The Flame and the Arrow (1950)




Director:  Jacques Tourneur

Starring:  Burt Lancaster (Dardo Bartoli), Virginia Mayo (Anne de Hesse), Robert Douglas (Marchese Alessandro de Granazia), Aline MacMahon (Nonna Bartoli), Frank Allenby (Count Ulrich aka The Hawk), Nick Cravat (Piccolo), Lynn Baggett (Francesca), Gordon Gebert (Rudi Bartoli, Dardo's Son), Norman Lloyd (Apollo, the Troubador), Francis Pierlot (Papa Pietro), Robin Hughes (Skinner), Victor Kilian (Apothecary Mazzoni)

12th century  Lombardy under German overlord overlord Count Ulrich "The Hawk".  Count Ulrich steals the wife of archer Dardo Bartoli (Burt Lancaster).  Dardo becomes cynical, but is still not willing to join the resistance in the mountains.  But things change when Dardo's son is also taken from him.  Some reviewers complain that the movie is just a rip-off of the Robin Hood story, but with more acrobatics instead of well choreographed swashbuckling.   


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

An o.k. movie.  12th century.  All northern Italy is under the yoke of the armies of Frederick Barbarossa.  But in the mountain of Lombardy it is another story.  Here those who will not be subdued have their secret meetings.  They celebrate the idea that they must "free ourselves of the invader." 

The very popular Dardo and his young son Rudi return to the village.  He announces that he will meet the gang at the tavern.  Everybody tells Dardo that the "Hawk" (the Hessian Count Ulrich) is coming, but he seems unconcerned.  Even the elderly Papa Pietro tells him that we "have to do something about the Hawk." 

Dardo meets with his friend Piccolo who cannot speak.  Piccolo wants to know if Dardo is still mad because Francesca, the mother of his boy, is still with the Hawk.  Dardo dismisses the very idea; after all, he explains, it's been five years since she left. 

Count Ulrich, Francesca, the Princess of Hess (Anne de Hesse), niece of the Hawk, and the Count's soldiers arrive in the village.  Dardo uses the opportunity to introduce Rudi to his mother Francesca.  Francesca wants Rudy to come live with her and the Count in their castle.  Count Ulrich tries to force Rudi to go with him and Francesca, but Dardo and Rudi make a run for it.  Rudy is captured, but Dardo (although wounded by an arrow in the shoulder) escapes. 

Ulrich tells Princess Anne that she is to be married to Marchese Alessandro de Granazia in order to cement the relationship between Hess and Lombardy.   But Anne is not interested.  And the Marchese is a problem to Ulrich because the Marchese refuses to pay the taxes he owes Ulrich.  After the Marchese leaves, Ulrich commands his soldiers to arrest the tax evader. 

Dardo and his men attack an Ulrich detail and free the Marchese, who then decides to join the band of merry men.  Dardo then proceeds to the castle to get his son back.  When this proves too difficult, he takes Princess Anne as a hostage.  Dardo then sends Piccolo to the castle to deliver a message to Ulrich.  But Piccolo is taken prisoner and whipped.  Ulrich then sends Piccolo back to Dardo with the message that Pappa Pietro would be hanged in the morning.  Piccolo signs for Dardo to head to the public square.  Dardo does so and learns about the Hawk's hanging plans.

In the morning Dardo and his men free Pappa Pietro. But now Ulrich plans to hang five other villagers in place of the escapee.  Dardo and his men return to the public square.  Dardo releases Princess Anne to Ulrich and then offers his own life in exchange for the five men to be hanged.  Princess Anne begs her uncle not to hang Dardo, but Ulrich is unmoved.  (Behind the scenes, however, Dardo's men are busy knocking out the real executioner and having one of their men masquerade as the executioner.)   A pretend hanging takes place.  

The Marchese tells Ulrich of the plan for an uprising against him.  For a reward, Ulrich announces that Princess Anne will be betrothed to the Marchese.  A big celebration is planned for the evening.  Princess Anne, not wanting to marry and knowing that the Marchese has betrayed Dardo, gets word to Dardo's men that the Marchese has double-crossed them and that Ulrich will be prepared for them the next morning.  The Princess also reveals that she loved Dardo.

Dardo and his men have to work fast to surprise Ulrich.  They decide to mix in with a carnival troupe entertaining that night in the castle. After performing impressive acrobatic feats, Dardo and Piccolo announce their presence and the fight begins.  During the conflict, Ulrich slips off to grab Rudi as a hostage.  Dardo comes after Ulrich, but has to kill the Marchese to get to Ulrich, which Dardo does.  Dardo then finds the dead body of Francesca with a knife in her back, obviously killed by Ulrich. 

As Ulrich is trying to make his final escape with the help of hostage Rudi, Dardo shoots and kills Ulrich with an arrow from his bow.  The ending is a happy one with the uniting of Dardo, the Princess and Rudi.  And they lived happily ever after. 

The movie is a lot like the Robin Hood story.  The one big difference is the use of the acrobatically-talented Lancaster to perform many "circus" tricks.  If they wanted to redo the Robin Hood story, they should have put a little more Italian history and flavor into the story to give the movie the feel of at least a different atmosphere than that of merry old England.  The love story wasn't much of anything either.  They could have sacrificed a little of the action for a little more character development in the movie. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


Lombardy is a region in northern Italy between the Alps and the Po River Valley.  Its capital is Milan, the largest Italian city in the north. 

After the fall of the Roman empire, a group of people known as the Lombards (who spoke a Germanic language akin to the Anglo-Saxon tongue) came into the area later known as Lombardy.  For many centuries, there was a close relationship between the Frankish, Bavarian and Lombard nobility. 

The name "Lombardy" applied to the whole of Northern Italy until the 15th century.

11th Century  --  power gradually passed from feudal lords to autonomous communes.

1152  --  Frederick Barbarossa becomes Emperor Frederick I.

1155  --  Frederick I becomes the Holy Roman Emperor. 

Frederick I made six expeditions into Italy. 

1157  --  Frederick I prepared to invade Italy, where Milan had begun the conquest of Lombardy.  

1158  --  Frederick proclaimed his sovereignty in Italy at the Diet of Roncaglia.

1158  --  Frederick I set out upon his second Italian expedition, which resulted in the establishment of imperial officers in the cities of northern Italy and the revolt and capture of Milan. 

1166  --  Frederick invades Italy again.  He appointed German officials in all Lombard towns.

1167  --  several cities united in the Lombard League in order to defy Emperor Frederick I, who wanted to assert his authority over the communes. 

1176  --  the Lombards defeated Frederick I at Legnano.  Frederick was wounded. 

1183  --  the peace of Constance confirmed the freedom of the cities.


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