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Film / The War Lord (1965)

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The War Lord is a 1965 American historical romantic drama film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, based on the 1956 Broadway play The Lovers by Leslie Stevens. It stars Charlton Heston, Richard Boone, Rosemary Forsyth, Guy Stockwell, Maurice Evans, James Farentino, Niall MacGinnis and Henry Wilcoxon. Schaffner, Heston and Evans later collaborated on Planet of the Apes.

In 11th century Western Europe, Chrysagon de la Cruex (Heston) is a knight in the service of the Duke of Normandy. He is sent with his brother Draco (Stockwell) and Bors (Boone), an old warrior who served Chrysagon's father and swore to protect him, to a coastal village where the previous lord was killed in his tower by Frisian raiders. He battles the Frisians, captures the son of their prince and begins to rebuild the Duke's authority over the still largely pagan villagers, which a monk (Evans) tries to convert to Christianity. Chrysagon falls in love with Bronwyn (Forsyth), one of the local women, and decides to keep her for himself, which angries both her fiancé Marc (Farentino) and the other villagers. Chrysagon then finds himself betrayed by the villagers, who call the Frisian raiders to help them besiege the tower to get both Bronwyn and the young son of the Frisian prince back.

Up until this film, most Hollywood representations of feudal life (including Heston's own El Cid) were glamorized, with bright and clean colors, Paragons and Knights in Shining Armors aplenty, with the issue of religion rarely brought up. The War Lord attempts to portray the late 11th century in a more accurate fashion as dirty, violent, and ruled by brute force or pragmatism, and shows how Christianity dealt with local paganisms. It also shows how the social stratification imposed by feudalism governed every human relationship, with power devolving from the duke, to the knight, to his men at arms, the church and the peasantry at the very bottom.

Not to be confused with the trope The Warlord, the comic book series The Warlord nor the film Lord of War.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Abduction Is Love: Bronwyn actually does fall in love with Chrysagon, and doesn't want to leave him at the end.
  • Actor Allusion: Chrysagon is skilled at spear-throwing, fights while wearing just a loincloth and blinds an enemy with a torch.
  • Anti-Villain: The Frisian chief. Sure, he leads his men to Rape, Pillage, and Burn, but the Normans did the same on their military campaigns, for most of the film he's just a Papa Wolf who wants to save his son, and Draco and Marc ultimately come off as much worse individuals.
  • Asshole Victim: Flea wanted to make the young son of the Frisian Prince his slave and ends up betraying the Normans, which brings the Frisians back to besiege the tower. No one bats an eye when Draco shoots an arrow in his back.
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • Towards the end, Draco madly wants to kill his brother Chrysagon out of the jealousy-fuelled years he spent in his shadow.
    • Chrysagon taking Bronwyn from him hasn't exactly done wonders for Marc's sanity. By the end, he jumps on Chrysagon to try killing him with a sickle and tries rushing Bronwyn to possibly kill her as well, only to be impaled on a spiked tree branch by Bors.
  • Baritone of Strength: Bors, courtesy of being played by Richard Boone, has a deep and gravelly voice, and he's clearly the physically strongest character in the film.
  • The Big Guy: Bors. He's the strongest and tallest of Chrysagon's men (he has the least trouble lifting stones to throw at the Frisians from the top of the tower) and prefers blunt weapons or things improvised as such.
  • Broken Bridge: As a result of the door fire being extended with oil, the collapsed drawbridge of the tower gets completely destroyed, rendering any more Frisian assault attempt by the door useless. So the next thing Frisians do is building a siege tower.
  • Broken Pedestal: Marc was initially impressed by the tales of Chrysagon's battles and thinks he'll do a great feudal lord... until the day Chrysagon uses his Droit du Seigneur to steal his fiancée Bronwyn.
  • Brutish Character, Brutish Weapon:
    • The barbarian Frisian raiders who attack the English coast carry battleaxes.
    • The blunt and gruff Bors favors blunt weapons.
  • Cain and Abel: Draco eventually tries to kill Chrysagon, turning mad out of all the years of being The Un-Favourite and being in his brother's shadow. He does so even if he has technically been put in charge of his brother's domain by the Duke when searching for reinforcements. He also shows himself much less prone to be a fair overlord than his brother.
  • Carry a Big Stick: In battle, Bors is often seen using a club or whatever piece of wood he can bash enemies with.
  • The Cavalry: Draco comes back with reinforcements and a catapult just in time, and they destroy the Frisians' siege tower just as Chrysagon and his men are being overwhelmed.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Chrysagon, given the way he goes after Bronwyn.
