B-movie director Albert Pyun. It is also, in all likelihood, the best movie ever helmed by notorious B-movie director Albert Pyun. It is, in any event, one of the few films made by Albert Pyun during that brief, glorious era when he actually seemed to know how to tell a decent story, and before he learned how to turn boring people right down to their bone-marrow into an art-form....not to mention into a life-long career.
On the whole, sword ‘n’ sorcery films belong to the one-darn-thing-after-another school of movie-making, which is probably why so few of them really rise above the average: there’s too much room to move within their tropes, too little reason for people to come up with a properly structured story, or to create situations of genuine tension. After all, why exert yourself when you can always just fall back upon, A wizard did it? So when you do come across a sword ‘n’ sorcery film that doesn’t always take the easy option, and chooses instead to go the extra distance in terms of character, or story, or heaven help us, both, well, it’s a bit of a treat. The Sword And The Sorcerer scores well above most of its brethren in these respects, offering up some comparatively complex characters played by charismatic actors, a story that mostly makes sense, a few clever plot twists to keep things interesting, good pacing and a genuine sense of humour. On the other hand, it is guilty of the most common fantasy failing, namely, chucking hordes of characters at us without even stopping to make it clear what their relationship to one another is, or in particular what their names are. That’s more annoying than usual here, because this film actually does have a decent story that’s worth following.
We begin with an aspiring usurper, Titus Cromwell, whose goal is to conquer the land of Ehdan, which is one of those peaceful and wealthy realms that rarely stay either for long in films of this kind. Ehdan has a fairly recent barbarian past, however, which seems to have stood it in good stead in at least one respect, as Cromwell’s soldiers have had their butts handed to them on four separate occasions by the armies of Ehdan’s beloved King Richard. Cromwell decides that he has had quite enough of the fighting fair crapola, and instead compels a witch to resurrect the demon-sorcerer Xusia, who agrees to help Cromwell in exchange for “what should be mine” – unspecified.
(By the way: “Cromwell”, “King Richard”.... We gather than the screenwriters knew the names, but didn’t really have a proper grasp of history. It is funny, though, isn’t it, how fantasy so often seems to feel a need to be British?)
The film’s handling of Xusia is rather interesting. Not really immortal, the demon is “killed” periodically – and can be permanently, under the right circumstances. He can also be physically injured, while constant employment of his supernatural powers leaves him exhausted and vulnerable. So it is that, Xusia’s intervention having put him within conquering distance of King Richard’s throne, Cromwell repays the demon for his assistance with a dagger between the ribs and a shove off a handy cliff.
The last battle but one mortally wounds the heir to the throne of Ehdan, and prompts King Richard to send away his queen, Malia, with their two youngest children, Henry and Elizabeth. Their second son, Talon, he keeps within the realm, giving to him the sword of the title, a triple-bladed artefact almost as tall as the boy himself (the kid’s, “Oh, you gotta be kidding me!” expression here is priceless), with orders to use it to avenge him, should the worst come to the worst – as it very soon does. Cromwell’s army defeats Richard’s in the final battle for the throne; and Talon proves himself to be the proud possessor of some of the very worst timing in history as, after witnessing Cromwell’s execution of his father, he rides off to help his mother and arrives just in time to see Cromwell kill her, too. (And how Cromwell got there first, we’ll never know.) Cromwell’s men also kill Talon’s younger brother, Henry, while his sister, Elizabeth, is carried off. It is perhaps not surprising, all things considered, that Talon proceeds to give away his position by letting fly with the traditional, “NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”
Cromwell sends two of his men after Talon, and a fight ensues that reveals the most fondly-remembered detail of the film, as we learn that the three blades of Talon’s sword aren’t just for show, or even for overkill: he can fire the outer two blades as projectiles; and indeed, he proceeds to do just that, killing both of his pursuers before making his escape. When Cromwell comes across the bodies of his men, the projectile blades are still jutting out of them, leaving us to ponder the question of just where on earth Talon gets his replacements. Cromwell makes the hunting down of Talon an ongoing priority, but the boy evades his would-be captors so well and so long that the next time we see him, he’s....made a few changes.
