The knock on “Camelot” when it first came out in 1967 was that it was overblown. It was too long, too busy, too opulent, too fussy, too gaudy, too sprawling, too unfocused, and too slow. Well, it is too long. As for the rest, I can only say, “Nonsense.” This is a grand Lerner and Loewe musical presented in grand fashion. Sure, it gets long-winded, but you can’t blame director Joshua Logan for trying to duplicate the splendor of the original Broadway production, which, if you ever saw it, was pretty darned splendid, indeed. Be that as it may, the DVD version now offers the viewer the chance to skip any parts of the film that he or she doesn’t like. It can be a full, three-hour music-fest or a brief listen to favorite songs. Sure, technology is wonderful.
The plot is based on T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” which White based in turn on parts of Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte D’Arthur.” It recounts, largely in song, the familiar love triangle of King Arthur, Queen Guenevere, and Sir Lancelot. My own major concern with the story, though, has nothing to do with its length or its lack of focus but with its actors. I was greatly disappointed at the time that the original Broadway cast had not reprised their roles in the film. Richard Harris plays Arthur, and he seems to grow in the role as the movie progresses. But, he is no more than an acceptable if somewhat grudging substitute for Richard Burton. Vanessa Redgrave plays Guenevere, and she is really quite stunning, the best part of the picture. Yet, Julie Andrews would have done her own singing, and the songs are mainly what the film is about.
A really major letdown is Franco Nero as Lancelot. He is simply no Robert Goulet, in stature, voice, or dramatic ability, a criticism supported by the fact that as an actor Nero disappeared into the woodwork of second-rate films as soon as “Camelot” was finished. Still, they all do their best, with David Hemmings a deliciously slimy Mordred and Lionel Jeffries a delightfully dotty old Pellinore. Laurence Naismith as Merlyn looks good but is otherwise forgettable.
The sets are lavish, the art direction, costumes, and music won Academy Awards; and, needless to say, the songs are still the songs, among them “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight,” “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood,” “C’est Moi,” “The Lusty Month of May,” “How to Handle a Woman,” “If Ever I Should Leave You,” “I Loved You Once in Silence,” and, of course, the title tune, “Camelot.” They are as beautiful as ever.
It had been over thirty years since I last saw “Camelot” in Panavision, and it was good to see everything in its place again. The 2.35:1 ratio widescreen offers a story filmed mainly in earth tones but nonetheless in good, if sometimes muted, detail. I saw no scratches, glitches, or artifacts of any kind on this basically excellent print.
The movie’s two-channel sound has been remixed in Dolby Digital 5.1 to good effect, giving it a very wide stereo spread and a little left and right rear-channel ambiance, most noticeable in the musical numbers. In addition, the tonal balance is quite natural and there is very little tape hiss, so I have to give the audio high marks in spite of its age and despite the surround having little to do.
Extensive notes, a ten-minute featurette on the making of the film, a twenty-five minute documentary on the film’s premiere, and an alternative, music-only soundtrack comprise the disc’s major additional features. What’s more, everything is presented on a single, dual-layered side with a changeover so subtle I wasn’t even aware of it.
“Camelot” has its critics, to be sure, but I am not one of them. It is an epic musical of heroic dimensions; a sentimental, idealistic, romantic piece of adventure fluff that I continue to enjoy. I shall remember “Camelot” for more than “one, brief shining moment.” It has already been half a lifetime.