The Flame and the Arrow is an unfortunate effort. Most of the fault is Waldo Salt’s strangely tone-deaf screenplay. There’s narrative rhyme and reason, but none of it takes the actual resulting film into account–characters played by actors with no chemistry get thrown together. Director Tourneur doesn’t seem suited for the material. It’s a big swashbuckling epic–though lead Burt Lancaster is adamant about his lack of swordsmanship–and Tourneur doesn’t do anything with the scale.
The film has a bunch of necessary, desirable elements, but nothing to hold them together. Lancaster is agile and amiable. He’s a mountain man who romances the townswomen–married and unmarried–at his leisure (and their pleasure). He’s got an adorable son (Gordon Gebert), whose mother has run off with the Hessian overlord. Frank Allenby’s good as the overlord. He doesn’t get a lot to do, but it’s more than Lynn Baggett gets to do as Gebert’s mother. Salt’s script doesn’t dwell much on the characters, but least of all on Baggett. It’s unfortunate, because it seems like there should be something serious to Arrow, but no one wants to acknowledge it.
Virginia Mayo is the love interest. Unfortunately, it’s for Lancaster. Mayo and Lancaster have terrible chemistry. She does better with every other actor, including Nick Cravat, who plays Lancaster’s mute, acrobatic sidekick. And that particular scene is awful, because Cravat’s not funny and Tourneur has no idea how to make him any more amusing.
Robert Douglas is okay as Mayo’s other suitor and Lancaster’s reluctant ally. Salt’s script does him no favors either.
Arrow runs less than ninety minutes. Some natural narrative gestures go incomplete; maybe things got cut. Max Steiner’s score is energetic without being inspired. Ernest Haller’s photography operates on a “good enough” principal.
But the good pieces aren’t just Lancaster and the castle sets, there are good ideas in Salt’s script. He just doesn’t bring anything together. He’ll come up with a great set piece with obvious ways to tie it into the rest of the picture, but Arrow will just drop it in. And even if the script functioned better, Tourneur’s direction is too disinterested.
The film’s often tedious and painfully lacking in charm, but it ought to be a lot better. The third act, where Arrow could redeem itself, instead weighs it down even more.
Directed by Jacques Tourneur; written by Waldo Salt; director of photography, Ernest Haller; edited by Alan Crosland Jr.; music by Max Steiner; produced by Harold Hecht and Frank Ross; released by Warner Bros.
Starring Burt Lancaster (Dardo Bartoli), Virginia Mayo (Anne de Hesse), Robert Douglas (Marchese Alessandro de Granazia), Aline MacMahon (Nonna Bartoli), Frank Allenby (Count ‘The Hawk’ Ulrich), Nick Cravat (Piccolo), Lynn Baggett (Francesca), Gordon Gebert (Rudi Bartoli, Dardo’s Son), Norman Lloyd (Apollo, the Troubador), Victor Kilian (Apothecary Mazzoni) and Francis Pierlot (Papa Pietro).