For one thing, he’s now being played by Lee Horsley. For another, he is – simultaneously, if our narrator is to be believed – a fearless adventurer, a warrior, a buccaneer, a slave, a rogue, a general.... I have to be honest: for a few horrible moments here, I began having flashbacks to the Outrageous Okona. Fortunately, Talon makes a much better fist of living up to his press-clippings than his small-screen descendent ever did, whose “outrageousness” always seemed to me to consist primarily of wearing baggy pants and shaving at irregular intervals. Anyhoo---
Talon is, at this time, the head of a band of professional mercenary-warriors, whose latest assignment is to help out one King Lambosia. However, since this job takes the team through the outskirts of Ehdan, Talon figures (although without sharing his intentions with his men) that he’ll take the opportunity to look up a few old friends, visit a few old hang-outs, kill a few old usurpers....that sort of thing.
Meanwhile, in Ehdan itself there are already rumblings of an imminent rebellion – which brings us to one the most interesting aspects of The Sword And The Sorcerer. Of course, there are stories without number of the usurpation of thrones and a young man’s quest to reclaim his inheritance; and for quite a while it look like this film is heading down that well-worn path....but it doesn’t quite turn out that way.
The leaders of the rebellion are Mikah and Alana, a brother and sister who are considered to have the best legitimate claim to the throne of Ehdan. Yet despite their being called “Prince” and “Princess” by virtually one and all, a passing remark makes it clear that they are not actually members of the royal house at all, but the children of King Richard’s “closest advisor” (who was, I’m guessing, the dying man who sent the young Talon after his mother, following the decisive battle; see what I mean about never making relationships clear?). We get our first good look at these two shortly afterwards, which is interesting in itself. Alana might be all for justice and the people, but it is pretty clear from the outset that Mikah just wants to be king, and is exploiting his tenuous connection to the family of King Richard to achieve his goal. In his way, he’s as much of a usurper as Cromwell, although possibly better for the people of Ehdan. The most interesting revelation of all, however, comes when Alana produces a detailed map of Cromwell’s castle, and comments that it came to her hand via “Cromwell’s whore, Elizabeth” – in other words, Talon’s sister....and after him heir to the throne, assuming that women are allowed to rule in this world.
Bizarrely, later in the film Cromwell will try to force Alana into marriage, in order to “legitimise” his claim to the Ehdan throne. We are left to wonder why he’s worried about that now, after all this time; and, if he is worried about it, why he didn’t just marry Elizabeth in the first place, instead of making her his whore. My guess – and mind you, it is only a guess – is that Cromwell’s concern about his “legitimacy” is only of recent date: that it is either the result of pressure put upon him by the kings of the surrounding realms (most of whom we shall meet later on), who could, if they banded together, cause him some real trouble; or that it springs from Cromwell’s growing paranoia over Xusia, who he suspects (and rightly) isn’t really dead, but very much alive and plotting revenge. If this is the case, it would explain why marriage with Elizabeth is out of the question: it’s doubtful that the people of Ehdan would appreciate learning that “Cromwell’s whore” is also their missing princess. Certainly no-one seems to realise that the two Elizabeths are one and the same, despite her declared sympathy with the rebel cause....as indeed they never realise who Talon is, even though he makes no attempt to disguise either himself or his name, which is hardly a common one even in the world of sword ‘n’ sorcery. I mean, you’d think that at some point, someone would remark, “You know, we used to have an heir to the throne called Talon....” After all, it’s only been eleven years!
Mikah and Alana are sanguine about their chances, but the attentive viewer is already aware that the rebellion is in trouble. Talon and his band are observed by a man wearing monk’s robes (another character never properly identified), who then makes his way into a cave where Xusia, whom he addresses as “lord and master”, sits upon a throne. The man gives the sorcerer an update, and assures him that the rebellion will be crushed. This same man is next seen in company with Mikah and Alana. However, even this obvious double agent isn’t the worst of the rebels’ problems. The rebellion itself rests upon information supplied by an insider at Cromwell’s court, no less a person than Machelli, Cromwell’s war chancellor. Unfortunately, before the rebels can take any steps Cromwell and a squad of his soldiers descend upon their leaders’ hideout and Mikah is arrested. Machelli smirks at him as he is dragged away. Alana, meanwhile, manages to escape....temporarily.
