Starring: Rick Edwards, Barbara De Rossi, Tanya Roberts, Ron Moss, Leigh McClosky, Tony Vogel, Maurizio Nichetti, Zeudi Araya
Director: Giacomo Battiato
Writer: Giacomo Battiato, Sergio Donatti
Cinematographer: Dante Spinotti
Music: Cooper and Hughes
Producers: Nicola Carraro, Franco Cristaldi
Original Title: I Paladini – storia d’armi e d’amori
Hearts and Armour is essentially a clone of John Boorman’s Excalibur. While Excalibur mined Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur for inspiration, likewise Hearts and Armour has gone back to a classic poem called Orlando furioso, written by Ludovico Ariosto in the early sixteenth century. Allegedly this film was also made into a television mini-series, and what we have here is presumably the edited down version. The only reference I can find to this is in my battered copy of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide 1996 (I really should update it some day — but with the internet it kinda seems superfluous). Scouring the internet, searching under the different names that this film has traveled under, I can find no positive proof or reference to the TV mini-series; so a part of me almost doubts that it was made. Possibly nobody put up the extra cash required for a longer version? But, hey I could be wrong — and it wouldn’t be the first or the last time.
Now if you’re going to attempt to watch this movie, the first thing you have to get past is the music by Hughes and Cooper — being David A. Hughes (one time member of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark — AKA: OMD) — and Martin Cooper. It is an absolutely dreadful electronic rock score that doesn’t follow the film at all. It provides no modifying or emotional effect. The music is loud — really loud — and uptempo regardless of whether a fight scene or a tender love scene is on the screen. I know many people rave about the music, but all I can say is ‘kids, don’t do drugs!’
As the film open Bradamante (Barbara De Rossi) is meeting with a sorceress in a deep dark grotto. The sorceress informs her that she will fall in love with a Moorish Prince named Ruggero. Then the sorceress’ vision, which is displayed on the cave wall like a television monitor, shows the Knight who will kill Ruggero. This knight has a metallic flame emblem on his helmet.
Bradamante runs off horrified at the visions she has just witnessed. Whether she is upset about falling in love with a Moor, or upset that she falls in love with a Moor and then he is killed, is never really explained. But whatever thoughts go on in her mind, have urged her to make a journey. To where is never really explained either. But she travels on horseback along a shallow creek bed which is surrounded on both sides by high rocky cliffs. From the rocks a band of men leap down, knocking her off her horse and into the water. These men are after a little ‘R and R’ — Robbery and Rape. Actually I don’t even think that they were too interested in the robbery, because rather than check her horse for valuables, they proceed straight to the raping. First the brutes start to rip off her clothing and then start to fight each other for first dibs. Just as it seem as if things are are going to get ugly, a knight appears at the end of the waterway mounted on a mighty steed. Seeing Bradamante in peril, the knight gallops at full speed to her rescue, and then proceeds to lop off the limbs from the horny horde of robbing rapists.
As the rapists thrash and wail around in the water — they were not killed — the knight speaks:
‘Bradamante, you left your wealth and comfort behind. But your bravery is not enough. Take my armour and sword and no-one will ever hurt you again’.
The magical thing is, that there isn’t a knight inside the suit of armour. When Bradamante pull back the face guard, she finds that the suit is empty. It is a magical enchanted suit of armour — just for her.
Meanwhile the knight with the flame emblem on his helmet, from the sorceress’ prophecy, rides into a small village. He stops, waters his horse and then takes off his helmet. We are greeted by the good, blonde haired, blue-eyed Christian knight, Orlando (Rick Edwards). Because he has blonde hair and blue-eyes, he must be the hero of this film. Orlando makes a few repairs around the village and then rides on until he meets up with a group of fellow Christian knights.
Elsewhere, a Moorish Princess, Angelica (Tanya Roberts), and a troupe of bodyguards are riding down the waterway – you know, the same one that Bradamante traveled down. Up above them the ‘robbing rapists’ have regrouped — albeit without their severed limbs. One of them has even been so industrious to make an appliance where he can plug his sword where his hand used to be. The ‘robbing rapists’ leap down from their hiding places and start clawing at Princess Angelica’s clothes. But once again, the mysterious knight appears at the end of the waterway and begins to charge at the rapists with a drawn sword. The rapists flee. Of course, this time Bradamante is inside the suit of armour.
In the Moor encampment, by the sea, Ruggero (Ron Moss) is preparing to leave the camp. Why? I don’t really know. Maybe it’s because his sister, the Christians have taken Angelica prisoner. Actually it couldn’t be that — because that hasn’t happened yet. That’s in the next scene. Oh well, Ruggero must be restless, and want to roam the countryside looking for Christians to kill.
As I suggested above, indeed, Angelica is taken prisoner by Bradamante, who takes her to her Christian King as a prisoner. Along the trail she runs into Orlando and his stout-hearted band of Christian knights. They continue their journey together. Ruggero continues his quest to retrieve his sister, and he too is soon caught by the Christians. Now all the cast is gathered together in one spot, the love stories can begin. After all, this film is called Hearts and Armour. We’ve had a lot of armour — really silly armour — but now it’s time for a bit of romance. In this film there are tow love at first sight stories going on. Firstly, Ruggero and Bradamante fall in love — well that’s hardly surprising because the sorceress at the beginning of the film told us so. But, we didn’t expect Orlando to fall for Angelica. How’s that for a bizarre emotional entanglement. Fate has deemed that Orlando will kill Ruggero, but yet Orlando has fallen in love with Ruggero’s sister. And meanwhile, Bradamante is just trying to play peacekeeper.
