AKA THE CRIMSON BLADE
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 83 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
It’s near the end of the English Civil War and supposedly deceased nobleman Edward Beverly is actually alive and well in the form of the Scarlet Blade, an outlaw who is aiding Cavalier refugees in escaping the country. On his trail is the tyrannical Roundhead Colonel Judd and his right hand man Captain Sylvester. Judd’s daughter Claire is intended for an eventual marriage to Sylvester, but Claire is actually a Cavalier supporter and begins to aid Beverly’s sparse band. Then the King is captured by the Roundheads….
Though at times it seems as if Hammer had a third Robin Hood script and then quickly turned into an English Civil War adventure, this solid Hammer swashbuckler is a pretty good watch. It drastically simplifies the conflict it depicts; the Roundheads are the murderous, torturing bad guys, intent on wiping out the Royalists totally, while the Cavaliers are the whiter than white good guys with justice on their side. In fact the film doesn’t really go into the background at all. Nonetheless the script does attempt a bit of depth as it goes along, notably when it focuses on Sylvester, an interestingly written bad guy who switches sides several times, is torn between duty and love, and eventually becomes a bit sympathetic. The somewhat downbeat ending is also commendable, if unbelievable in terms of what Judd does, and I’m not sure how much all this would have pleased youthful matinee audiences of the time. There is though a fairly fast pace throughout and, while the larger scale action scenes are extremely brief and really show evidence of the low budget, there’s usually something of interest going on, the highlights being a memorable sword vs. axe fight and a very tense and atmospheric section straight out of one of Hammer’s Gothic horrors where the heroine is sneaking about at night, has to hide when somebody enters the room she’s in, and follows him through a secret passageway! There’s also a very funny scene, which is probably intended to be comic but perhaps not as much as it actually is, in which the outlaws, disguised as bushes, creep ever-closer to some Roundhead guards.
Jack Hedley’s Robin Hood-style hero is poorly characterised and the actor seems miscast though he certainly athletically throws himself into the part. The character’s romance with Claire just seems inserted into the film with no real cause. While Michael Ripper has another show stealing part and there’s an early appearance by Hammer starlet Suzan Farmer, it’s villains Lionel Jeffries and Oliver Reed who tend to dominate, Reed making the most of his complex part too. Also notable is the BAFTA-nominated cinematography of Jack Asher, whom Hammer had let go for being too time consuming in 1960 but called back to do two further films. There’s just something about Asher’s meticulous setups and use of colour that is so distinctive and really gives this film a touch of class. It’s such a shame that he left the business in 1965 – just imagine what he could have done with big studio productions. Unremarkable in most other respects but certainly one of those films that gets rather more interesting as it goes along, The Scarlet Blade doesn’t seem to be well regarded but it did hold my attention throughout.