Sword ‘n’ sorcery films usually feature a lot of casual nudity – female, of course. I don’t have too much of a problem with that, except when the films are guilty, as too many of them sadly are, of getting their nudity via a rape scene. There are few things more despicable than treating rape lightly, and scenes such as those, particular in films intended to be light-hearted or even “funny”, are unforgiveable. I am pleased to be able to report, however, that The Sword And The Sorcerer avoids this pitfall. Oh, it features plenty of nudity, but not that kind; and while Alana is here trapped by three of Cromwell’s men and threatened with rape, it is her rescue by Talon that brings the two of them together.
Of course, about five minutes after this Talon is sealing a deal wherein he will rescue Mikah in exchange for Alana’s body. Welcome to the world of sword ‘n’ sorcery, where being anything short of a rapist makes you a “hero”.
Talon’s first act on behalf of the rebellion, however, is to rescue a group of potential rebels who have been trapped in a cave by Cromwell’s “Red Archers”, so called because (apart from their red robes) they use elaborate incendiary devices to light their flaming arrows: an approach that, while generally both effective and intimidating, does render them vulnerable, should anyone spill anything flammable in their vicinity – like their own supply of oil. The rescued rebels conduct Talon to a rocky shore where the opening of a secret passageway into Cromwell’s castle is concealed, using the map supplied to Alana by Elizabeth as a guide. On the way, the leader of this band, Rodrigo, holds an amusing one-way conversation wherein he debates the relative merits of the various heirs to the throne; a subject on which Talon declines to express an opinion. Rodrigo’s remarks do suggest that a woman could rule Ehdan, though. As the tale progresses, Rodrigo will emerge as a most reluctant rebel. He likes the theory of rebellion, the practice....not so much.
Inside the castle, Cromwell is pitching his marriage scheme to Alana, who was carried off by a squad of Freddy Krueger blade-wielding goons only moments after Talon’s departure to rescue the trapped rebels. This interlude provides Alana with the first opportunity to employ a strategy to which she will resort, with greater or lesser degrees of success, throughout the film, namely, pretending to be won over by the masculine charms of whoever is making a move on her this time, and then lifting a knee into his groin. A limping Cromwell warns her that it’s marriage or Mikah’s life. It may be Mikah’s life anyway, because after delivering his ultimatum, Cromwell wanders down to the dungeon to oversee Mikah’s torture. The Sword And The Sorcerer wins my approval here with an unpleasant piece of realism. Nothing annoys me more than when a film character is beaten half to death, or tortured horribly, and then just shrugs it off. Here, Mikah is incapacitated for most of the rest of the story, although of course he manages to participate in the climactic battle. (It’s probably meant as an indication that Mikah is a “lesser” man, but still....)
It turns out that the point of the torture is to extract information about Xusia, who Cromwell is convinced must be behind the rebellion, as otherwise it couldn’t have got as far as it did. Mikah is hardly in a frame of mind to appreciate the implied compliment, but he does rise up indignantly when Cromwell’s speaks of “his” kingdom....even though we know very well it isn’t Mikah’s kingdom either! Cromwell refuses to believe that Mikah alone is responsible for everything that has happened, and starts muttering about how Xusia could have taken human form, and be anywhere – or anybody....
Meanwhile, although Rodrigo and the others are captured – having stayed behind to “guard the escape” – Talon manages to acquire the disguise of a guard’s robes. He penetrates the dungeons, killing the real guards, and is greeted by an overjoyed Rodrigo, who with his companions has been threatened with crucifixion at “tomorrow’s feast” – that is, the wedding of Cromwell and Alana, although the rebels don’t know that. Talon frees all the prisoners, but learns that Mikah is not among them. Helpfully enough, one elderly prisoner turns out to be the person who designed Cromwell’s castle, and all its secret passageways, in the first place.
