When it comes to low budget science fiction films the name Bert I. Gordon is easily one of the most forefront as the list of “on the cheap” films he produced includes such “classics” as The Amazing Colossal Man, Village of the Giants and The Food of the Gods, but not only did he produce such films he also directed, wrote and had a hand in the special effects that brought them to life. Despite the quality of the finished product you have to admit that is still pretty impressive. In 1962 he turned his talents towards the realm of fantasy adventure films with The Magic Sword, or as it is sometimes known as The Seven Curses of Lodac, and make no mistake The Magic Sword is a bad movie with the costumes and props all looking like stuff stolen from the local high school production of Macbeth, but the film does have a certain charm to it and those who are fans of the “So bad it’s good” type films will consider this mana from Heaven.
The hero of the film is a Prince George (Gary Lockwood) who was raised since he was a boy by the sorceress Sybil (Estelle Winwood), an elderly magic user who worries that her foster child won’t learn a good trade because he spends all his time mooning over a girl that he’s been spying on through a magic pool. This one of those “Love at First Sight” stories and the fact that our “hero” is basically a Peeping Tom isn’t supposed to be held against him, but love hits a snag when while watching her bathe (see total peeper) he is forced to futilely watch her being kidnapped by some form of dark magic. Turns out that the evil sorcerer Lodac (Basil Rathbone) has a bone to pick with the current monarch because in the past his daughter was burnt for being a witch, and now in seven days the Princess Helene (Anne Helm) will be fed to a dragon.
Sir Branton (Liam Sullivan) vows to find Lodac’s castle and free the Princess, he’s a bit of an arrogant douche so right off the bat we don’t trust him, but Lodac insures the King (Merritt Stone) that seven curses stand between any supposed hero and their prize and that no one has a chance of surviving the dark journey. The King tells Sir Branton that, “The man who saves Helene will have her hand in marriage and half my kingdom.” So basically your standard save the princess contract. Of course Prince George had been listening in on the whole deal through Sybil’s magic mirror and he wants the prize for himself…cause you know, true love and all that. Sybil doesn’t want her dear boy running off to face Lodac because 300 years ago her father and brother were devoured by Lodac’s dragon and so she tries to distract George by showing him the presents she’d planned on giving him on his 21st birthday; the swiftest steed in the world, armor that no weapon can pierce, a nifty shield, and of course a magic sword.
This illustrates that being an immortal sorceress doesn’t mean you’re all that bright because no sooner does she show him his future gifts, ones she tells him are capable of defeating Lodac, he tricks her into the cellar and locks her in. Then along with six revived knights, who were the most valiant knights in the world until Sybil’s brother turned them to stone, George marches off to the castle to offer his services in the rescuing of Princess Helene. Sir Branton is less than thrilled with this development, not strange being he’s actually in league with Lodac and clearly an asshat, but he can’t come up with any reasonable excuses for not taking George and his buddies along so the merry band hit the road. The bulk of the film consists of our heroes (plus Sir Branton) encountering the various curses that Lodac has seeded their route with.
It’s during this journey that we learn that the traitorous Sir Branton, whose basically been leading our heroes from trap to trap, is working with Lodac because Branton has Lodac’s magic ring which the magician lost and he wants it back desperately. Branton had promised to return the ring if Lodac helped him win the Princess through this entire staged kidnapping/rescue plan. George leans of Branton’s treachery when he and the last remaining knights are lured into a cave where they are quickly sealed in by Branton, but being entombed alive isn’t the real danger here but the strange green apparitions that soon attack them could mean their doom.
Things are even worse off than poor George realizes as dear ole Sybil tried to brew up a powerful spell to take out Lodac but instead it resulted in all of George’s magical weapons being depowered, his first clue that something is amiss is when he tries to use the sword to open the cave’s sealed entryway and it fails. So George’s last remaining noble companions is forced to sacrifice himself so that our hero can escape. Go Team George! With success just around the corner George rushes to Lodac’s castle, finds Princess Helene, and makes for their escape from this foul domicile, but of course this was all part of Lodac’s plan and George had actually only managed on “rescuing” the hag he’d driven off earlier, who Lodac had since disguised herself as the fair Helene. The nice twist here is that this also fooled that bastard Sir Branton who upon getting his prize he hands over the ring to Lodac to only find out his prize is the hag, he whines to Lodac, “But we made a bargain.”
In a moment of true evil badassery Lodac uses magic to put mount Branton’s head on a plaque on the wall, but then he makes the standard villain mistake of not immediately killing the hero, instead he imprisons George so he can witness Helene being eaten by his dragon from the tower window. I’m betting that kind of thing is in the evil villain rulebook and if you skip that part and go straight to killing the hero you get kicked out of the killed of evil magicians or at least a nasty fine. Lucky for our hero Lodac also has the standard allotment of useless minions that accidentally a free a bunch of shrunken prisoners who quickly make their way up the tower to free George so that he can battle the dragon and save the girl. Now up till this point the costuming, make-up and effects have all been pretty terrible but the when we finally see the dragon it’s actually pretty impressive.
Unfortunately awesome dragon aside the ending of the movie is rather anti-climactic; Sybil finally remembers the spell and is able to re-magic George’s sword, who then just runs up and stabs the poor dragon once to kill it, Sybil then somehow manages to steal Lodac’s ring during all this and just when the evil sorcerer is about to unleash the seventh curse on George and Helene (which apparently is himself) Sybil turns into a panther and mauls him to death. We cut to the epilogue where George and Helene are being married and all those valiant knights have been magically restored thanks to the stolen ring…the end.
The Magic Sword is a bad movie, its dime store Halloween costumes and over-the-top acting exploding across the film’s modest eighty minute running time are a testament to that, but surprising this was also about the only Bert I. Gordon film not savaged by the critics. How was this possible you ask? Well this was a kid’s film and thus its low production values actually worked well for its intended market, and even older audiences could enjoy the goofy charm that pervaded the film. I bet even children of today could fine this odd little fantasy adventure entertaining. This film is certainly no Lord of the Rings, heck it’s not even on par with The Sword and the Sorcerer, but you could have fun watching it if you go in with the right attitude.
Note: Gary Lockwood, a few years away from starring in 2001: A Space Odyssey, is given a “co-starring” credit along with Anne Helm who played the Princess. These are the film’s romantic leads but somehow they aren’t considered the stars of the film. No one apparently gets top billing over Basil Rathbone.
The Magic Sword (1962)
As fantasy films go The Magic Sword is a silly entry in the genre but its cheap production values and over-the-top acting somehow works in its favor.