1/3/07

617 The Sword and the Dragon

(1956, Fantasy-Fairy Tale, color)

I love the smell of dragon breath in the morning.

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:

The hearty, bearded Ilya Murometz defends his country from the invading Tugar hordes.

Summary:

The newly healed Ilya and his pet wind demon.An enormous, bearded paraplegic named Ilya Murometz looks tenderly out his window at his platinum-haired sweetheart. Suddenly, snarling pseudo-Mongols (a.k.a. the Tugar hordes) ride through the town, pillaging and burning as they go. They ride off with the young lady and burn the fields behind them while the crippled Ilya looks on. Later, the Tugars capture a noble and make him promise to give them a signal of furs on the river (I think) when the Prince’s castle is undefended.

Meanwhile, the mighty hero Invincor has at last become weary with age. He gives his magic sword to a procession of random bearded men, charging them to deliver it to someone mighty and strong who will defend their country from the Tugars. Then (for reasons that may have made sense at the time) he turns to stone. The bearded procession makes its way to the remains of Ilya’s village. Ilya invites them inside for some water. Apparently tired of lugging the thing around, they give him the magic sword. When Ilya tries to refuse, citing his non-functioning legs, they heal him with some handy magic dew.

Ilya gets up to throw boulders and tree stumps around the mountainside, swearing vengeance upon the Tugars. His neighbor gives him a pony named Chestnut Gray, which he grows into an enormous stallion by bathing it in dew three times. He rides out into the countryside, looking for adventure. Some talking crows warn him of certain death, so he goes on to see what the fuss is about. He discovers a wind demon, a hairy bullfrog-ish little man that blows out hurricane-force gales. He drags it back to the Prince’s castle, shaming the boastful and traitorous noble of the opening scenes. He makes friends among the other warriors. They meet the grossly fat envoy of the Tugars. The envoy demands tribute and throws his sword at Ilya. Ilya throws it back, skewering the envoy. The Tugar escort flees. The Prince makes Ilya his right hand man.

Ilya rescues his sweetheart and marries her. She sings an odd little song to some birds, squirrels, and animatronic rabbits while weaving a magic tablecloth for her husband. Ilya tells her to name their son Little Falcon when he is born, and sends her away on a trading voyage so that she’ll be gone when the Tugars attack. The Tugars change their plans and attack the voyage instead, taking her prisoner.

Meanwhile, the traitorous noble takes advantage of Ilya’s quick temper to invent some treason charges against him. The prince throws Ilya in the dungeon, with orders to the noble to “feed him well.” The noble promises to do so, but does not. He tries to send a barrel of furs down the river to signal the Tugars, but a friendly fisherman sees him and recovers the barrel. The noble tries to flee, but loses his pants to the fisherman’s bear trap. The fisherman keeps the furs, sending the pants down the river in the barrel.

The Tugars find the pants and make up a prophecy about it. I didn’t really follow the whole thing, but they end up deciding not to attack for a few more years. Ilya’s son is born in captivity, and taken away by the evil Tugar leader Kalin, who raises Little Falcon as his own. He grows to be a mighty warrior like his father.

Finally, the Tugars attack. Seeing them at his gates after all these years makes the Prince remember that Ilya is still in his dungeon. He becomes especially angry when he discovers that the noble has not been feeding him. Ilya reveals how he survived with the help of his wife’s magic tablecloth. He emerges to lead the Prince’s armies while the traitorous noble is boiled in oil.

Ilya meets Kalin to pay him tribute, delaying the Tugars with a complicated scheme that makes the Tugar warlords pay most of the Prince’s tribute for him. When his armies finally arrive, he reveals himself as the mighty Ilya Murometz. He defeats the Tugar guards and rides back to his armies. Little Falcon goes after him, and Ilya recognizes him in battle. He convinces his son of his true parentage and sends him back to the slave camps to find his mother.

The climactic battle features thousands of people running around with spears, Kalin riding a horse up a giant human pyramid, Viking-ish ships running over Mongol-ish hordes (I’m still not sure how they did that) and a three-headed dragon spewing flames all over the Prince’s forces. Ilya and his buddies run in and out of the flames to do battle with it, while footmen wait just out of range to douse them with buckets of water every time they run past. Eventually Ilya’s youngest friend chops off one head, Little Falcon spears another, and Ilya finishes off the third himself. The Tugars retreat, leaving Kalin to be stuffed into a sack and taken back to the Prince’s castle for trial.