The news of the mass escape reaches Cromwell. He departs with his guards, leaving behind Elizabeth, who brought to the torture-chamber some refreshments, after what she chooses to call Cromwell’s “labour”. On his way out, Cromwell orders another guard to “kill everyone in the chamber” – despite having just taken an affectionate leave of his concubine. However, it turns out that the guard in question is Talon in disguise, who walks in to find Elizabeth freeing Mikah. It does not seem that brother and sister recognise one another, nor do they stop for introductions. On the contrary: Talon having delivered Mikah to the freed rebels, Elizabeth plants a big wet kiss on their rescuer.
(Although....a bothered expression does cross Talon’s face here, so maybe he realises, even if she doesn’t. He is several years older, and probably has clearer memories of their childhood. On the other hand, he has no reason to believe that his sister is still alive.)
Mikah and the rebels get away, but Talon is confronted by more guards, setting off a classic fight-and-chase scene through the passageways and into the castle and out into the courtyard and finally back into the castle; a sequence that allows for all sorts of swashing and buckling and derring-do. Talon’s re-entry is spectacular in the extreme, as he swings across the courtyard on a convenient dangling chain and flies through the window of what turns out to be the harem-room, whose occupants are all sitting around mostly naked. As you do. Indeed, Talon’s momentum propels him directly on top of one mostly naked woman, where he stops to enjoy a little canoodling before his pursuers burst in and set the chase in motion again. The harem girls intervene here, knocking one of the guards down and throwing themselves on top of him to stop his pursuit. I’m sure he hated every moment of it.
And then, because too much gratuitous nudity is barely enough, it’s time for what was, during the era of this film’s production, a real tradition: the heroine’s butt-and-side-boob shot, as we cut to Kathleen Beller, I mean Alana, getting a rub-down. A slo-oo-ow rub-down. The chase-in-progress leads directly through her rooms, naturally, and Talon, who has beaten up, knocked down and generally evaded his pursuers up until now without too much difficulty, stops dead upon getting a good look at Alana’s top-of-front-boob area, and winds up getting knocked out the window. Fortunately, a pile of straw and some sacks of flour are lying around below, so Talon winds up annoyed with himself rather than hurt. And then the guards burst in and we’re off again.
Finally, Talon is surrounded, trapped between two squads of guards, one led by Cromwell himself. When Talon announces vaingloriously, “Who dies first?”, it is Cromwell who steps forward, addressing him as “Xusia”, much to his puzzlement. However, Talon is distracted from this by Cromwell’s introduction of himself. His childhood memories flooding back, Talon fights Cromwell willingly enough, but being armed only with a scimitar is no match for Cromwell’s steel. Luckily, the surrounding guards are now more intent upon watching and guarding, and Talon is able to make a break for it, Cromwell himself now in pursuit. The two end up battling hand to hand, armed with daggers. Cromwell succeeds in disarming Talon, but as he prepares to strike Machelli intervenes, knocking Talon out from behind. Cromwell (sure by now that Talon is not Xusia) turns upon him in a fury, and Machelli hurriedly argues that if he is not Xusia, then he is at least one of Xusia’s demons, citing the destruction of the Red Archers as proof of his powers. Cromwell is unconvinced but wary, and orders Talon imprisoned.
The next morning, Rodrigo brings to Mikah a double piece of unwanted news: that Alana is to be married to Cromwell, and that Talon is to be crucified. Mikah decides that the rebellion will go ahead, and that they will, “Crush Cromwell or die!” Rodrigo is not, perhaps, the best person to express such a plan to, being okay with the crushing part, but....
Now, you might be wondering where Talon’s men have been all this time, after we left then at the tavern where Mikah and Rodrigo were plotting rebellion what feels like an age ago, but was only the day before. We catch up with them at what is, obviously, the most popular brothel in town, as Phillip, one of the men, interrupts the, uh, activities of Darius, Talon’s second-in-command, with word of the planned crucifixion. (Speaking with the voice of bitter experience, Darius assumes that Talon has been interfering with “one of the king’s sluts”.) Darius peels himself off his disappointed partner and orders Phillip to collect the rest of the men. Phillip is hesitant, arguing that they do not have the numbers to stage a raid on the castle. Fortunately, in the cubicle over the way we find Morgan, a sailor, possibly a pirate, who sticks his head out from behind the curtain to volunteer his men for the job, and any other of the same breed who might be in the vicinity: “Half the sea-dogs in this port owe their lives to Talon!”