  • Les Collaborateurs: The villagers end up siding with the Frisian raiders who raided them weeks earlier in order to storm the tower, as both groups have someone to get back from Chrysagon (Bronwyn and the Frisian Prince's son, respectively).
  • Crazy Enough to Work: When the Frisians are using the Battering Ram on the tower's door, Chrysagon and his men need a grappling hook to knock the ram over, but they have none at hand. Bors suggests to use the anchor of the half-sunken boat in the tower's moat, and immediately volunteers to go down there and retrieve it at the risk of being shot at with arrows by the Frisians. He pulls it off, and the besieged manage to destroy the ram.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Marc (Bronwyn's fiancé) completely loses it when Chrysagon takes his fiancée away on his very wedding day.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Draco has a very sharp tongue.
  • Depraved Dwarf: Flea, the dwarf of Chrysagon's retinue. He enslaves the Frisian Prince's son, and when he's denied that, he sends Marc to call the Frisians for help, betraying the Normans. Draco shoots an arrow in his back as a punishment for this betrayal.
  • Determinator: The Frisians never run out of ideas and determination to storm the tower and get their little prince back.
  • Disney Villain Death: An Ax-Crazy Draco falls to his death in the tower's central shaft after getting stabbed as he was trying to kill Chrysagon.
  • Droit du Seigneur: Chrysagon demands Bronwyn on her wedding night. The trouble starts when he doesn't give her back.
  • Druid: The villagers practice druidism as religion, which the Church considers as Pagan.
  • Enemy Mine: The villagers have suffered from Frisian raids with all the Rape, Pillage, and Burn, but they are also very angry at Chrysagon for (seemingly) keeping Bronwyn for himself (they don't know that she chose to stay). Angry enough to make an alliance with the Frisians, who want their little prince that Chrysagon keeps hostage back.
  • Epic Flail: Chrysagon wields a ball-and-chain flail in his first encounter with the Frisians.
  • The Family That Slays Together: The Frisian leader brings his young son along on his raids to Rape, Pillage, and Burn. Lampshaded by Bors:
    Bors: So they bring their heathen brats along to teach them murder.
  • Feudal Overlord: Chrysagon is a rather historically realistic version of the trope.
  • Frontline General: Chrysagon leads the Normans through and through in the battles and siege, and doesn't hesitate putting himself at risk to defend the tower.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Chrysagon wears only a loincloth when he confronts the first Frisian assault on the tower by nighttime, having no time to put his mail armor on.
  • Horny Vikings: The Frisians are more or less portrayed like Vikings. The only things lacking are (precisely) stereotypical horns on their helmets, Norse origins and longships. It's also ironic considering their enemies, the Normans, actually descend from Norsemen who settled in what became Normandy over 150 years prior.
  • Hostage Situation:
    • The son of the Frisian prince is detained by Chrysagon and his men, and they find themselves besieged as a consequence. Although, Chrysagon never had any intent of killing the boy nor wants a ransom, it's Draco who threatens to do the former and suggests the latter.
    • The Frisians once took Chrysagon's and Draco's father prisoner and wanted a ranson for him. Taking the son of the Frisian Prince as hostage is a payback for this in Draco's mind.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice:
    • Draco runs a Frisian through In the Back with his sword when the first battle ends.
    • Marc tries to kill Chrysagon at the end, and Bors impales on a sharp tree trunk.
  • Improvised Weapon: Chrysagon uses one of the priest's crude procession crosses to make a Frisian attacker fall into the moat during the siege tower attack.
  • Kill It with Fire: In their third attempt to storm the tower, the Frisians try to burn the tower's door down. This ends up literally backfiring when Chrysagon's men throw oil on the collapsed drawbridge, extending the fire, destroying the drawbridge and setting several of the Frisians ablaze.
  • Last Breath Bullet: During the night when the Frisians try to burn the door of the tower down, the one carrying the torch to light up the pyre they made on the door gets shot in the chest with an arrow then in the back with another, but still pushes through to set it ablaze, then dies.
  • Loophole Abuse: Chrysagon demands Bronwyn on her wedding night based on the fact that said wedding is a Pagan one so there's no offense to Christianity, according to the priest.
  • Love Theme: "Chrysagon and Bronwyn" is a plaintive, achingly romantic melody for their intimate scenes.
  • The Low Middle Ages: The very end of it, as the movie takes place after 1066.
  • Man on Fire: Several Frisians get turned into human torches when the door fire is expanded with oil. Chrysagon escapes this fate when Bors rescues him and smothers the flame on his arm.
  • The Middle Ages: The story takes place some time after the 1066 Norman invasion of England, between the low and high Middle Ages.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Marc's attempt to kill Chrysagon at the end. It doesn't end well for him, as Bors impales him on a sharp tree trunk.
