Cast & Crew
In Lombardy during the twelfth century, Dardo, an excellent hunter and expert archer, lives with his young son Rudi. Earlier, Dardo's wife Francesca left him for Count Ulrich, a member of the hated Hessian nobility, who is known as The Hawk. When Ulrich returns to the village with Francesca, he threatens to take Rudi hostage in order to ensure the safety of his entourage. Dardo attempts to escape with his son, but is wounded by an enemy arrow. Rudi is captured by Ulrich's men and taken to the castle. After his wound is treated by the apothecary, Dardo and his friend Piccolo, a mute blacksmith, take refuge in the mountains. The next morning, they spot Ulrich's beautiful niece Anne while she is riding and give her a message for Rudi. The main reason for Ulrich's visit is to cement his control over the area by marrying Anne to Alessandro, the local marchese, who owes taxes to the Hessians. Anne rejects Alessandro, however, so Ulrich sends his men to collect the tax payment and arrest the marchese. Along the way, Dardo and his men attack the Hessians and take the payment for themselves. Alessandro and his troubadour, Apollo, then join the outlaws. Later, Dardo and Piccolo attempt to rescue Rudi, and when they fail, they abduct Anne, hoping to exchange her for Rudi. Rather than negotiate, Ulrich decides to hang Dardo's friend, Papa Pietro, stating that he does not care what happens to Anne. In a daring raid, Dardo frees Papa Pietro, but Ulrich then threatens to hang five others in his place. Dardo suggests that he give himself up as a diversionary tactic, while the others attack Ulrich's forces. After Dardo, who is wearing a protective harness, appears to have been hanged, Alessandro and the other outlaws are arrested. Later, Alessandro and Anne agree to marry, and he betrays the planned uprising. That night, Anne sneaks out and warns the rest of the townspeople, who are pretending to be mourning over Dardo's corpse. The next day, when some traveling players arrive, Piccolo suggests that they disguise themselves as members of the troupe. Dardo and Piccolo put on a dazzling display of acrobatics before Dardo's real identity is revealed. Dardo and Piccolo manage to free the imprisoned men, who engage Ulrich's soldiers in a battle. After the fighting is finished, Dardo discovers that Francesca is dead. Ulrich has seized Rudi and is using him as a shield. He has not reckoned with Dardo's marksmanship, however, and Dardo kills Ulrich with an arrow, freeing his son. Anne, who has fallen in love with Dardo, joins them as they celebrate their victory over Ulrich.
Alan Crosland Jr.
Lyle B. Reifsnider
Francis J. Scheid
The Flame and the Arrow
The idea to make a swashbuckler came from Lancaster's good friend and former circus partner Nick Cravat. A childhood friend from their days growing up in New York during the worst years of the depression, Cravat had come out to Hollywood at Lancaster's request a couple of years before and appeared with Lancaster in a revival of their old act in a short tour. Cravat suggested that Lancaster make the kind of swashbuckling adventure that made Douglas Fairbanks a superstar. After all, Lancaster was the first movie star since Fairbanks who could actually do all those stunts himself.
Waldo Salt came up with a story inspired by the story of William Tell but relocated to 12th century Lombardy, and a script reminiscent of the 1938 Errol Flynn costume swashbuckler The Adventures of Robin Hood. Salt was blacklisted soon after finishing the script -- it was his last screen credit for over a decade -- but Salt returned to screenwriting with a vengeance in the 1960s and went on to win Academy Awards for Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Coming Home (1978).
Lancaster had recently formed his own production company, Norma, with Harold Hecht, and they developed the project, which was eventually named The Flame and the Arrow (1950), as their second production. Warner Bros. signed on to finance and distribute and Lancaster and company moved to the Warner lot. To keep production costs down, the film borrowed costumes and sets leftover from the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood and a more recent Errol Flynn costumer, The Adventures of Don Juan (1948), and shot almost entirely on the Warner Bros. soundstages.
The parallels with Robin Hood are easy to find: the hero Dardo (Lancaster) is a master archer who has a personal grudge against the corrupt ruler, a Hessian Count known as "The Hawk" who occupies Northern Italy land as a conqueror. Dardo takes refuge in the mountains with a band of rebels who harass and rob the soldiers riding through the hills. Virginia Mayo plays the film's answer to Maid Marian, the niece of the Hawk who falls in love with Dardo and sides with the peasant rebels. Their merry band of outlaws even has a troubadour. Norman Lloyd, a superb character actor who apprenticed as a member of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre company and went on to a longtime associate with Alfred Hitchcock, plays the role as a kind of court jester or poet, providing commentary on the characters and their actions.
