A Choice of Weapons (1975)





A bit of a change of pace today with this one. Slightly amusing, long but never boring, and full of quirky characters and unique situations, this movie was just barely stinky enough to qualify for a MMT review. I vaguely remember watching this one twenty years ago on late-night satellite, but I think under its original title Trial By Combat, one of those cheapy imports that came and went in a flash, barely rippling the pond of my memory. Lesson: Pay better attention to things when you are young, trust me.

And now on to our show...

We open in Medieval England as a group of armored mounted knights are leading a bound prisoner into a stately castle. The hapless but defiant criminal is terrified, as he should be, as he's about to face a "trial by combat" for his sins. Forced to take up weapons against the well-trained knights, the criminal is quickly killed as the knights rejoice in the knowledge that because of them one less dirtbag will be around to endanger the lives of the fair citizens under their protection. Arthur would be so proud.


Enter the knights.

Suddenly, the bushes part and out walks Grand Moff Tarkin! With a shotgun! And one of those dorky tweed English hunting jackets with the suede elbow patches! Ah, so this isn't Medieval times after all, but modern day (1975) Great Britain. Tarkin is looking great, by the way, he's still two years away from being atomized on the Death Star by a plucky farmboy with eyes full of stars.


Grand Moff Tarkin (left).

These are the "Knights of Avalon", a bunch of rich white landowners who dress up like medieval knights and prance around for fun. It's basically a classier, ritzier, more exclusive Society for Creative Anachronisms chapter, and they seem to take the whole armor-and-arms thing very (too) seriously. I'm a history buff, but I must admit that the whole knights and chivalry era doesn't do much for me. My total run of experience with the Arthurian age might very well be repeated viewings of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I have been to Renaissance Faires, mostly to ogle the busty girls, but I really couldn't enjoy myself over the pervasive stench of unwashed nerds and horse poo. Granted, the SCA crowd does have some unique skills that would probably allow them to survive WWIII pretty well, better than the Amish, but there's only so much damage you can do to a Rooskie paratrooper regiment with that fake sword, and that hand-stitched corset isn't going to turn away many AK-47 rounds.


This man has never seen a girl naked.

Anyway, Grand Moff Tarkin is the founder of this group, but he's not aware until this very moment that his second in command has been kidnapping criminals off the streets of London and executing them Medieval style. He's hella mad that they have been violating his own code of ethics with this vigilante work, but even more mad that they're going to kill him to preserve the secret.


Oooh, scary.

And what sort of unsavory criminal villains are the Knights preying on? Wanted criminals of the first order, of course, some of the most reprehensible and vile scum who ever crawled out of the cesspool of humanity. Monsters who the law cannot touch, who traditional forms of justice are helpless to defend against. I'm talking about wikipedia editors, of course, that particular breed of self-important, elitist, bureaucratic, arrogant boob that feels it necessary, if not vital for the entire species, that they and they alone regulate what appears on wikipedia. They have no logic, no reason, no sense of obligation to be fair and balanced, and they don't need any because by editing wikipedia pages they have fulfilled that desperate need for attention and power that has eluded them all their lives.

True story, had this talkpage exchange once with editor "odinsghost17"...

Me: Why did you delete my entire article on the influence of Homeric symbolism on Matthew Arnold's Sohrab and Rustem? The one that I spend months carefully crafting and researching. All gone.
odinsghost17: Because you didn't footnote correctly.
Me: "Correctly"? What does that even mean? I had seventeen fully detailed footnotes.
odinsghost17: Yes, but on one of them you didn't correctly italicize the book's title and on another you didn't put a comma between the ISBN number and the author's name.
Me: So you deleted the entire 7,200 word article?
odinsghost17: Yes.
Me: You motherfucker, I will come to your house and eat your children. Tell me where you live.
odinsghost17: There are standards of notation on wikipedia that must be adhered to.
Me: TELL ME WHERE YOU LIVE!!!!!!
End result? Me having to create a new user name because the old one was banned.


Helpful mugshots of wikipedia demon editors.

Grand Moff Tarkin's son John comes home from America, where he's been living for some time, to attend to his father's estate. He grew up rich and snobby, spending his days practicing fencing and tossing breadcrumbs to unwashed peasants, but left while an adult when dear old dad's upper-crust life became too boring and stuffy for him. At some point while living in America, he also completely lost his English accent... He's played by television bit-part actor David Birney, who has one of those faces that you are just sure you recognize, but don't know from where. He does do most of his own stunts, I'll give him that.


John (nice turtleneck).

