The Crusades (1935)




Director:  Cecile B. DeMille.

Cast:  Loretta Young (Berengaria, Princess of Navarre), Henry Wilcoxon (Richard, King of England), Ian Keith (Saladin, Sultan of Islam), C. Aubrey Smith (The Hermit), Katherine DeMille (Alice, Princess of France), Joseph Schildkraut (Conrad, Marquis of Montferrat), Alan Hale (Blondel - Troubadour), C. Henry Gordon (Philip the Second, King of France), George Barbier (Sancho, King of Navarre), Montagu Love (The Blacksmith - Hercules), Ramsay Hill (John, Prince of England), Lumsden Hare (Robert, Earl of Leicester), Maurice Murphy (Alan, Richard's Squire), William Farnum (Hugo, Duke of Burgundy), Hobart Bosworth (Frederick, Duke of the Germans).

historical drama from Cecil B. DeMille


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Jerusalem, 1187.  The Saracens of Asia swept over the Holy Land, crushing the Christians to death or slavery. 

The Muslims topple a Christian cross, while the crowd applauds.  They then burn Christian religious paintings and the cross they just tore down.  A Christian woman wails that they killed her son and made her husband a slave.  The Muslims sell into slavery a pretty, young, blond Christian woman, followed by the daughter of a Christian prince.  An announcement is made that Saladin the great conquerer comes this way.  An outspoken Christian hermit confronts Saladin.  He says the Muslims may rule the Holy Land, but they will never rule the cross.  Saladin responds that the power of the cross has been broken forever.  The hermit comes back with the claim that he will leave, but he will be back with the armies of a great crusade.  The Muslims laugh at the hermit. 

Uplifted and unwearing, the Hermit carries his message through all the Christian nations until a death flame is kindled in the hearts of the people.  The Hermit visits Philip of France and gets a yes to the crusade.  Conrad of Montferrat tells the French king that Richard the Lion-hearted of England will take France.  But King Philip is not worried because Richard is betrothed to his sister Alice.  King Philip and Alice sail to England.  They wait for Richard in the castle as the man engages in a jousting tournament.  Richard then goes to see the black smith old Hercules to check on the sword being made for him.  The King of England hammers a bit on the sword, but old Hercules tells the King that his blows cannot match those of his own.  This offends the King and he challenges the black smith to a hitting contest.  Old Hercules strikes the King, who is able to remain standing.  Then Richard hits old Hercules and not only knocks him down, but out.  As the black smith falls back, he knocks the King's minstrel into the water trough. 

Robert, the Earl of Leicester, arrives to tell Richard that the King of France is waiting for him in the castle.  Richard is reminded that his father promised that he would marry Alice.  Richard says:  "Yuck."  Richard's brother, Prince John, is critical of Richard.  He tells the French King that Richard has no faith in God.  When Richard arrives, Philip tries to get Richard to agree to participate in the crusade.  He says that those who are joining the cause include Emperor Barbarossa of Germany, Leopold of Austria and Hugo of Burgundy.  Richard scoffs and says "Let them go."

Richard allows the Hermit, followed by a great crowd, into the castle area.  The Hermit preaches the cause of the crusade.  In the speech, the pitchman says that taking the oath to the cross and the crusade will cancel any previous pledges.  Suddenly, Richard sees a way out of a possible marriage to Alice.  So Richard takes the oath and joins the crusade.  The King take the cross.  Alice, upset by Richard's oath, decides to take the oath to the cross herself.  Richard is opposed to the idea, but the Hermit permits it.  Richard announces to the crowd:  "England is at war!"

With Philip is Montferrat, who quickly makes a pact with Prince John of England to move Richard out of the kingship and to replace him with John.  In return John will make Montferrat the King of Jerusalem. 

The knights and soldiers are ready to go off to war.  The Hermit leads the procession out of the castle.  In the seaport of Marseille, exhausted from the long march across Europe, the crusade gathers to take ship for the Holy Land.  Marching through the city, a beautiful French woman named Berengaria sings Richard's praises.  She sees Richard and is very impressed.  But, when the King's horse is hurt by the launcher, and Richard blames and knocks down the man who manages the launcher, Berengaria says:  "That can't be Richard.  I hope he starves."  And starve is the key word for the crusaders because the men need meat to eat and Berengaria is the daughter of King Sancho of Navarre who owns a herd of 7,000 cattle. 

