A Valiant Attempt
Many years after King Aguar (Donald Crisp) and his family were exiled from Scandia due to usurper Sligon (Primo Carnera) and his Viking rebels, Aguar's son Prince Valiant (Robert Wagner - Broken Lance) has come of age and sent on his way to Aguar's old friend King Arthur (Brian Aherne) at Camelot to train to be a knight. On his way there Valiant discovers Sligon meeting with a mysterious Black Knight who plans to overthrow King Arthur. Having only just managed to escape Valiant meets Sir Gawain (Sterling Hayden) who starts to teach him the ways of the Knight although their friendship is made complicated by romantic feelings for sisters Princess Aleta (Janet Leigh - The Naked Spur) and Ilene (Debra Paget - Anne of the Indies). But when it comes down to it Valiant wants to do two things; get his father his throne back and stop the Black Knight from over throwing Arthur.
I'm guessing one or two things happened when "Prince Valiant" was being made; either they had faulty cameras which could not zoom in or director Henry Hathaway was told that the set cost so much to build that he must show as much of it in as many scenes possible. It is the only explanation why during the first half an hour I can't remember a single close up on a character with most scenes shot from a distance, be it in Camelot when the King and his men are talking or outside when Valiant is being trained. In fairness the outside shots are more to do with disguising the stunt double who does the action scenes which Robert Wagner was unable to do, but it is pretty obvious that it is not Wagner jumping on to a horse or throwing axes.
This decision for whatever reason to shoot "Prince Valliant" on wide angle has a knock on effect of making it standoffish. We get served up some characters such as James Mason as Sir Brack and Robert Wagner as Prince Valiant but because we are visually kept away from them we never really feel like we get to know them. That means that it is hard to get involved in what is going on as we have no interest in them. Basically "Prince Valiant" ends up becoming all about the look and spectacle but it is a look and spectacle which doesn't stand out from crowd especially with Wagner's terrible wig being a distraction.
I really wish I could find some way to praise "Prince Valiant" as obviously money has been spent not only on the look but on the cast with several impressive names. But it all so routine right down to the casting of Janet Leigh and Debra Paget as the beautiful love interests.
What this all boils down to is that "Prince Valiant" is just another one of those Camelot adventure movies from the 1950s whose appeal now is more to do with the cast than the movie itself as that suffers from a director who for some reason is too standoffish.