Film Review: The Sword in the Stone
In 1963, Wolfgang Reitherman released The Sword in the Stone, based on the 1938 novel of the same name by T. H. White. Starring Rickie Sorensen, Karl Swenson, Junius Matthews, Sebastian Cabot, Norman Alden, Martha Wentworth, Alan Napier, Thurl Ravenscroft, James MacDonald, Ginny Tyler and Barbara Jo Allen, the film grossed $22.2 million at the box office.
After King Uther Pendragon dies, a sword appears stuck in an anvil with an inscription stating whoever pulls the sword will be king of England. Several years later, a 12-year-old orphan named Arthur meets a magician named Merlin who changes his life. The two embark on a series of adventures, all leading Arthur towards the sword in the stone.
The Sword in the Stone is an average film, employing a very character driven story. The plot essentially sees orphan Arthur go from a role as a simple squire with no education to meeting Merlin who provides him with firsthand life lessons to becoming the king of England, supposedly using the lessons Merlin taught him to rule. The film depicts Merlin teaching him three lessons: physics as he transforms them into fish, gravity when the two become squirrels and flight turning him into a sparrow. A fascinating aspect about the film though is the titular sword does not appear all that much. The film sets it up in the beginning, showing it as waiting for someone to pull it out, changes to Wart encountering Merlin and the episodic life lessons. The sword notably does not come back into play until near the ending.
This ties into the film’s pacing. It’s all over the place and there’s barely any flow. The life lessons are important parts of the film, but they seem to drag on for incessant amounts of time. Similarly, until the film reaches the tournament, the moments between the lessons feel as if they are in a hurry to reach the next lesson. There is also the scene involving Arthur and Archimedes running into Mad Madame Mim. Despite the ensuing Wizard’s Duel having good comedy and being a good break, the scene is entirely pointless, has no bearing on the overall film and really has no need to even exist. The idea of giving Merlin a foil is interesting and the character is well done. Nevertheless, it comes off as an unneeded insertion.
Still, Mim is a great character and would have been better had she been a necessary inclusion. She exists as the perfect evil counterpart to Merlin. While the latter uses magic for good and sees something great in Arthur, wanting to mentor him so he can flourish with education, Mim uses magic for evil and tries to kill Arthur moments after he said Merlin believed there to be something great about him. Further, her motivation for committing evil acts is simply because she’s evil and loves it, taking the time to sing a song about how wonderful it is that she’s mad and evil. Unfortunately, all of this is wasted on a filler character who is only around for two scenes. After Merlin bests her in the duel, she’s out of the story completely and never mentioned again. It’s a misuse of the film’s only true antagonist.
Mim’s squandering is not the only strange facet found in the film as it is quite noticeable Arthur is voiced by three different actors. Two of them have apparent young and squeaky voices and the third is the obvious voice of a teenager who has gone through puberty. This would have worked had the actors been changed to show the progression of time in the film and physical growth of the character. However, the different actors can easily be heard in the same scene sometimes. One scene in particular has the teen voice speaking and when Arthur turns around to leave the frame, a younger voice can distinctly be heard as the character is falling down the stairs. It’s an odd choice on the filmmakers part and one which takes the viewer out of the film.
Awards & Recognitions
Bold indicates reception of award/recognition
- Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment
Boxoffice Magazine Awards
- Boxoffice Blue Ribbon Award – Best Picture of the Month for the Whole Family (January)