Finally reunited with his wife and son, Ilya gives his sword to Little Falcon and wanders off into the wilderness to search for more adventure.

Introduction:

Because Bergman is famous for his sense of humor.Tom has convinced Mike and Crow to play Dungeons and Dragons with him. He is the Dungeon Master, and immediately confronts Mike’s elf character and Crow’s dwarf character with a level four balrog. Having no idea what a balrog is, or how to deal with one, both their characters die immediately. Mike takes the Dungeon Master book away from Tom and has the balrog cast the spell of Zorvon. Tom flees the room in terror.

Host Segment One:

Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank are hard at work wrapping their comic books and back issues of Starlog into Mylar bags. Their new neighbors, Bridget and Mary Jo of Deep 12, come by to introduce themselves and ask about the laundry room. Dr. Forrester and Frank freeze up and talk about comics. Quoth Dr. Forrester, “Are we on a date?” They beg Mike to do something distracting. Mike and the ‘Bots put on a vaguely anti-government musical revue called Superkalifragilisticexpialiwacky. The Mads laugh heartily, oblivious to their neighbors’ hasty retreat.

Host Segment Two:

The Satellite crew presents A Joke by Ingmar Bergman, though they drag Strindberg and Ibsen through the credits as well. The camera pans slowly between Tom and Crow. They speak haltingly in Scandinavian accents while they walk along a pier. Crow counts the number of boards in the pier while Tom counts the number of slits between the boards. Tom falls off the end of the pier, and then there’s a punchline, of sorts.

Host Segment Three:

Gypsy dons platinum braids and sings while she weaves a tablecloth. Crow is a little bird, Tom is a squirrel, and Mike is a bunny. Quoth Gypsy, “You guys are so weird.”

Host Segment Four:

Ilya Murometz appears in the Hexfield Viewscreen to declaim about his new job waiting tables at IHOP. “And lo, my heart is filled with sadness, for I must take Cindy’s shift.” Crow asks if he serves ham, prompting Ilya to draw his sword. Quoth he, “Not even a Tugar dog shall order off the menu!”

Host Segment Five:

Tom reads Gypsy’s review of Superkalifragilisticexpialiwacky aloud. She praises Mike, pans Tom, and mentions Crow. Tom is devastated. Down in Deep 13, the Mads talk up their experience with the ladies of Deep 12. They hide behind the couch when the phone rings.

Stinger:

The wind demon falls out of a tree.

Thoughts:

Weaving's been a breeze since I got my new animatronic squirrel.In the first few minutes of the film, Tom says, “This movie’s already more expensive than every other film we’ve seen, put together.” He’s probably not exaggerating. Lavish sets and costumes, amazing special effects (for 1956), literally thousands of people on screen almost the whole time—without the technology available today, I cannot imagine how difficult this must have been to make. You have to take off your “real world” hat and put on your “folklore” hat and inhabit the world of capricious demons, superhuman heroes, and magic dew to make sense of it all, but if you can do that, the movie’s a lot of fun. I had problems figuring out what was going on in parts, mainly because after a while, one large, hairy Finn looks pretty much like every other. But that’s probably more of a cultural problem on my part.

Several of the host segments are consistent with the film, not in content, but in tone, which is pretty fun to see. Most notably this applies to A Joke by Ingmar Bergman, which I enjoyed despite its slow pacing. The ‘Bots deliberate intensity even made up for the odd punchline, which I didn’t really understand either. The D&D game, the revue and its subsequent review, and the Mads inability to relate to women are all bizarre and self-referential. Which is to say, I liked them.

The film segments are wonderful, and would have been fun to see without the MST3K treatment. In this case, the SOL crew doesn’t mock the film so much as add to it. When the Tugars throw fur-clad, bearded Finns over a cliff, Crow says, “At long last our nation says ‘no’ to renaissance festivals.” When the Tugars march on the Prince’s castle, Mike calls the noise, “Concerto for timpani and car horns.” When the camera pans across a battlefield of dead Tugars, Mike says, “Please dispose of your Mongols properly.” Kalin’s Boris Badanov-esque accent makes for much merriment as well. I’ll add this episode to my “watch again” list.