At the reading of will, John is surprised that his father's will says that he gets everything, but only if he keeps the castle and makes it his home. After just a few moments of grumbling, he chooses this, which is odd considering how he will later not hesitate to hose down the decks with his superior America morality every chance he gets. The Knights of Avalon, the group that Grand Moff Tarkin founded, are not happy, as they assumed that he would leave all his considerable wealth to them. You'd think then that a major plot point of the movie would be them conspiring a way to "remove" John from the picture so they could get to Tarkin's money, but you'd be wrong (a missed opportunity, I say).


At the will reading.

Giles is the leader of Knights now, after usurping power at the point of his sword earlier. He's played with delightful villainy by Donald Pleasance, one of the great character actors of our time and a personal favorite of mine. Giles has a firm belief in vigilante justice for society's good, in particular the culling of wikipedia editors who think themselves above their stations. [Editor Pam: it's a dirty job, thank God someone is willing to do it.]

Another true story, this time about my exchange with editor "xxmetaldeath4"...

Me: May I ask why you deleted my section on the thrust-to-weight ratio of the Cold War-era Westinghouse J37-A jet turbine?
xxmetaldeath4: I didn't find it to be useful.
Me: What? How is that not useful? Hold on. You know, I just checked your "credentials" on your profile page. Says there that you are a 18-year old Wiccan with a GED diploma and a long history of editing articles on henna tattoos and Ozzy Osbourne albums. May I respectfully ask just what the hell do you know about 1950's jet turbines?
xxmetaldeath4: I don't have to explain myself to you.
Me: The hell you don't. Can you even spell "jet turbine"?
xxmetaldeath4: I've been editing wikipedia for over two years now. I have gold star status, that means I have the right to edit articles as I see fit.
Me: I'm going to stick that gold star a half-mile into your colon, you know that, don't you?
End result: Another new sign-on name for me.


Giles (snicker).

Grand Moff Tarkin's bff, and John's mentor growing up, is "the Colonel", a former Police Commissioner and an all-around spiffy guy. The Colonel is a comic sidekick, bumbling and clueless at times, but always thinking ahead and always there to provide needed exposition. There's this running gag with the Colonel always feeding animals sugar cubes from his pocket, which really is amusing at times. The entire movie has some genuine comedic moments, actually, which I did not expect.


The Colonel, Sir John Mills, of all people.

John and the Colonel go to see the new Commissioner of Scotland Yard to see how the investigation into Grand Moff Tarkin's murder is coming along. The Colonel can just stroll in as he just retired recently from this very post and the secretaries have the sweets for him. While in the Commissioner's office, the Colonel comically moves his stuff around more to his own liking, and then lets in some pigeons (we call them city-chickens out here), which flap around and perch on his desk. The Commissioner, beside himself with comic slow-burn rage, kicks them both out. They decide to investigate on their own (the Colonel doesn't have much to do, it seems).


The Commissioner doesn't like pigeons (he's a bit of a tool).

Back at his castle, John runs into future romantic foil/designated hottie Marion, an American girl working as head of household for Tarkin's estate. She's played by Barbara Hershey, who back in her day was the spittin' image of Minnie Driver, herself a babe of the tenth degree. She's single (for some mindboggling reason) and John's single (because the script calls for it), so it's no surprise that they fall into an easy chat.


(Maid) Marion.

That day, the Knights of Avalon put on a rip-roaring Renaissance Faire at the castle in honor of their dearly departed former founder Grand Moff Tarkin. John's ego gets the better of him and he agrees to join in the games, jousting and melee fighting and all that stuff. He, of course, wins the tournament. While he says he was just a banker in America, it's clear that John has also been regularly taking jousting/swordfighting/pointystick-jabbing lessons as he's the equal to all these muttonchop toffs who run around in armor every weekend. John then publicly gives the Victor's Crown to Marion, a woman he just met and so far has had maybe two minutes of awkward conversation with. But she is American, and when in a foreign country we Americans have to stick together, right? But, hey, John isn't actually American, is he? He's just an expat born-and-raised Brit with a mysteriously disappearing accent and vastly better teeth. Apparently, all you have to do is live in America for a few years and all of a sudden you become irresistible to women living abroad.


Free-for-all, hope no one gets hurt.

