Theatrical release poster by Bob Peak
|Directed by||Joshua Logan|
|Produced by||Jack L. Warner|
|Screenplay by||Alan Jay Lerner|
|Music by||Frederick Loewe|
|Cinematography||Richard H. Kline|
|Edited by||Folmar Blangsted|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.-Seven Arts|
Camelot is a 1967 American musical comedy-drama film directed by Joshua Logan and starring Richard Harris as King Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as Guenevere, and Franco Nero as Lancelot. The film is an adaptation of the musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. Lerner also wrote the screenplay.
King Arthur is preparing for a great battle against his friend, Sir Lancelot, a battle he does not wish to fight but has been forced into. Arthur reflects on the sad circumstances which have led him to this situation and asks his childhood mentor, Merlyn, for advice. Merlyn appears to him and tells Arthur to think back.
Arthur thinks back to the night of his marriage to his now-estranged wife, Guenevere. It is an arranged marriage, and he has never met her before. He is understandably afraid of what lies ahead ("I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight"). His solitude is broken by Guenevere, who has fled from her entourage and enters the same woods that he has taken refuge in. Guenevere is also worried about marrying a man she has never met, and longs for the romantic life of a fought-over maiden ("The Simple Joys of Maidenhood"). Overhearing Guenevere and realizing who she is, Arthur accidentally falls out of the tree in which he is hiding. He and Guenevere converse, and as she does not know his true identity, she fantasizes about traveling with him and escaping before his "wretched king" finds her. Arthur tells her what a wonderful place his kingdom is ("Camelot"). She finds herself drawn to him, but they are interrupted by his men and her entourage. Arthur's identity is revealed, and Guenevere gladly goes with him to be married.
The plot shifts to four years later. Arthur dreams up and explores with Guenevere his idea for a "Round Table" that would seat all the noble knights of the realm, reflecting not only a crude type of democratic ideal, but also the political unification of England. Knights are shown gathering from all over England. Eventually, word of Arthur's Round Table spreads to France. Inspired by Arthur's ideas, the French Knight Lancelot makes his way to England with his squire Dap, boasting of his superior virtues ("C'est Moi"). Lancelot's prowess impresses Arthur, and they become friends; however, many of the knights instantly despise Lancelot for his self-righteousness and boasting manner. Back in Camelot, Guinevere and the women frolic and gather flowers to celebrate the coming of spring and ("The Lusty Month of May")
Guenevere, who initially dislikes Lancelot, incites three of the best knights - Sir Lionel, Sir Sagramore, and Sir Dinadan - to challenge him to a joust ("Then You May Take Me To The Fair"). Arthur ponders this discord and how distant Guenevere has become recently ("How to Handle a Woman"). However, Guenevere's plan goes awry as Lancelot easily defeats all three, critically wounding Sir Dinadan. A horrified Lancelot pleads for Sir Dinadan to live, and as he lays hands on him, Dinadan miraculously recovers. Guenevere is so overwhelmed and humbled that her feelings for Lancelot begin to change. Despite his vows of celibacy, Lancelot falls in love with Guenevere, leading to the famous love triangle involving Arthur, Guenevere, and Lancelot. The other knights are aware of the clandestine meetings between Lancelot and Guenevere. They accuse Lancelot repeatedly, and several knights are banished after losing their armed challenges.
Guinevere and Lancelot meet in secret to discuss the latest accusation, the knight's banishment, and their future. Guenevere does not believe Arthur knows yet, but Lancelot tells her that he does, which causes her much guilt and anguish. Lancelot vows that he should leave and never come back, but finds it impossible to consider leaving Guenevere ("If Ever I Would Leave You").
Arthur knows something is going on between Lancelot and Guenevere, but he cannot bring himself to accuse them because he loves them both. He decides to rise above the scandal and ignore it. However, Mordred, Arthur's illegitimate son from an affair with the Princess Morgause before he was crowned, arrives at Camelot bitter because Arthur will not recognize him as son and heir. Mordred is determined to bring down the fellowship of the Round Table by stirring up trouble. All this takes its toll on Arthur's disposition, and Guenevere tries to cheer him up ("What Do the Simple Folk Do?") despite her conflicted emotions.
