There’s a double-take that comes with the news that Prince Valiant is released on disc for the first time in the UK. To clarify, it’s not the first time on Blu-ray, but the debut outing on any DVD format. Having no doubt seen it countless times on rainy Sunday afternoons, you’ll only believe the news when you check your DVD collection for its entry in vain (unless you were canny enough to snap up the Region 1 release that graced US stores in 2004, on the 50th anniversary of the film’s cinematic release).
Having waited more than half a century for something better than VHS quality in Blighty, you’d expect such a stalwart of the adventure genre to come with all manner of special features. Unfortunately, distributor Eureka has chosen not to dole out the royal treatment the film deserves and has opted for the distinctly lower-class feel that sees a trailer as the only extra.
Okay, so director Henry Hathaway and actor James Mason passed away in the mid-’80s, but Robert Wagner was young enough to be cast as the prince of the title and is still treading the boards today. Perhaps it’s Wagner’s bowl cut, which would give Anton Chigurh’s barnet in No Country For Old Men a run for worst-ever movie hair, that prevented any contributions from him. The worst omission by far is to completely ignore the source material of Hal Foster’s 1937 cartoon strip, which ran for an epic period in newspapers and counted King Edward VIII among its fans.
Prince Valiant’s training to become a knight at King Arthur’s round table, coupled with run-ins with the fabled Black Knight, are perfect movie fodder. Meanwhile, Franz Waxman’s score pushes events along with its charismatic volleys of trumpets. True, there aren’t many surprises sophisticated modern viewers won’t spot a mile off, but this boy’s-own tale has a charming Saturday matinee feel.
As for the print, the film is presented here in its original aspect ratio, giving you two deep black lines at the top and bottom of your screen to capture the full length of the picture. That’s the only compliment the uneasy transfer has going for it. Colour fades in and out as it switches between different scenes and the grain and flecks on the original print remain untouched by a restorer’s hand. The only thing that can match the surprise that it’s taken so long for Prince Valiant to get a release is the lack of care and attention it’s received now that it has.
A rousing tale that delivers oldschool movie thrills, but there’s nothing thrilling about the lack of extras or poor print.