  • Near-Villain Victory: The Frisians almost manage to overwhelm the Normans with the siege tower, then Draco's reinforcements arrive Just in Time with a catapult to destroy the siege tower.
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight: Draco eventually tries to kill Chrysagon with a dagger, only to end up stabbed with it in the struggle.
  • Not Afraid to Die:
    • During the Battering Ram assault, Bors immediately steps in to search the anchor to have a chance of stopping the ram.
      Chrysagon: Not you, Bors!
      Bors: Why not? I would as soon die a wet death as a dry one.
    • At the end, when Chrysagon decides to bring the Frisian Prince's son back to his people, he simply goes to them with the boy, with only Bors to accompany him, not even bothering to think about what they could do to him. Since he brings them the boy alive and well and without any ransom demand, the Frisians spare his life and even invite him to come with them.
  • Old Retainer: Bors has been serving Chrysagon's family for a while.
  • Old Soldier: Bors has accompanied Chrysagon's father and Chrysagon himself in all of their military campaigns, and kicks ass left and right, most often with clubs or things improvised as such.
  • Older Sidekick: Bors is Chrysagon's trusted companion who saw him grow up and served his father before him.
  • Papa Wolf: The Frisian prince tries everything to storm the tower in order to get his young son back.
  • Parental Favoritism: Chrysagon has always been his father's favourite (being the first born helped).
  • Pelts of the Barbarian: Bors wears a fur cape, which gives him a barbarian look. He uses it to smother the fire on Chrysagon's arm when the Frisians' incendiary assault is repelled.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: The Frisians' way of life. They are first seen departing after a pillage.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Chrysagon tries his best to be one.
  • Roaring Rampage of Rescue: The whole purpose of the Frisian siege is to rescue the leader's young son.
  • Savage Spiked Weapons: The blunt and gruff Bors uses a spiked club against the Frisians during their siege tower assault.
  • Shirtless Scene: Chrysagon during the first Frisian assault on the tower. And there's the cauterization scene.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Draco has always been jealous of Chrysagon.
  • The Siege: The Frisians make several attempts to storm the tower and save their little prince, with the help of the angry villagers who want Bronwyn back.
    • First they sabotage the drawbridge's chains at night.
    • Then they partially destroy the door with a Battering Ram made with a tree trunk. The Normans knock it over in the moat at the last moment using a rope and an anchor that was searched by Bors.
    • The Frisians then succeed in burning the tower's door but they are repelled when the fire is extended with oil.
    • In their last attempt, they build a siege tower. This time they could have overwhelmed Chrysagon's forces, had Draco not brought reinforcements with a catapult.
  • Sinister Scythe: Marc tries killing Chrysagon with a sickle at the end.
  • This Is Reality: At the end, Bors rebukes Chrysagon's wistful desire to "make amends" with this.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: The villagers join the Frisians to storm the castle. Invoked by Draco:
    Draco: You're the lord of this place. "Hold it well!" he told you. And where are the dogs you hold it for? Waiting outside your door with pitchforks.
  • The Tower: The only kind of fortress that was built in the village, with no walls nor any type of defense around it except the moat.
  • Trash the Set: Chrysagon destroys a tapestry in anger after he learns that Bronwyn is soon to be married.
  • Undying Loyalty:
    • Bors is loyal to Chrysagon and follows him everywhere, having sworn to his father to protect him.
    • When Draco is given the lordship of the tower and the village, he turns to Chrysagon's men and expects them to kneel before him. Tybald tells him to his face "Not where my lord lives."
  • The Un-Favourite: The father of Chrysagon and Draco has always favored the former, something the latter has always deeply resented.
  • Warrior Prince: The Frisian's chief is called their "prince", and goes on expeditions and battles with them.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Bors prepares himself to punch the young son of the Frisian prince as the latter draws his dagger.
    • Draco threatens to cut said young son's head off if the Frisian raiders don't pay a ransom. When he comes back, he still toys with the idea of hurting him.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Unlike Draco, Chrysagon is increasingly uneasy with the idea of demanding a ransom for the son of the Frisian Prince and orders that no harm shall be done to him. This serves him very well at the end when he simply decides to bring the boy back to his people.
  • You Are in Command Now:
    • Draco didn't just go to the Duke to seek reinforcements, he also told the Duke about Chrysagon's mistakes, which caused the Duke to appoint Draco as lord of the village, demoting Chrysagon. Draco doesn't live long enough to rule however.
    • Then Chrysagon entrusts Rainault with lordship of the village and tower for as long as he will be away as he departs to see the Duke after the death of Draco.