Prince Valiant (1954 film)

Prince Valiant is a 1954 adventure film in Technicolor and Cinemascope from 20th Century Fox, produced by Robert L. Jacks, directed by Henry Hathaway, that stars James Mason, Janet Leigh, Robert Wagner, Debra Paget, and Sterling Hayden. The film is based on the syndicated newspaper comic strip of the same name by Hal Foster.

Prince Valiant
Directed byHenry Hathaway
Produced byRobert L. Jacks
Written byDudley Nichols
Hal Foster (comic strip)
StarringJames Mason
Janet Leigh
Robert Wagner
Narrated byMichael Rennie
Music byFranz Waxman
CinematographyLucien Ballard
Edited byRobert L. Simpson
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • April 2, 1954 (1954-04-02) (Los Angeles)[1]
Running time
100 minutes
Country United States
Box office$2.6 million (US rentals)[3]


Usurper Sligon (Primo Carnera), a worshipper of the old Norse god pantheon, along with other rebel Vikings, have forced into exile the Christian royal family of the Viking kingdom of Scandia: King Aguar (Donald Crisp), his wife, and their son Prince Valiant (Robert Wagner). Aguar and his family come under the protection of King Arthur (Brian Aherne). When Valiant has grown to a man, he is sent to Camelot to undergo training as a knight under the tutelage of Aguar's family friend, the noble knight of the Round Table, Sir Gawain (Sterling Hayden).

During his wanderings, Valiant witnesses a clandestine meeting between a group of Sligon's Vikings and a black-clad knight. Valiant is discovered by the Vikings, but with slyness and improvisation he manages to elude his pursuers. During his flight, Valiant runs into Gawain. After Valiant convinces Gawain that he is indeed the son of Aguar, Gawain listens to the prince's story of the mysterious Black Knight, a knight known only in rumor in Camelot. He takes Valiant to King Arthur, who is informed of the Black Knight's activities. Arthur decrees that Valiant be trained as a prospective knight by undergoing the rigors of squirehood. One of Arthur's knights, Sir Brack (James Mason), takes an extraordinary interest in Valiant and offers to train him, but Valiant is instead assigned to Gawain.

Some time later, Sir Brack offers to take Valiant to the place where the young prince has seen the Black Knight in order to backtrack the mysterious figure. Once there, they separate, but shortly afterwards Valiant is ambushed by a group of bowmen and barely escapes with his life and an arrow in his back. He stumbles into the territory of King Luke (Barry Jones) and is taken in by his daughters, Aleta (Janet Leigh) and Ilene (Debra Paget). Upon his recovery, Aleta and Valiant fall in love, but King Luke disapproves of Valiant's Viking origin and so their relationship must remain a secret for the time being. From Aleta, Valiant also learns that her younger sister Ilene is secretly attracted to Sir Gawain.

Valiant returns to Camelot and discovers, to his shock, that Gawain, who had grown worried over his squire, had tried to find him and had also run into an ambush by the Black Knight. Like Valiant, he escaped within an inch of his life. Noting that Sir Brack had temporarily disappeared around the same time, Valiant becomes suspicious, but on the advice of Gawain he suppresses his suspicion.

Some time later, Aleta and Ilene come to Camelot to attend a tournament held in their honor; as an added prize, the winner of this joust will win Aleta's hand. Valiant dons the armor of Gawain, who is too seriously wounded to participate, in order to win Aleta, but he fails and is unmasked. But then another contender appears and wins the bout before falling off his horse; this knight turns out to be Sir Gawain. Awakening on his sickbed, Gawain beholds Aleta and falls head over heels in love with her, and out of respect for his patron Valiant does not dare tell him the truth.

For his act of presumption, Valiant is punished by being confined to his quarters and attending to his master. A mysterious messenger comes to the castle to see Sir Brack, and the same night King Aguar's seal is thrown through the window of Sir Gawain's chambers and lands at Valiant's feet. Realizing that his parents are in trouble, Valiant immediately leaves Camelot, leaving a bewildered Aleta behind. But as he prepares to return to his home, he is ambushed and captured by Sligon's Vikings and the Black Knight, who reveals himself as Sir Brack. Brack has made a pact with Sligon: For delivering King Aguar's family, Sligon will assist Brack in conquering Camelot and thus becoming the King over Britain.

Shortly, Aleta, who is unwilling to let Valiant run off, arrives at the scene and is captured, and the two are brought to Thule, where Sligon prepares to execute them and Valiant's captured parents. However, a group of Christian Vikings, led by Aguar and Valiant's old friend Boltar (Victor McLaglen), stage a revolution, and Boltar infiltrates the castle. Valiant manages to escape his cell and team up with Boltar, who intends to assassinate Sligon and have Valiant give the attack signal to their cohorts once Sligon has fallen. But Valiant is discovered before Boltar manages to kill Sligon, and during his struggle with a guard a false signal is given, which makes the Christian Vikings attack prematurely. Just as things seem bleak, Valiant manages to set fire to several parts of the castle, throwing the defenders into confusion, and is able to slay Sligon in single combat.

