Quentin Durward not too serious
The Adventures of Quentin Durward in 1955 was Robert Taylor’s third offering in the trio of movies which also included Ivanhoe and Knights of the Round Table, all made in MGM’s British studios. For more than 30 years Taylor remained one of the studio’s principal leading men, usually playing against glamorous leading ladies. In this case it’s Kay Kendall who was to die prematurely just a few years later.
Billed as a swashbuckler, there isn’t so much action in Quentin Durward compared with, say, Ivanhoe a couple of years previously. Filmed on location in the British and French countryside, the story is set in fifteenth century France. It’s an era, according to the blurb, when the introduction of gunpowder was overturning the old ideas of chivalry and honour. Quentin Durward (Robert Taylor) is instructed by his aged uncle the Duke of Crawford (played by Ernest Thesiger in one of his final film roles) to go to France and prepare the way for a dynastic marriage between the Duke and the Countess of Marcroy (Kay Kendall). Taylor is impoverished and doesn’t have any real choice in the matter of obeying his uncle.
The Countess is none too pleased to be forced into marriage with an old Scottish baron. “His left hand may be on the Scottish throne,” she sighs, “but his right is on the graveyard wall”. So she slips away from her so-called protector The Duke of Burgundy (Alec Clunes), who has arranged the match, to seek shelter in the court of the French king Louis XI (Robert Morley).
But she is forced to flee again upon learning that the crafty Louis is planning to betray her once again. The dashing Durward naturally foils the plot, falls in love with the Countess and marries her on hearing the glad tidings that his uncle in Scotland has passed away at last. The plot is somewhat unbelievable at this point though, to be fair, it does mirror the story line in Sir Walter Scott’s original novel.
Actually it is Robert Morley who steals the picture as the jovial but unscrupulous monarch who has absolutely no loyalties except to himself and to France which, at the time, was in danger of being dismembered or even overrun by the dastardly English who still held a few cities from the long drawn out Hundred Years War.
Morley trusts only his barber played by Wilfrid Hyde White with his usual aplomb and wit. “If a monarch must trust somebody,” comments Louis XI, “let it be the man who daily presses a razor against his throat.” But Wilfrid is far more than a barber, acting also as a go-between or messenger for whatever scheme his master currently has in mind.
Director Richard Thorpe, by now an old hand at costume dramas, unusually for him throws in a dash of humour, making fun of the so-called Scottish trait of miserliness personified by Ernest Thesiger who is actually more interested in his future bride’s income than in her famed good looks. He also makes the dialogues between Louis and his barber very amusing as they consider what deviance may next serve king and country best. “Oh, do get on with the shaving!” pines Louis at one point.
The action is low key with very duelling or fight scenes and emphasis on the matlock rifle revolution whose fire throughout the movie seems to miss everybody aimed at. But there is an impressive final sword fight on the belfy ropes between a double for Taylor and the chief villain which makes a fitting conclusion.
Robert Taylor made eight films with director Richard Thorpe, four prior to Quentin Durward and including The Crowd Roars (1938), Ivanhoe (1952), All The Brothers Were Valiant (1953) and Knights of the Round Table (1953). By the mid fifties it was becoming clear that Robert Taylor’s swashbuckling days were over as the years clocked on and his health began to deteriorate. Taylor continued to make movies almost until his death from lung cancer in 1969, but Quentin Durward was his last medieval epic or historical costume drama.