Richard negotiates with King Sancho for the cattle.  The King of Navarre is willing to part with his cattle, but only if Richard promises that he marry his daughter.  To get the cattle, Richard blithely agrees to the marriage.  Richard could care less about the marriage and so he sends his minstrel with his sword to the wedding ceremony.  Berengaria is furious when she learns that she is to marry the sword as a proxy for Richard.  To marry the sword is to marry Richard himself.   Berengaria says no, she will not marry the sword.  But others urge her to go through with the ceremony for the greater cause of the crusade.  After the ceremony the new bride says:  "I hate him.  I'll never forgive him." 

The day arrives for the voyage to Palestine.  Richard and his minstrel ride together.  As they pass the house of Berengaria, Richard is struck with her great beauty.  He asks his minstrel who is the woman and learns that it is his wife.  Now Richard completely changes his attitude to his wife and the marriage.  He talks with Berengaria and tells her that she will accompany him to Palestine.  Her father assures Richard that she will be on the ship for the women. 

Princess Alice has the best quarters on the women's ship.  The captain of the vessel tells Alice that she will have to move because Richard's wife will be traveling on the ship.  Berengaria offers to share the room with Alice, but Philip's sister won't hear of it.  As she leaves, Alice shouts:  "She's stolen the throne of England." 

When the crusaders arrive the Muslims draw into the walled city of Acre, stronghold to the Saracens and gateway to Jerusalem.  A Council of Kings is called together.  Saladin comes to the meeting of the western kings during a truce.  The Sultan of Islam meets Frederick, Duke of the Germans; Michael, Prince of the Russians; Sverre, the Norse King; Leopold of Austria;  William of Sicily; Nicholas, Count of Hungary; and Conrad of Montferrat.  Richard proposes a toast.  Saladin is offered a glass of wine, but is warned by the Muslim man with him that it might be poisoned.  So a glass of water is brought to Saladin. There is a bit of tension in the room until Berengaria steps forward and drinks from Saladin's water glass to show that the drink is not poisoned.

Saladin tells the assembled kings to go in peace, while you can.  Go and live, stay and die.  After Saladin leaves, the kings agree that their answer to him is war.  Richard says he will enter Jerusalem within a month. 

At night Richard pays a visit to the tent of Berengaria.  She does not want him to be there and tells him to get out.  Eventually, Richard forcefully picks her up to take her to his tent.  But just at this time Saladin attacks.  Robert, the Earl of Leicester, agrees to stay behind to protect Berengaria.  Berengaria prays for Richard's safe return.  The walls of Acre hold the crusaders at bay. 

The evil Montferrat talks with Berengaria to try to get her to kill herself, so she won't stand in the way of the cause of the great crusade.  Richard learns that his brother John has usurped the throne.  John offers to marry Alice and make her queen of England.  When Richard talks to his wife she tells him that he must put her aside for the sake of the larger cause.  But Richard does just the reverse.  Richard makes Berengaria the queen of England.  This leads to a showdown with Philip, the king of France.  He tells Richard to renounce Berengaria or France.  The dispute leads Philip to leave the crusade.  The Hermit arrives and tells Richard and Berengaria to cease their quarrel.  He says that Richard must put his wife aside;  he must give up the woman.  The Hermit asks Richard:  "Will you destroy the crusade."  Richard replies:  "I'll open the gates of Jerusalem if I go alone."    

Now Berengaria thinks that Richard is absolutely magnificent.  But she still insists on sacrificing herself for the greater cause.  She tells Richard to send her to a convent.  Richard, of course, refuses.  But Berengaria does get him to swear that he will go on to Jerusalem no matter what will happen.

Saladin dresses as a Christian knight.  He is going to ride to his army in Jerusalem to return with 100,000 horsemen so that Acre will not fall.  Berengaria walks out onto the battlefield to get herself killed.  She convinces a guard to lend her his mantle and helmet so she will look like a soldier.  She then sends the guard to get the Hermit for her.  Near the Acre castle, she is wounded by an arrow in her left shoulder.  She falls to the ground.  Saladin rides his horse out from the castle.  He stops when he sees the wounded soldier.  When he sees that it is Berengaria, he stops to pick her up.  The Hermit and the guard go out to protect Berengaria.  The guard is wounded and the Hermit is captured.  Saladin believes that Allah has sent Berengaria to him. 

