Mr. De Mille offered his latest history at the Astor Theatre last night amid the pomp and circumstance that are reserved for large events in the cinema. The epicmaker has lost none of his skill. "The Crusades" is a grand show. Displaying all of that healthy contempt for icebox pedantry which distinguishes the master showman in his bouts with history, Mr. De Mille provides two hours of tempestuous extravaganza. On his clamorous screen you will discover the most impressive mass excitement that the screen has offered in years. Once you have granted him his right to exaggerate the significance of Miss Loretta Young and the amorous instinct in the wars of the cross and the crescent, you are his prisoner until the show has ended. Mr. De Mille has no peer in the world when it comes to bringing the panoplied splendor of the past into torrential life upon the screen. "The Crusades" presents him at the top of his achievement, with the virtues of his method towering majestically above his obvious faults.
The Christian attack on the walled city of Acre, for example, is superbly managed. Staged at night, with flaming arrows, fireballs and torches illuminating the carnage, the assault of the war engines and catapults of the Christian armies upon the buttressed defenses of the Saracens sets a high point for picturesque slaughter on the screen. This is war, and Mr. De Mille does not spare the horses. When the cross-bow sings, the arrow finds its mark. When the seige platform of the crusaders brings the warriors to grips upon the walls, the clash of steel mingles with the cries of the dying, bodies hurtle into the moat and the spectator holds his breath in very wonder. The crisis of the emotion comes when the defenders pour their boiling oil vats upon the heads of the Christians ascending the scaling ladders. Mr. De Mille is enormously skillful in his use of miniatures in this sequence.
Once again he displays his singular gifts when the opposing armies of horsemen, dashing together in the battle on the plains before Jerusalem, crash head-on in mid-screen. Here Mr. De Mille achieves a spectacular effect with his use of the split-screen device. He can be equally effective in the drama of individual conflict, as he proves in the beautifully managed scene in which Saladin slices the silken veil in mid-air with his scimitar after the braggart Richard has cleaved the iron mace with his sword.
Relating the highly romanticized narrative of the photoplay to the facts of history is a task for an expert, but generally it seems to be based on the 3rd Crusade, when England joined with France and the other allies to regain possession of the true cross. Richard the Lion-Hearted, a brawling fellow, was on the verge of being trapped into an alliance with the sister of King Philip of France. He escaped the match by joining the crusade. But on his journey he found himself obliged to wed a girl, not a boat, named Berengaria, daughter of a minor ruler, who insisted on the alliance before he would provision Richard’s hungry troops. It was a marriage in name only until the French King tried to force Richard to put her aside. Then the stubborn Lion Heart decided that he really loved his unwanted bride. Berengaria thereupon got herself captured by Saladin and Richard found so much more inspiration in his love for her than he had in his holy vow to regain the sepulchure of Our Lord, that he sacked Acre and almost broke through to Jerusalem. A gallant victor, Saladin abandoned his plan to add Berengaria to his harem, sent her back to Richard and threw the Holy City open to Moslems and Christians alike.
It is Saladin, in fact, who emerges as the real hero of the photoplay. In the courtly performance of Ian Keith, his suave and generous behavior to the Christians is in startling contrast to the lumberjack whoopings of Richard and the chicanery of the allied chieftains. Henry Wilcoxon, a braw lad, is happily cast as the roistering English King, Miss Young, a competent if less than inspired actress, bears up surprisingly well under the burden of being called Berengaria and the necessity for pretending that she practically started the Holy War. There are Amazing performances by C. Aubrey Smith, Alan Hale, C. Henry Gordon and that striking brunette, Katherine De Mille. George Barbier stands out particularly as the unctuous petty monarch who tricks the Lion Heart into marrying his daughter. At its best "The Crusades" possesses the true quality of a screen epic. It is rich in the kind of excitement that pulls an audience irresistibly to the edge of its seat.
THE CRUSADES, directed by Cecil B. De Mille; screen play by Harold Lamb, Dudley Nichols and Waldemar Young; music by Rudolph Kopp; lyrics by Harold Lamb; costumes by Travis Banton; technical effects by Gordon Jennings; photographed by Victor Milner. Presented by Paramount Pictures at the Astor Theatre.
Berengaria . . . . . Loretta Young
Richard . . . . . Henry Wilcoxon
Saladin . . . . . Ian Keith
Alice . . . . . Katherine De Mille
The Hermit . . . . . C. Aubrey Smith
Conrad of Montferrat . . . . . Joseph Schildkraut
Blondel . . . . . Alan Hale
Philip of France . . . . . C. Henry Gordon
Sancho . . . . . George Barbier
Blacksmith . . . . . Montagu Love
Frederick of Germany . . . . . Hobart Bosworth
Hugo of Burgundy . . . . . William Farnum
Earl Robert of Leicester . . . . . Lumsden Hare
John Lackland . . . . . Ramsey Hill
Karakush . . . . . Pedro de Cordoba
Michael, Prince of Russia . . . . . Paul Satoff
ANDRE SENNWALD completely new York Times 22 August 1935