Lancaster coaxed Cravat into taking a key supporting role as Piccolo, the film's comic relief and Dardo's sidekick and partner in acrobatic spectacle. Cravat's East Harlem accent was too strong for a costume picture so the character was made a mute and Cravat pantomimed his side of conversations. While it wasn't Cravat's screen debut, it was his first substantial role and it showed off his physical gifts and distinctive presence. The dynamic contrast with Lancaster -- the diminutive, dark Cravat, with his shaggy beard and wide smile somewhere between wild child and little devil, next to the tall, broad-shouldered, strapping star -- made them a memorable pairing, and Lancaster revived the onscreen team a couple of years later for The Crimson Pirate (1952).
Lancaster performed most, if not all, of his own stunts onscreen and the film made a point of it. No cutting away to a stunt man here. Lancaster leaps from parapets, swings from ropes, and flips and somersaults through the air and into his next line of dialogue with such grace and command that there is little question of his mastery. For the climactic assault on the castle, where the rebels pose as traveling players and tumblers, Lancaster and Cravat revived a routine they originally performed in 1940 on the vaudeville circuit. Cravat balances a long pole on his head and shoulders, holding it straight up into the air while Lancaster shimmies up and then, with great control and upper-body strength, unfolds his body at a right angle, like a flag flying from a pole. Ten years later, after weeks of practice and physical training, they executed it onscreen without a hitch. Lancaster and Cravat even embarked on a publicity tour, where they performed some of the film's stunt scenes live for adoring audiences.
Jacques Tourneur directs, making the most of the second-hand sets and costumes with handsome Technicolor images. He fills the film with comic relief and lighthearted spectacle, capturing the essence of the project and the primacy of Lancaster's physical presence, and makes sure audiences clearly see that it is Lancaster himself performing these marvelous acrobatic stunts. But it's not all lighthearted antics and action. Tourneur casts shadows, literally and figuratively, across many of the scenes and in an ingenious twist on the grand Errol Flynn swordfights, he plunges the climactic duel into darkness and constructs a deadly swordfight in slashes of light through the set and suggestive sounds in the shadow.
"[N]ot since Mr. Fairbanks was leaping from castle walls and vaulting over the rooftops of ancient story-book towns has the screen had such a reckless and acrobatic young man to display these same inclinations as it has in Mr. L," wrote Bosley Crowther in his rave review in The New York Times. "And not since-well, we can't remember-have the movies had such an all-out spread of luxuriously romantic hokum as they have in this Technicolored film." The film was a hit, audiences embraced Lancaster as a boisterous, acrobatic swashbuckler, and Lancaster had added a new dimension to his expanding resume: action hero.
By Sean Axmaker
"Burt Lancaster: An American Life," Kate Buford. Da Capo Press, 2000.
"Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall," Chris Fujiwara. McFarland and Co., 1998.
"The Flame and the Arrow" film review, Bosley Crowther. The New York Times, July 8, 1950.
The Flame and the Arrow
The Flame and the Arrow - Burt Lancaster Swashes His Buckle in THE FLAME AND THE ARROW on DVD
The Flame and the Arrow's story is just serious enough to motivate ninety minutes of daring escapes and medieval swordplay. The director is Jacques Tourneur, better known as a stylish master of intimate moods: Cat People, Out of the Past.
Synopsis: Count Ullrich, a.k.a. The Hawk (Frank Allenby) occupies a small town in the Italian Alps. He dispossesses the local Marchese de Granzia (Robert Douglas) for non-payment of taxes, hoping to force the now-bankrupt nobleman into a politically advantageous marriage with his fetching ward Anne de Hesse (Virginia Mayo). Local insurgents oppose The Hawk but are getting nowhere because the independent Dardo Bartoli (Burt Lancaster) refuses to fight. The natural leader would rather hunt and fish with his son Rudi (Gordon Gebert of The Narrow Margin). Dardo's wife Francesca (Lynn Baggett) left him for Ullrich several years before. Now The Hawk seizes Rudi as a hostage to ensure Dardo's cooperation, and also because his mother wants the boy to be raised as a gentleman. To get Rudi back, Dardo joins his sidekick Piccolo (Nick Cravat) in the rebellion. Dardo also finds himself competing with the Marchese for the attentions of Anne de Hesse.