The wounded guard reaches Richard, overseeing the preparation for battle, to tell him about his wife and the Hermit.  Richard goes to attack.  When Philip learns of the situation, he joins the attack.  The Muslims tie the Hermit to a pole and show him to the Christian forces.  The Hermit starts preaching and telling the Christians to attack, so the Muslims start shooting him with arrows.  The battle is on.  The Christians push their tower against the wall of the fortress.  They lower the tower bridge and fight to get into the fortress.  They succeed and soon the fortress gates drop.  The Christians ride in on their horses.  But no one has seen Berengaria.  Richard learns that Saladin has take her to Jerusalem. 

Although the crusaders have lost at least half their army and will be outnumbered 10 to 1, Richard starts out for Jerusalem.  Saladin tells Berengaria that she is not married to Richard.  Islam does not accept a Christian marriage.  Berengaria tells Saladin that she was in the way of her husband and his doing the right thing.  Saladin learns that Acre has fallen. 

The battle between Saladin and Richard takes places outside Jerusalem itself.  Richard loses a lot of his men.  He finds old Hercules badly wounded.  The man dies in his arms.  Conrad of Montferrat goes to Saladin to offer victory to him.  He mentions that 15 of his men will kill Richard.  This actually enrages Saladin who says:  "I will have no traffic with assassins."  He tells his own men to kill Montferrat and they carry out the execution. 

To save Richard from the assassins, Berengaria agrees to open her arms to Saladin's love in return for Saladin sending a force to kill the assassins and save Richard.  Saladin's men arrive just in the knick of time to save Richard by killing the assassins attacking him.  Richard asks the Muslims where is Berengaria.  She is in the tent of their master.  Richard jumps on his horse and rides with them back to the Muslim camp.  He enters Saladin's tents saying:  "I've come for my wife."  Berengaria still plays the martyr and believes that she must stay with Saladin in order for there to be peace between Christians and Saracens.  In return, Saladin agrees to open the gates of Jerusalem to all faiths and to free all the Christian captives.  Richard agrees to free the Muslim captives and end the crusade.  But Saladin says that everyone can enter Jerusalem except Richard, because Saladin told his people that Richard would never enter Jerusalem.  Saladin says to Richard:  "I offer you terms your sword could never win."   Richard takes out his sword and breaks it in three pieces.  Peace is at hand.  Saladin says to Berengaria:  "You love him, deeply." 

Alone, Richard tells God that he was blind and now he sees.  He also knows that God really is with him.  He asks that God take pity on the fool that he is.  He says there is no pride or glory in him anymore and asks God to give his wife back to him. 

The cross goes up again from whence its predecessor was toppled.  The Christian captives are freed.  The gates are opened to let out the former captives.  Richard has to stand outside the gates.  He sees Berengaria being carried to the gate by her carriers.  He talks with her.  She is very happy to see the freed captives.  And she is even happier when she hears that Richard actually prayed.  She finally tells Richard:  "I will come back to you.  He would not hold me without love.  I'm yours Richard."   Richard says:  "Oh, merciful God."


It's a pretty good story, but there are lots of things wrong with it.  I guess the worst part of it is the over-exuberant praise of Christianity and the critical attitude toward Islam and the Muslims.  The movie smacks of religious bigotry.  Hurrah for our side and damn their side! seems to be the motto.  The Muslims are presented as cruel people who are just horrible to Christians.  The idea of religious war is not a good one and so why tolerate bigoted movies that might cheer on this possibility?  (The culture has gotten to be at least formally less bigoted since 1935 when "separate but equal" was the law of the South land in the United States.)  On the positive side, I was glad to see that they painted Saladin as an honorable man. 

Disregarding the problems of bigotry, the character of Berengaria bothered me.  I don't care for people who want to be martyrs, who will sacrifice love not only for themselves but also for others who love them, for some great cause.   At times such sacrifice is necessary, but one shouldn't be looking to sacrifice one's self at the first sign of controversy.   The decision to keep or not keep Berengaria was really that of Richard's, but Berengaria wanted to make the decision for him by choosing to makes herself a martyr. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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