The films continues to spiral towards its fateful and inevitable showdown, and despite the clumsiness of the first half, the film begins to pick up momentum in the second half. The introduction of a few new characters adds a bit of zest to the story. The first is a wizard named Atlante (Maurizio Nichetti), who is like a small live action version of Yoda — that is, if Yoda had been tarred and feathered. He enlivens things with a few invisibility spells and some not so prophetic wisdom.
The second character is a crazy Moorish knight named Ferreau (Tony Vogel). During his quest or travels, he discovers Princess Angelica who has managed to escape from her Christian captors. He promises to protect her and lead her back to the Moorish encampment and safety. But like most of the male characters in this film, instead he tries to rape her. In fact, poor old Angelica spends most of the film in a torn dress with her right nork hanging out, as various characters try to rape her. At one point, even an invisible priest tries to rape her. It’s tough work being a Princess in medieval Italy.
Now I am trying not to talk about the armour in this film, because many other reviewers have talked at length about the costume design — but in all fairness, I cannot shy away from it. The screencaps throughout this review will not do justice to weird, wild and wonderful armoured creations that populate this film — especially on the tops of their helmets. Orlando has this weird lopsided crest of flame. Bradamante has a circle disk — which could be all sorts of things (the sun, a halo, or a piece from a nice table setting). One of Orlando’s men has a sword jammed into his head, the actual blade runs down the front of his armour. Another has what looks like rams or goats horns. And one has what looks like a tulip. Along the way, they battle men with even weirder armour. Farreau’s costume make him look like some kind of bird, the Japanese Samurai wears a facemask that makes him look like ‘V’ from V for Vendetta. One set of armour even has a little tree at the top. Obviously, whoever was in charge of costume design, and the armoured creations was a person of great imagination and skill. But somehow, despite all the work and craft that have gone into the designs, at times I can’t help but think ‘man that looks really stupid!’
Many of the fight scenes are poorly choreographed, and that may simply be because it is hard to choreograph fight scenes between people in suits of armour. Conan, Dar (from The Beastmaster), an Talon (from The Sword and the Sorcerer) were not weighed down by heavy armour and as such were free in their movements. Nearly all of Orlando’s fight scenes are in heavy armour, and they are slow. Some people, who are into medieval authenticity may claim that the film is simply trying to be truthful, but the movie only runs 100 minutes and if all the fight scenes were played out in real-time, the film would give Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace a run for its money in screen time. Ruggero comes off a lot better, because he doesn’t really don his armour too often. He has freedom to move around, and pose stoically. That’s another thing you can’t do in a suit of armour, is hold a pose while the wind rushes through your hair.
The film is plagued to two major short-comings. The first is the serious tone throughout. It is po-faced without an ounce of humour — well not intentional anyway. I laughed at nearly every scene with Ferrau, because Tony Vogel’s acting performance is off the chart. It’s like the man has a rubber jaw and cannot deliver a simple bit of dialogue without pulling a face. The second flaw, is the lack of narrative. People appear to do things for no reason — they just travel. I think we are supposed to see the film (most of it) through Bradamante’s eyes, but even she is hard to relate to. Like at the beginning, why is she seeing a sorceress? Then, where is she going. The suit of armour tells us she has given up a life or privilege — where and why? Then she receives an enchanted suit of armour — again, I ask why? It’s not like she used it for some noble purpose. At least the other characters are knights and as such their motivations can be distilled down to simple patriotism, and then later lust.
I know it seems like I am giving Hearts and Armour a right proper kicking, but the truth is that it isn’t that bad. There are quite a few good moments, and the cinematography is first rate, with some striking images that will stay in your head for a long time after you’ve watched the film. Of course the female leads are easy on the eye too. Tanya Roberts doesn’t have a nude scene under a waterfall, which I believe she should have written into every film contract. But you can’t have everything. However, she does look stunning in her torn blue dress. Barbara De Rossi appears to have a bit of spunk too, but her character is such a grumble-bum, sometimes it’s hard to warm to her. Finally there is Zeudi Araya as Ruggero’s sister, Marfisa. She doesn’t get much screen time, but she makes a strong impression with the scenes she does have.
The two male leads, Rick Edwards and Ron Moss come off pretty good. They are both good looking fellas and even though the film lacks narrative, you feel like you have been on a journey with both men — even if that journey leads them to a simple understanding that ‘there is no honour in war’.
I think my problem with Hearts and Armour stems from the fact that it is one of the few films of its kind that I didn’t see when it was originally released. Others like Conan, The Sword and the Sorcerer, The Beastmaster and a whole slew of others, I saw either at the cinema or later, immediately when they were released on video. I saw these films during my formative years and at a time of where these films were relevant to my peers. In that regard I probably overlook and forgive many of the flaws in those films because I know them so well or I simply have a retrospective positive association with each film. But not so Hearts and Armour. I have no inbuilt love for the film.
Ultimately Hearts and Armour is a second tier Sword and Sorcery movie from the early eighties. Just that simple sentence should tell you a lot about the film. If you’re tolerant of such fare, you may find a bit to enjoy here — I found a little bit. However, if you are after something a little more swashbuckling and driven, then this film may try your patience.