As Phillip departs, Elizabeth arrives. Interestingly, the other prostitutes greet her as a friend and colleague. Elizabeth explains how she was freed, leading an irritated Darius to assume that it is this for which Talon was imprisoned. (Here, Elizabeth denies knowing the name of her rescuer, while neither Darius nor Morgan mentions it, being too intent upon abusing him generally.) Hearing that Talon has been captured, Elizabeth begs the others to let her go with them on their mission, arguing that she can lead them into the castle, to which Darius finally agrees. One of the film’s funniest moments follows as Darius, Morgan and Elizabeth seal their pact, the soundtrack swells heroically, and----
----we cut to the rescue squad, all in prison, with one of Morgan’s men grumbling, “We should never have followed that bitch in here!” Morgan slaps him for the sentiment, being more intent upon blaming the incapacity of “land-lubbers” in a fight for their failure, to which Darius – in the cell opposite – takes exception. The ensuing battle is, of course, mostly verbal (mostly: considering the conditions in the dungeon, one shudders to think what it might be that the factions are throwing at one another here), but continues until interrupted by Verdugo, Cromwell’s head jailer and torturer.
The men start out laughing at the thought of Cromwell’s promised “mercy”, should they betray the identity of who sent them (we assume that Cromwell thinks Xusia did); but the smiles are wiped from their faces when Elizabeth and Phillip are dragged in. They’ve already had their tongues cut out; and when Verdugo threatens Elizabeth with a sword to make the others talk, she prevents it by putting her hand over the hilt and driving the weapon home.
This moment sits with Mikah’s torture as a strange touch of unexpected realism: instead of either shrugging the incident off or at least remaining stoic and unmoved by it, the men, Morgan in particular, react with open horror and distress. (There is a hint here of a past relationship between Morgan and Elizabeth.) Phillip then springs into action, attacking Verdugo from behind with his own chains, but he, too, is slain. Unexpectedly, Verdugo here seems to realise that he may have just committed a severe tactical error: he backs out of the dungeon, looking apprehensively from side to side, and leaving behind him not two squabbling factions, but a single united fighting force....if only they could get out.
Meanwhile, we’ve been learning the extent of Cromwell’s dastardly plan. He has invited the kings of the surrounding territories to his wedding, meaning to trap them and have slain as soon as the ceremony is over, before sending his armies to invade and conquer their kingdoms. The kings are, obviously, both disgusted and bored by the crude carousing that’s going on around them, and that’s even before they take a closer look at the entertainment that’s been provided for them....
Even though the production of The Sword And The Sorcerer was certainly a reaction to Conan The Barbarian, the two films are on the whole quite different in both approach and subject matter. We do get one overt piece of copying here, though, with Talon nailed up on a gigantic wooden X at the far side of the banquet hall, directly below (and out of sight of) the balcony upon which the marriage will take place, and opposite the kings.
Now, what Cromwell hasn’t taken into consideration here is Talon’s past career, much of which has (it turns out) been spent doing mercenary work for the very kings in attendance. In fact, it seems more than likely that each of them owes the holding of his kingdom to the help of Talon and his men. We remember, likewise, that the mercenaries were on their way to assist “King Lambosia” when they detoured into Ehdan, and Darius’ concern that the king might lose his throne if they were late. Obviously, they’re very good at what they do. The bottom line is, each of the four kings present is beholden to Talon, and grateful enough, and honourable enough, not to just sit there and watch him die. They agree amongst themselves to intervene, if the opportunity arises, in spite of the fact that it will probably mean war with Cromwell.
Cromwell appears up on the balcony; and as his sycophants below chant his name (and as the kings sit silent and unmoved), his assassination squad takes their place behind the royal guests. Alana appears, wearing the world’s most revealing wedding-gown (it’s slit right up to where the side-piece of her push-up bra must be sitting), and ceremony begins – sounding very much like Latin read with a heavy Yiddish accent.
