The opening text of this lesser-known Hammer production from 1964, set to a ludicrously rousing Ďmatineeí-style score, reads "1648: This is the story of a band of freemen who defied a tyrant".

Colonel Judd (Lionel Jeffries) is the barking tyrant, intent on ruling the land and sworn to do so by kidnapping royalty in a bid to provoke the people of the land to succumb to his order. His sweaty, bowler-haircutted Roundhead henchman Sylvester (Oliver Reed) is a suitable enough threat for most.

But the rebellion, a small band of Royal Cavalier guards headed by dashing young Edward (Jack Hedley), are intent on liberating the incarcerated King and freeing the land from tyranny...

Romance, intrigue and amusingly staged Saturday afternoon action sequences Ė not to mention some truly ripe dialogue - ensue in quick succession, all to the strains of Gary Hughesí gleefully excited score.

Everything moves along at such an insane pace: camerawork, action, the script. Itís impossible to be bored by this film, such are the dynamics of its storytelling. But, on the other shoe, this hurried approach betrays the filmís low budget and quick shooting schedule, making it feel terribly cheap.

Director John Gilling (THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS; THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES), though, had a talent for making best use of what little resources he had. As such, many of the interior scenes in THE SCARLET BLADE (particularly night sequences) are expertly lit, giving them a finesse they shouldnít rightfully benefit from.

The film also earns kudos due to its lush English countryside photography and some marvellous period costume design, often recalling WITCHFINDER GENERAL aesthetically if not in mood or style. Oh, we get a few buxom wenches thrown in for good measure too (but no nudity, naturally).

Of course, the other great pleasure to be derived from this film is watching the famous cast tear through the scenery with their strictly soap opera dialogue. Itís all very melodramatic, but that doesnít stop the likes of Jeffries (bald here) and a young Reed from offering riveting viewing.

Fans of THE NEW YORK RIPPER will doubtlessly be amazed by how agile the young Jack Hedley is in this filmís lead role. Heís the one throwing bricks through windows, incidentally, announcing himself to dignitaries as "the scarlet blade"...

Whatever. The end result is a breathless, cheap and somewhat underwhelming historical film that still manages to rise above its inherent crappiness by way of its interesting look and game casting. Give it a go, you wonít be short-changed.

Studio Canalís transfer is surprisingly good, offering the film in a clean but natural-looking 2.35:1 transfer. The picture is enhanced for 16x9 television sets and boasts natural colour schemes, flesh tones and strong blacks. Specks and dirt were minimal, but nothing looks over-processed on the digital cleaning front either: I was very impressed by the picture.

Likewise, the English 2.0 mono audio track is also very good. Optional English subtitles are also at hand.

The disc opens to a striking if simplistic static main menu page. From there, a static scene-selection menu allows access to the main feature via 8 chapters.

The only extra feature is a 2-minute alternate opening title sequence, playing in 16x9 widescreen but without audio, and bearing the title THE CRIMSON BLADE. Itís in decent nick, despite the lack of sound.

THE SCARLET BLADE, then, is not a great film but certainly not a movie without its points of interest. Itís great to see it on DVD, and nice to report for its fans that Studio Canalís presentation of the film is little short of marvellous.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by StudioCanal
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review