Mordred cunningly convinces Arthur to stay out hunting all night as a test, knowing that Lancelot will visit Guenevere in her bedchamber. Everything happens as Mordred expected, except that Lancelot and Guenevere had intended to make this visit the last time they will see each other. They sing of their forbidden love and how wrong it has all gone ("I Loved You Once In Silence"). But Mordred and several knights are waiting behind the curtains, and they catch the lovers together. Lancelot escapes, but Guenevere is arrested and sentenced to die by burning at the stake, thanks to Arthur's new civil court and trial by jury. Arthur, who has promoted the rule of law throughout the story, is now bound by his own law and cannot spare Guenevere. "Kill the Queen or kill the law," says Mordred. Preparations are made for Guenevere's burning ("Guenevere"), but Lancelot rescues her at the last minute, much to Arthur's relief. However, many knights are killed, and the knights demand vengeance.
The plot returns to the opening. Arthur is preparing for battle against Lancelot, at the insistence of his knights who want revenge, and England appears headed back into the Dark Ages. Arthur receives a surprise visit from Lancelot and Guenevere, at the edge of the woods, where she has taken residence at a convent. Lancelot asks if there is nothing to be done, but Arthur can think of nothing but to let the events ride out. They clasp arms in farewell, and Lancelot leaves. Arthur and Guenevere share an emotional farewell, his heart breaking when he sees that she has had all her glorious hair chopped off. She is beside herself that she may never see him again or know his forgiveness.
Prior to the battle, Arthur stumbles across a young boy named Tom, who wishes to fight in the battle and become a Knight of the Round Table. Tom espouses his commitment to Arthur's original ideal of "Not might 'makes' right, but might 'for' right." Arthur realizes that, although most of his plans have fallen through, the ideals of Camelot still live on in this simple boy. Arthur knights Tom and gives him his orders--run behind the lines and survive the battle, so that he can tell future generations about the legend of Camelot. Watching Tom leave, Arthur regains his hope for the future ("Camelot (reprise)").
Several songs were omitted from the film version: "The Jousts", a choral episode in which the jousts, which occur offstage in the play, are described (in the film they are shown); "Before I Gaze At You Again", sung by Guenevere to an offstage Lancelot; "The Seven Deadly Virtues", sung by Mordred; "Persuasion", sung in a scene not in the film, in which Mordred persuades Morgan Le Fay, who is omitted from the film's screenplay, to conjure up an enchantment to keep Arthur in the forest so that Guenevere and Lancelot's affair can be exposed; and "Fie On Goodness!", sung by the knights, in which they bemoan the fact that they are no longer allowed to administer punishment no matter how inappropriate, but according to the law. Some songs were cut during the original Broadway run of Camelot, because they made the play too long. However, they were restored for the London production starring Laurence Harvey and Elizabeth Larner.
In both the stage and film version, Merlin has disappeared from Arthur's life as an adult. However, in the play, this occurs immediately after the meeting of Arthur and Guinevere, as a result of the water nymph Nimue putting an enchantment on Merlyn to entice him to live with her in her cave. In the film, this is assumed to have occurred long before the meeting with Guinevere, and Merlyn is excised from this scene. In the stage version, when Nimue is seducing Merlyn, she sings "Follow Me". In the film, this song has been completely rewritten and is sung by an offscreen children's chorus in a scene roughly three-fourths into the show in which Arthur goes to a special place in the forest to consult Merlin. (This scene was added to later versions of the stage musical but these kept "Follow Me" in its original place.) The new lyrics suggest Merlin is living in a kind of paradise, but do not imply he has been lured there. Nimue does not appear in the film.
Although popular recordings of "Follow Me" usually use the lyrics from the original stage musical, Frank Sinatra's recording uses the revised lyrics from the film.
William Johnson noted that "some of Arthur's speeches could be applied directly to Vietnam," such as Arthur's "Might for Right" ideal and repeated musings over borderlines. At the same time, Alice Grellner suggested the movie served as "an escape from the disillusionment of Vietnam, the bitterness and disenchantment of the antiwar demonstrations, and the grim reality of the war on the evening television news" and reminder of John F. Kennedy's presidency.