Back in the dungeon, the disheartened mercenaries and pirates are slumped around their cells in despair. Luckily, if there’s one thing we’re not short of in Ehdan, it’s heroic prostitutes. The dungeons are next infiltrated by three of Cromwell’s harem-girls, under the leadership of the one upon whom Talon fell during the chase scene. She, too, wants him rescued (he must be a hell of a kisser!), and so frees the prisoners, who head joyously into battle, detouring only to take care of Verdugo, who gets shoved by Morgan head-first into his own grinding-wheel.
Meanwhile, Cromwell’s assassins are shuffling into position, just as the kings take advantage of the fact that everyone’s eyes are on the ceremony, and cautiously draw their swords. Up on the balcony, Alana is asked whether she does or doesn’t, and understandably hesitates. During the ceremony, we learn the name of Mikah and Alana’s father – “Lord Mogullen” – who is indeed the red-haired old dude from the beginning of the film, whose name you can hear the young Talon mumble just once, if you know what you’re listening for; but, good lord, no-one less anal than me about details would have picked that up! They do make it difficult.... The ceremony also supplies an explanation for the wedding, or at least an interesting bit of retconning, when Alana is referred to as “the last heir to the crown of Ehdan”, and Cromwell as “the protector of Ehdan”.
Which reminds us that (i) Alana doesn't know that Mikah has been rescued; and (ii) Cromwell doesn’t know that Mikah isn’t dead. Likewise, it seems that Talon doesn’t know just what the ceremony is that he is acting as the centrepiece for, or at least not who the bride is; not until the – priest? minister? celebrant? – speaks Alana’s name; upon which, Talon is inspired to begin freeing himself by pulling his hands forward – and pulling with them the spikes that have been driven through them into the wooden cross.
Whoa. Even Arnie couldn’t do that.
Just as Alana is choking out, “I---”, Talon pulls one hand free, at which Cromwell’s alarmed banquet guests draw their swords and leap into action; while the kings, seeing that Talon needs protection, draw their swords and leap into action. Talon also pulls free his gag and bellows, “CROMMMMWELLL!!!!”, which Darius and the others take as their signal to leap into action. Cromwell’s assassins, seeing what’s going on, are just about to leap into action when Mikah and the rebels arrive and, seeing what the assassins are up to, leap into action.
So, to summarise, there’s a lot of leaping going on.
Cromwell drags Alana away, but not before she realises who has interrupted the ceremony, and his situation, or before Talon and Cromwell exchange a look that can only end on the points of a triple-bladed sword. Talon manages to pull his other hand free, just as Leonidas, who is kind of the leader of the kings (if you can have such a thing), drops by to cut him down. They exchange grins. The battle rages all over the castle for a full ten minutes of screen-time (I must say, those kings look like they’re enjoying the slaughter of Cromwell’s forces just a little too much), and even Rodrigo finds his cojones and joins in the fight. Talon, meanwhile, dressed only in a loin-cloth, is waving a sword around and tossing people through the air like nobody’s business, not the least bit hampered by the fact he had SIX INCH METAL SPIKES DRIVEN THROUGH BOTH OF HIS HANDS a few minutes ago.
(Note to film-makers: having your big action scene play out in slow-motion so we get a really good look at everything is not usually a good idea.)
And would you believe it? – we actually catch a glimpse here of the infamous triple-bladed sword of yore, which Darius has strapped to his back, all of a sudden; surely a sign that that film is winding up. Indeed, with a cry of “TAAAAAAAALON!!!!”, Darius tosses the sword to his leader, who catches it without being the tinsiest bit inconvenienced by THE GAPING GREAT HOLE IN HIS PALM.
While all this is going on, Cromwell is still dragging Alana away (why?? - surely after this brawl, his claim being “legitimate” or not will be fairly moot), while Machelli runs after him explaining that he’s given orders for Cromwell’s army to assemble. Suddenly, Talon leaps out in his loin-cloth, wielding his sword like the world’s least subtle phallic symbol. Miraculously, all of those confronted by this spectacle manage to refrain from laughing at it, which I’m afraid is more than I did. Cromwell draws his sword, but it is his guards who, yes, leap into action. However, Talon demolishes their dinky scimitars with one sweep of his triple-action blade....which is all well and good, except that the swordless guards then jump him and knock the clumsy thing out of his hand.