In The Flame and the Arrow Burt Lancaster calls on his circus experience to create a romantic hero who jumps from trees, walks tightropes and swings from the rafters like The Man on the Flying Trapeze. To reverse his image as a handsome hunk who couldn't act, Lancaster would soon be alternating his escapist adventures with more prestigious film projects -- Come Back, Little Sheba, From Here to Eternity. In the next few years Lancaster would be producing films in partnership with Harold Hecht and James Hill, and even trying his hand at directing (for The Kentuckian).
Lancaster's Dardo Bartoli is combination of Robin Hood and William Tell, with a few added character twists. He prefers archery to speechmaking and is motivated less by love of country than concern for his son. Divorces are messy, even in medieval times. In one scene Dardo confronts his ex-wife Francesca, now at the side of the ruthless Hawk, passively accepting the situation in a way that an Errol Flynn hero would. Sensitive director Jacques Tourneur communicates Dardo's inner conflict without undue psychologizing. Dardo doesn't rebel until his son is taken from him, at which point we know that The Hawk's army hasn't a chance. Dardo and Piccolo's trapeze tricks and feats of acrobatics dominate the action scenes. As an added wrinkle, it's established that ace archer Dardo is not particularly adept with a sword. When challenged by a superior foe, he douses the lights: "A knife's as good as a sword in the dark." Waldo Salt also gives Dardo a classic dimension by having him 'return from the dead' after a faked hanging. Burt Lancaster earned a reputation as one of Hollywood's healthiest movie stars. He would maintain his physique for decades, playing physically demanding parts well into his sixties.
Fresh from being roughed up by James Cagney in White Heat, glamorous Virginia Mayo becomes Dardo's conventional love interest. Their uncomplicated relationship is the film's weakest aspect. More typical for director Tourneur, Robert Douglas' Marchese is a refreshingly ambivalent bad guy, at first fighting at Dardo's side and then just as easily changing loyalties. The idea that a natural democratic leader like Dardo would rise from the common folk makes for a nice fairy tale, even if it doesn't seem likely for this period in history.
Energetic acrobat Nick Cravat once shared billing as Lancaster's circus partner. Although he plays a mute both in this film and the Warners follow-up The Crimson Pirate he wasn't afflicted; the roles were written that way because of his thick Brooklyn accent. Warners veteran Aline McMahon is a suspicious peasant woman but the film's most amusing bit of business goes to noted actor Norman Lloyd. He's Apollo, a minstrel singing with a band of traveling players attacked by The Hawk's guards during a performance. Apollo calls out to the rest of the troupe: "You aren't going to let them do that to actors, are you?"
Warners' DVD of The Flame and the Arrow is a good but not perfect transfer of a film originally presented in brilliant Technicolor. The transfer tries to replicate the 3-color look but the presumed composite neg source has mis-registered shots (often involving dissolves), blacks that become pools of dark blue and distracting density fluctuations. The colors are okay on small monitors but look slightly 'off' on larger screens. The hard truth in DVD is that most Technicolor titles are not going to sell in numbers sufficient to justify the huge expense required to restore them to their full beauty. Therefore, some of Hollywood's most beautiful films exist only in increasingly rare and fragile original Tech prints.
For extras we get a 'Joe McDoakes' comedy short called So You're Going to Have an Operation and an amusing cartoon about a buzzard chick left with a pair of English Sparrows, Strife with Father. Trailers are included for The Flame and the Arrow and The Crimson Pirate. Lancaster sucks in his stomach so tightly for the Pirate trailer, one would think he was auditioning to play the Academy's 'Oscar' statuette.
For more information about The Flame and the Arrow, visit Warner Video. To order The Flame and the Arrow, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
The Flame and the Arrow - Burt Lancaster Swashes His Buckle in THE FLAME AND THE ARROW on DVD
Virginia Mayo (1920-2005)
She was born Virginia Clara Jones in St. Louis, Missouri on November 30, 1920, and got her show business start at the age of six by enrolling in her aunt's School of Dramatic Expression. While still in her teens, she joined the nightclub circuit, and after paying her dues for a few years traveling across the country, she eventually caught the eye of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn. He gave her a small role in her first film, starring future husband, Michael O'Shea, in Jack London (1943). She then received minor billing as a "Goldwyn Girl," in the Danny Kaye farce, Up In Arms (1944). Almost immediately, Goldwyn saw her natural movement, comfort and ease in front of the camera, and in just her fourth film, she landed a plumb lead opposite Bob Hope in The Princess and the Pirate (1944). She proved a hit with moviegoers, and her next two films would be with her most frequent leading man, Danny Kaye: Wonder Man (1945), and The Kid from Brooklyn (1946). Both films were big hits, and the chemistry between Mayo and Kaye - the classy, reserved blonde beauty clashing with the hyperactive clown - was surprisingly successful.