John F. Kennedys presidency became inextricably linked to Camelot after his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, revealed in a Life article following his assassination that it had been one of his favorite records, particularly the lines "Don't let it be forgot/That once there was a spot/For one brief shining moment/that was known as Camelot." Davidson, in The Reel Arthur, notes that there are no true correspondences between Kennedy and Arthurian characters, which was fortunate considering the film centered around an adulterous love triangle. In creating the association between Kennedy's presidency and Camelot, Jackie Kennedy connected her husband to the hope, goodness, and glamour of Camelot. She wanted her husband to be remembered as "well-meaning, fallibly human but ultimately idealistic," devoted to his country's interests above his own.
While the official running time was 179 minutes plus overture, entrance and exit music, only the 70mm blow up prints and 35mm magnetic stereo prints contained that running time. The general release version ran 150 minutes. Cuts were made in dialogue throughout the film and entire stanzas were removed from a number of songs including "C'est Moi" and "What Do the Simple Folk Do?". Omitted scenes include Arthur explaining what he means when he says that Merlyn lives backwards, and the entire flashback of Arthur in the forest recalling Merlyn's schoolhouse.
The film grossed $31.102 million.
The film was the 11th most popular movie of 1967, with over $30 million in ticket sales; rentals returned to Warner Bros., however, weren't enough to show a profit. As of August 2018, Camelot holds an approval rating of 47%, based on 15 reviews with an average rating of 6.2/10.
Contemporary reviews were mixed to negative. Film Quarterlys William Johnson called Camelot "Hollywood at its best and worst," praising the film's ideals and Harris and Redgrave's performances but bemoaning its lavish sets and three-hour-running time.Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called Redgrave "dazzling" but criticized the film's conflicting moods and uncomfortable close-ups. Crowther felt the main characters were not sufficiently fleshed out to evoke any sympathy from the audience, concluding that the filmed lacked "magic".Variety ran a positive review, declaring that the film "qualifies as one of Hollywood's alltime great screen musicals," praising the "clever screenplay" and "often exquisite sets and costumes." Clifford Terry of the Chicago Tribune was also positive, calling it "a beautiful, enjoyable splash of optical opiate" with "colorful sets, bright costumes and three fine performances."Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post wrote, "Long, leaden and lugubrious, the Warner's 'Camelot' is 15 million dollars worth of wooden nickles. Besides being hopelessly, needlessly lavish, this misses the point squarely on the nail: what was so hot about King Arthur? We never really are told." He added that Richard Harris as Arthur gave "the worst major performance in years."Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called the film "a very considerable disappointment," writing that its moments of charm "simply cannot cancel out the slow static pace, the lack of style, the pinched and artificial quality of the proceedings, the jumpy and inconsistent cuts, the incessant overuse of close-ups, the failure to sustain emotional momentum, the fatal wavering between reality and fantasy, the inability to exploit the resources of the film medium."Brendan Gill of The New Yorker declared, "On Broadway, 'Camelot' was a vast, costly, and hollow musical comedy, and the movie version is, as might have been predicted, vaster, more costly, and even more hollow."The Monthly Film Bulletin of the UK wrote, "A dull play has become an even duller film, with practically no attempt at translation into the other medium, and an almost total neglect of the imaginative possibilities of the splendid material embodied in the Arthurian legend. Why, for instance, is Arthur not shown extracting Excalibur from the rock instead of merely talking about it? Such is the stuff of film scenes."
The film, nominated for five Academy Awards, won three  for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (John Truscott, Edward Carrere, John W. Brown), Best Costume Design (John Truscott), and Best Music-Scoring of Music (Adaptation or Treatment) (Alfred Newman, Ken Darby). It was also nominated for Best Cinematography (Richard Kline) and Best Sound. It also won three Golden Globes and was nominated for an additional three.
Richard Harris won the 1968 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
These are the film songs as listed on the official soundtrack album. However, in the film "Take Me to the Fair" appears before "How to Handle a Woman", and the version of "Follow Me" with new lyrics written for the film appears much later in the film, after "I Loved You Once in Silence". A shorter version of "Guinevere" appears at the beginning of the film after the Overture. The lyrics for "Follow Me" are completely different than the lyrics in the stage version.