Behind the fight zone, Machelli quietly unties Alana – who doesn’t know he’s the one who sold the rebels out, remember – and leads her away. Cromwell sees this and goes after them (I say again, why??), leaving Talon to be threatened with a bunch of broken swords. Before the guards can finish him off, Mikah and Rodrigo arrive and join the fray. Talon picks up his piece of overcompensation again, and Mikah urges him to go after Alana, who is currently being led through a dark and creepy passageway occupied by snakes. (Note to film-makers #2: snakes really don’t choose to hang out in cold, wet places.) Suddenly, Machelli takes Alana by the throat and tells her that they must wait for Cromwell, “To end his reign, and begin mine.” For some reason, Machelli then tells her than Mikah is dead and that the rebellion has been crushed, before offering her the chance to join him. Alana responds as she always does in these situations, slinking up to him and then suddenly lifting her knee....which in one of the film’s funnier moments (intentionally funny, that is), elicits a metallic blonnnk.
Fun fact: either sorcerers don’t keep them there, or they keep them very well protected.
Yes, that’s right folks: to the surprise of no-one who’s been paying attention, Machelli is really Xusia – who proceeds to rip his way out of his Machelli “costume”. (1982 was a big year for that sort of transformation: Amityville II and The Beast Within both have moments like this, too.) Xusia is just using his magic glowing fingertips to freeze Alana and take advantage of her when Cromwell arrives. Alana tries to run, but a glance from Xusia stops her in her tracks. She collapses to the ground, whereupon a very large python glides towards her and wraps itself around her for no readily apparent reason – except that this would hardly be a proper post-Conan fantasy film without a honking big snake.
Most people watching this scene seem to envy the snake; I, of course, envy Kathleen Beller.
As Xusia is having fun torturing Cromwell, Talon arrives, insisting that Cromwell’s ass is his. So then Xusia and Talon have to fight over who gets to kill Cromwell. Xusia hits Talon with a mind-slam, which forces him to his knees for a time; but Talon, being made of sterner stuff than your common or garden mortal (or at least not having much of a mid to control), manages to pull himself together and lift the Kitchen Utensil Of Doom again, firing Blade #1 straight through Xusia’s heart – if that’s where he keeps it. Hey, maybe it’s where he keeps his gonads! He yells loud enough. Anyway, that’s about it for our sorcerer.
So then it’s Talon Vs Cromwell. Cromwell seems pretty impressed by the whole air-gun-blade thing. Talon lines him up with Blade #2, but then chooses to fire a blank into the wall, so as to make it a fair fight.
Anyway, the boys then have a big clangy sword-fight, with lots of manly grunting and flying sparks and electrical arcs. Cromwell actually manages to chop Talon’s sword in half....at which point the triple-bladed weapon is revealed to have a fourth blade! – a smaller sword built inside the middle blade, which Talon now strips away like a scabbard. As the fight continues, Talon knocks Cromwell down. He drops his sword, but doesn’t pick it up. Instead he grabs a metal staff – which, by the way, we have not seen a hint of before this moment – that turns out to have a concealed spike at one end, and a concealed knife at the other. Cromwell inflicts a wound on Talon with it but is disarmed a moment later and goes back to his sword.
Well – that was pointless.
Cromwell in turn disarms Talon, who manages to snatch up a rock that is light enough for him to use as a shield, but strong enough to hold off Cromwell as he goes postal on the thing, hacking at it again and again and again as Talon inches back along the floor. Cromwell finally strikes the rock in two, but as he lifts his sword to land the death-blow, Talon twists the band on his wrist and produces yet another sword, a switchblade-like arrangement that he uses to deliver the coup-de-grace. We note that this weapon is approximately twice as long as Talon’s forearm, and a good five times the length of the band supposedly concealing it, but by now we’ve seen so much ludicrous weaponry that this detail hardly elicits a raised eyebrow.
As his lifeblood drips away through several orifices, Cromwell finally thinks to ask Talon just who the hell he is, anyway? – and proves himself a better sport than we might have anticipated by having a chuckle over the answer before dropping dead.