Mayo did make a brief break from light comedy, and gave a good performance as Dana Andrews' unfaithful wife, Marie, in the popular post-war drama, The Best Years of Their Lives (1946); but despite the good reviews, she was back with Kaye in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), and A Song Is Born (1948).
It wasn't until the following year that Mayo got the chance to sink her teeth into a meaty role. That film, White Heat (1949), and her role, as Cody Jarrett's (James Cagney) sluttish, conniving wife, Verna, is memorable for the sheer ruthlessness of her performance. Remember, it was Verna who shot Cody¿s mother in the back, and yet when Cody confronts her after he escapes from prison to exact revenge for her death, Verna effectively places the blame on Big Ed (Steve Cochran):
Verna: I can't tell you Cody!
Cody: Tell me!
Verna: Ed...he shot her in the back!!!
Critics and fans purred over the newfound versatility, yet strangely, she never found a part as juicy as Verna again. Her next film, with Cagney, The West Point Story (1950), was a pleasant enough musical; but her role as Lady Wellesley in Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951), co-starring Gregory Peck, was merely decorative; that of a burlesque queen attempting to earn a university degree in the gormless comedy, She¿s Working Her Way Through College (1952); and worst of all, the Biblical bomb, The Silver Chalice (1954) which was, incidentally, Paul Newman's film debut, and is a film he still derides as the worst of his career.
Realizing that her future in movies was slowing down, she turned to the supper club circuit in the 60s with her husband, Michael O'Shea, touring the country in such productions as No, No Nanette, Barefoot in the Park, Hello Dolly, and Butterflies Are Free. Like most performers who had outdistanced their glory days with the film industry, Mayo turned to television for the next two decades, appearing in such shows as Night Gallery, Police Story, Murder She Wrote, and Remington Steele. She even earned a recurring role in the short-lived NBC soap opera, Santa Barbara (1984-85), playing an aging hoofer named "Peaches DeLight." Mayo was married to O'Shea from 1947 until his death in 1973. She is survived by their daughter, Mary Johnston; and three grandsons.
by Michael T. Toole
Virginia Mayo (1920-2005)
a dance instructor.
Nick Cravat, who plays Piccolo, was an acrobat who was teamed with Burt Lancaster before Lancaster became a star. He appears in many of Lancaster's movies. In this one, and in Crimson Pirate, The (1952), he plays a mute. The reason was his thick Brooklyn accent which he could not lose.
The film's working title was The Hawk and the Arrow. The film begins with the following written foreword: "In the twelfth century all northern Italy lay wretched under the armies of the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa. But the mountains of Lombardy are not easily conquered. Generations of mountaineers have passed down the legends of those dark years and the brave deeds of their forefathers who fought for freedom. Sheltered by the mountains, their first small gatherings were secret."
Actors Nick Cravat and Burt Lancaster performed together in the circus before becoming screen actors. Contemporary sources note that Lancaster did his own stunt work in the film. A July 17, 1950 Daily Variety news item reported that Warner Bros. offered a $1,000 award to anyone who could prove that Lancaster's stunts were performed by a double. To counter any doubts, Lancaster made public appearances on top of a fifteen-foot pole. According to contemporary sources, when the film was re-released in July 1953, Warner Bros. offered one million dollars to anyone who could prove Lancaster used a stunt double. A man named Jules Garrison declared that stunt double Don Turner was in three sequences of the film and took the studio to court to get the money. The lawsuit was thrown out by the judge, who stated, "I feel that the court has been used as a publicity forum for Burt Lancaster and a three-year-old picture." Max Steiner's musical score was nominated for an Oscar.
Released in United States 1983
Released in United States Summer July 22, 1950
Released in United States 1983 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Bring the Kids) April 13 - May 1, 1983.)
Released in United States Summer July 22, 1950