Some time later, Valiant returns to Camelot with Aleta and accuses Sir Brack of treachery before the king and the assembled Round Table. Sir Brack calls for a trial by combat to the death, and despite Gawain's protests and his offer to fight in Valiant's stead, the young prince accepts the challenge. After a long and protracted fight, Valiant succeeds in killing the traitor with his father's mystical broadsword, the Singing Sword. He offers Aleta back to his master, but Gawain stays his hand. During the long period of worry over their loved ones, the older knight has finally come to learn the truth, and he and Ilene have fallen in love. In the end, having redeemed his honor by exposing the traitor, Valiant is made a fully privileged Knight of the Round Table.



20th Century Fox obtained the rights to the comic strip after MGM allowed their option to lapse. The film was the idea of producer Robert Jacks, who was the son in law of Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck. Fox bought the rights to eight years of published comic strip stories, but only adapted a 1937 storyline.[5]

In December 1952 Henry Hathaway was assigned as director.[6] Medieval swashbucklers had been an experiencing a recent surge of popularity since the success of MGM's Ivanhoe (1952).

In January 1953 Fox announced the film would be shot in CinemaScope.[7]

In March 1953 Robert Wagner was announced to star in the title role.[8] Along with The Robe it would be the studio's biggest production of the year, with a budget of $3 million. Michael Rennie was going to play King Arthur and Robert Newton Bolthar. Hathaway and producer Robert Jacks left for England in April to scout locations.[9] Eventually, neither Rennie or Newton would appear in the final film.

The castle was constructed at a cost of $83,000. The castle battle sequence cost $250,000.[10]

Filming started July 7, 1953 on the Fox backlot although Hathaway shot background footage in Scotland from April through to June. The shoot took until November 1953.[11]

Wagner had his hair cut to match that in the comic strip. The actor later joked "Dean Martin passed me on the lot and thought I was Jane Wyman".[12]

In March 1954 Zanuck announced Fox would make a sequel, Valiant and Aleta dealing with Valiant's married life with Aleta.[13] This film was never made.


Box Office

According to contemporary reports the film made $2.6 million in North America, which did not recoup its reported cost of $2.9 million.[3]


Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that the film was a faithful adaptation of the comic strip, and that the best part were the epic action scenes. He observed that the film would satisfy younger viewers.[14] Variety wrote: "Although the picture comes in a bit overlength at 100 minutes, the direction and Dudley Nichols' scripting combine to bring it off acceptably against some rather dazzling settings, including authentic castles actually lensed in England".[15] A rave review in Harrison's Reports called it "one of the most exciting and thrilling action-filled romantic adventure melodramas ever brought to the screen", and called Wagner "a human dynamo" in the title role.[16] John McCarten of The New Yorker wrote in a negative review of the film that "as it flounders about, it cuts some unintentionally comic capers that might amuse you if you are feeling amiable ... Prince Valiant is played by Robert Wagner, who reads his lines in a vacant monotone and wears a long Dutch bob and a jerkin with the skittish air of a man trying to be funny in a lady's hat".[17] The Monthly Film Bulletin declared, "Judged as an articulated comic strip, the film is intermittently amusing; by any other standards, it is merely a tasteless costume-piece".[18]


  1. "Prince Valiant - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved June 23, 2018.
  2. Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p248
  3. 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955
  4. Freese, Gene Scott (April 10, 2014). Hollywood Stunt Performers, 1910s-1970s: A Biographical Dictionary (2nd ed.). McFarland & Company. p. 75. ISBN 9780786476435.
  5. CinemaScope Chosen For Comic Strip Hollywood Letter R.D.M. The Christian Science Monitor 22 Sep 1953: 7.
  6. GUNPLAY IN TEXAS ON FILM SCHEDULE: Dana Andrews and Randolph Scott Set for Hard Shooting, Riding in New Pictures By THOMAS M. PRYORS New York Times 9 Dec 1952: 43.
  7. FOX SLATES 2 FILMS WITH NEW PROCESS: ' Prince Valiant' and 'Princess of Nile' Will Be Made for 3-Dimensional Screening By THOMAS M. PRYORS New York Times 29 Jan 1953: 24.
  8. IDA LUPINO ENTERS DISTRIBUTION FIELD: She and Collier Young Set Up Filmakers Releasing Unit With Outlets in 29 Cities By THOMAS M. PRYOR New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]26 Mar 1953: 36.
  9. Looking at Hollywood: Olivia de Havilland Off This Week for Europe Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 2 Apr 1953: c5.
  11. 'Dream Wife' Due Friday Los Angeles Times 15 July 1953: A6.
  12. Wagner does it all in high style Lime Street is suave Robert Wagner's fourth series. He's sure it will be a hit and he should know. He's calling all shots: Jim Bawden Toronto Star. Toronto Star4 Aug 1985: G1
  13. 'Prince Valiant' to Have Sequel By Louella O. Parsons. The Washington Post and Times Herald 27 Mar 1954: 43.
  14. Crowther, Bosley (April 7, 1954). "The Screen in Review; 'Prince Valiant' Comes to the Roxy Theatre". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2017.
  15. "Prince Valiant". Variety: 6. April 7, 1954.
  16. "'Prince Valiant' with James Mason, Robert Wagner and Janet Leigh". Harrison's Reports: 55. April 3, 1954.
  17. McCarten, John (April 10, 1954). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 93–94.
  18. "Prince Valiant". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 21 (245): 86. June 1954.
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