Talon then belatedly observes Alana’s situation (nice of her to keep her whimpering down until the big fight was over), and responds by – sigh – hacking the snake’s head off.
Oh, now, look! – that was completely unnecessary!
And then, because this is a movie made at the height of the era of the slasher film, Xusia springs back to life for one more go, but is quickly put down again with a thrust from Talon’s wrist-sword-thing.
Up in the banquet-hall, everyone else is either dead or exhausted. The kings have all survived. And Rodrigo, and Mikah, and Darius. And the harem-girls. Which in story terms is, I guess, everyone that matters. (Wait a minute: where’s Morgan? Do not tell me they just killed the black guy....) Everyone’s very depressed, though, because they assume that Talon is dead, and probably Alana too; so it’s a nice surprise when a golden crown suddenly drops onto the chair occupied by Mikah. “Why the long faces?” booms Talon from the balcony. “Good God, you’ve snatched the kingdom!” Leonidas jumps up and starts leading the others in a chant of Talon! Talon!, and, oh good, there’s Morgan. Just as well. Mikah gazes up at Talon and Alana and lifts the crown; and for an instant it looks as though he’s about to offer it to Talon; but then, no – he just plants it on his own thick head. What a class act.
And, by the way, Talon lets him do it. He never says a word about his true identity, and we’re left to assume that Alana didn’t hear what he said to Cromwell. (She was a little busy at the time.) Speaking of Alana, evidently being a class act runs in the family, because in front of her brother she reminds Talon that the two of them have some nudge-nudge “business” to take care of. Talon responds by slinging her over his shoulder, grabbing a convenient hanging banner and swinging across the courtyard, as those looking on cheer – including Mikah – eww! Hilariously, the two of them seem to land on a ledge. I don’t even want to think about how it’s going to go from there.
And then, rather surprisingly, we cut to Talon preparing to depart, sans Alana – although she did pay her debt, as Talon has no hesitation in informing his salivating friends. Hey, another class act! We’re left to hope that those men coming to Ehdan in the future looking for a royal alliance are the broad-minded kind. Rodrigo rides up and begs to join the band; and Talon and his men ride off to keep their tardy appointment with King Lambosia. The Sword And The Sorcerer, meanwhile joins the proud ranks of those films whose closing credits promise a sequel that never happened....
....or at least - not yet....
So that’s the first of the ’80s sword ‘n’ sorcery films – and, I think, one of the best of all, as well as being the best thing Albert Pyun ever did. Oddly enough, though, where The Sword And The Sorcerer really doesn’t work is with respect to the promises inherent in its title. Xusia makes a pretty unsatisfactory adversary for Talon and Cromwell alike. His behind-the-scenes activities don’t amount to anything more than a mere human agency might have achieved – except for his initial participation in the overthrow of King Richard, which budgetary issues don’t allow us to witness – and in the end he is far too easily defeated. As for the sword--- Let’s face it: that triple-bladed dealie might be memorable, but in practical terms, it’s just stupid. And there’s also the little detail that, in spite of being given the sword specifically for the task of avenging his father, in the end Talon kills neither Cromwell nor Xusia with it! He does take Xusia down with a flying blade, granted, but in both cases it’s his switchblade-wrist arrangement that delivers the final blow.
However, despite these flaws The Sword And The Sorcerer is certainly an enjoyable romp, and one that to its credit avoids most of the pitfalls that can derail these kinds of films. It has a story that’s complex without ever getting lost in itself, and that - ultimate rarity in an Albert Pyun film - keeps moving; a hero who is badass without ever suggesting that he’s either infallible or unkillable; some good supporting characters; and a hissable bad guy. I do confess, though, to being disappointed in Alana, who starts out looking like she’s going to play a much more significant part in the action than she ever does, and in the end, like too many fantasy heroines, exists only to be threatened, rescued and bedded. Besides which, I don’t think that “kneeing people in the groin” is an acceptable defining characteristic for anyone. The film’s sets and the costumes are quite convincing, although the constant reddy-brown colour scheme does get a little tiresome. Most importantly, however, the score by David Whitaker has just the right quality of rollickingness (is that a word?) to support both the action and the humour of the film.