That night there is a traditional "feast of honor", which is really just an excuse for a drunken party with tar-thick mead and whole legs of lamb roasted over an open firepit. There's also a goddamned grizzly bear drinking beer! John and Marion excuse themselves from all these obnoxiously soused Englishmen and go off alone to chat about how much they miss America and stuff. It should be clear to anyone who has ever seen any movie ever that these two will end up falling in love (I'd say she's attracted to the British accent like all women are, but, again, he doesn't have one). Meanwhile, back at the party, the Colonel overhears/sees a few unsettling things he shouldn't and begins to suspect that there is more to the Knights than meets the eye.


Getting to know each other.

Later, we have an insert scene where the Knights kidnap two brothers accused of being particularly egotistical wikipedia editors/Link Nazis. They take them to the castle, dress them up in armor, and have them fight for their lives against armed knights with swinging maces and sharp, metal sticks. Predictably, the brothers take it in the shorts, as they should, the criminal court system has no laws against their sort of Orwellian internet power-trips so sometimes the citizenry has to rise up and become judge, jury and executioner for the greater good.

Another story about my dealings with the wiki-Gestapo, this one from an exchange I had with editor "jesuslovesall4201"...

Me: Why did you delete my external link to my Alternate WWIII Naval Order of Battle for the Harpoon series of Naval Sims?
jesuslovesall4201: Because your content was offensive and wikipedia has strict guidelines against obscenity.
Me: But that page didn't have any obscenities, or even any profanity, it's just a long list of ships and submarines.
jesuslovesall4201: Well, that one might have been clean, but your movie reviews on your other website contain obscene material.
Me: For example?
jesuslovesall4201: Your review of Sister Street Fighter had a picture of a topless woman in it, that sort of content is unacceptable for wikipedia.
Me: You're serious, aren't you? You are going to delete a link to one website because of something that's on a totally different website, on a completely different server, that just happens to be owned by the same person?
jesuslovesall4201: Yes, there must be s...
Me: Blahblahblah. If you don't stop talking I will prison-rape you.
jesuslovesall4201: I will pray for your soul.
Me: I will pray for your anus. What were you doing reading a review for Sister Street Fighter, anyway?
No response.


Death to editors!

John and the Colonel learn of a guy named Sidney, a wikipedia editor of note who goes by the douchebag screen name hotdude6969 and is renowned for once deleting an entire section on the Norwegian constitution because he didn't like the way the author spelled "Oslo". Sidney has been tipped off that someone is looking for him, however, and John and the Colonel have a series of running fights down in the warehouse district with his goons. John is an excellent and fearless fighter, even when faced with knife-wielding opponents who clearly mean to put holes into his body where there were no holes before (there are no guns seen/used in this movie, except for civilized double-barrel quail-hunting shotguns, usually seen carried by the ascot-wearing pipe-smoking landed gentry while hunting dogs twitch in anticipation at their spatted boots).


Meeting Sidney in the warehouse.

Captured, John and the Colonel are taken to see Mom, an elderly lady who happens to be the kingpin (queenpin?) of the seedy underbelly of London wikipedia editors. When they warn her and her son that he's got a target on his back, Sidney says he can take care of himself. After all, he's been editing wikipedia pages on martial arts and marksmanship for years, even though he has the flexibility of a block of mud and has never owned a gun in his life. It's a proven fact that you don't really need to have any actual knowledge or experience in a given field to hack and slash wikipedia articles written by those that do.


Is she/he/it a drag queen?

John and the Colonel part ways now. The Colonel off to follow Sidney, who he's sure is the next victim. John is off to track down a household servant who the cops say killed Grand Moff Tarkin and then ran away (John has serious doubts about this man's guilt). John goes to his house and talks to his wife, who is clearly hiding something but won't fess up to anything. John waits off in the treeline and sees the wife leave a basket of food out, presumably for her husband who is hiding somewhere nearby. Before John can do anything, however, an arrow comes zipping in and thwacks into a treetrunk by his head! John then spies a man (who isn't the servant) running off and then leaves himself (without waiting, which seems odd as if he would have just stayed there he would have eventually caught the servant coming to pick up the food and he wouldn't have had to get into the fight he has in the next paragraph).


John talking with the old wife.

A bit later, John goes to a stable and finds the servant hiding there. He's a scary Englishman named Willoughby who looks like Jaws from Moonraker. Jaws isn't having anything to do with John, despite having known him since he was a wee lad, and they get into a fistfight that ends with John tied to a chair. The old servant claims he didn't kill John's father, but it was the Knights who did it. John soon wiggles loose and they have another fight, this one ending with Jaws knocked out cold and John all sweaty in his polyester slacks and knit turtleneck.


John has a chat with Jaws.

