The mighty Charlton Heston is the master of the movie epic (sorry Russell Crowe) and The War Lord is a film that really highlights this. Teaming with Franklin. J. Schaffner for the first time, Heston plays Chrysagon de la Cruex, a Knight charge with ruling a feudal costal town. Things get off to a good start when he protects the villagers from a savage attack from Frisian marauders – but events take a downward spiral when he falls in love with one of the locals (Rosemary Forsyth) who is already betrothed. This leads to a revolt, when her spurned lover seeks revenge.
Heston’s strength as an actor is that he has always been able to take characters who are not 100% likeable and add an extra layer that attracts audience sympathy. His Chrysagon starts off with noble intentions, but his vanity and love for Rosemary Forsyth’s Bronwyn leads him astray. You can see why the locals turn on him, but he’s Charlton Heston and you have to root for him.
Modern movies tend to use CGI to make their visuals epic, but this 1965 film had to rely on good old-fashioned cinematic techniques like matte-paintings to help add scope. It’s good that everything is tangible, the village feels dirty and Chrysagon’s castle feels drafty and cold. Even the action feels real. The War Lord features some great stunt-work as the Heston’s castle is put under siege – they really don’t make movies like this anymore.
Franklin. J. Schaffner is something of an under-rated director, he worked with Heston again on Planet of the Apes, but he also directed Patton, Papillion and The Boys from Brazil. A cinematic roster like that shows a tremendous amount of directorial talent. Those film’s haven’t been ignored – but Schaffner has.
The War Lord is a powerful piece of epic moviemaking. Charlton Heston does what he does best by adding understated strength to the flawed lead character, while Schaffner directs with aplomb, balancing a central love story with some rousing screen action.