Meanwhile, the Colonel is following Sidney as he makes his rounds to various Starbucks, where he leaches onto their free wi-fi to make random edits to wikipedia pages about subjects he has absolutely zero real knowledge of. At the last Starbucks, he's entranced by the buxom young barista (as we've all been before), and lets his guard down. This Barista is working for the Knights and she drugs his cigar! A pair of Knight henchmen come in and haul the sleeping Sidney away as the barista calls him a "schmuck" and then uses his laptop to download hipster indie rock songs.


The Starbucks barista, one of the world's most unattainable joys.

The Colonel sees the kidnapping, and follows them to Giles' castle, and now he knows for sure what he has long suspected, that the Knights of Avalon are behind all the killings. The Colonel, by the way, drives around in a wicked-cool lipstick-red Alfa Romero convertible, which gets almost as much screen-time as some of the lead actors. Being the bumbling sort, the Colonel is quickly captured while distracted by a amorous goat (seriously). Taken to talk to Giles, it's revealed that the Commissioner is actually a Knight! Ah, that's why the investigations into the murders have never gotten anywhere, makes sense now. The Colonel is put in the cellar and chained up.


Looks like a Giulietta.

Sidney's turn at trial by combat comes up now. I have to grudgingly give Sidney some props here, despite him being a bastard wikipedia editor, and thus my arch-nemesis, he's a pretty fanatical fighter with his life on the line. He actually thumps a few dudes in armor and escapes into the castle's greenhouses. Just when it looks like he's cornered, a car comes racing in and saves him! It's Marion, she was watching the whole time and decided to jump in (she doesn't know who Sidney is). Sidney leaps in the car and off they go, headed for the front gate (the castle's huge estate is walled). The gate, however, has been closed, and with the Knights in hot pursuit, Marion fishtails it around and roars off across the yards.


Marion to the rescue.

And now we have a totally boffo amazing chase scene, as the mounted Knights of Avalon pursue Marion's car across the grounds of the castle. It's a merger of two of cinema's greatest traditions, hot chicks driving cars really fast and dudes with swords chasing things on horses. Bully to the stuntman who jumped from a galloping horse onto the roof of a speeding car, while wearing a full suit of armor! And mega-points to the stuntwoman who drives the car, eventually sans doors and radiator, across the rolling grass with javelins sticking out of the back windows and guys on horses slamming the roof with maces!


Did you say something? I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of how fucking AWESOME this is!

A jousting spear in the engine block ends the chase with a gush of radiator fluid and a plunge into a shallow pond. Sidney escapes in the excitement but Marion is captured and hauled off to the castle. There she's taken to the cellar and locked up with the Colonel. Meanwhile, Sidney is still alive and is out on the castle grounds stalking knights. He kills two of them in amusing ways, and gets into the castle at the end of movie. His unhorsing of, and subsequent stabbing of one mounted knight sentry will surely give him the expertise to delete some Dutch tenured professor's 5,000-word wikipedia page on the mating rituals of African fruit bats as it "needs more relevant content".


Sidney out fighting.

Meanwhile, after his two-round knock-out fight with Jaws the servant, John has come to the same castle to find Giles. They talk about right and wrong, and Giles presents his case for the justifiable death of overzealous wikipedia editors. John shows himself to be a pinko commie leftist liberal by actually having the gall to defend criminal editors. I'm torn, however, as John seems like an upstanding guy in most respects, though his insistence that you really can't kill wikipedia editors on sight is unsettling to me. God, if only Glenn Beck were here to tell me what to think!

One last example of my hatred for wikipedia editors, an excerpt from a conversation I had with editor "airfoilgx" just last week...

Me: Why did you delete my link to my website on the F-84 Thunderjet?
airfoilgx: Because I determined it to be spam.
Me: Spam? What about the one external link you didn't delete, it basically has the same information as my site, but unlike mine it has a million pop-up adds, why would that one not also be considered spam?
airfoilgx: I determined that your site's content was less relevant to the topic on the wikipedia page.
Me: You cockmaster, I wil...wait, hold on. Ok, funny story, Mister Editor, I just checked your profile page, and this is really humorous, it seems that you OWN that other site, the one you chose to keep while deleting my link. Huh, that's odd, isn't it? Almost like you are USING YOUR WIKIPEDIA EDITOR STATUS TO MONOPOLIZE THE ENTIRE INTERNET!
airfoilgx: I'm recommending that your username be banned.
Me: I'm recommending that I set your face on fire.


John talks with Giles, they had such uncomfortable chairs back then, no wonder the British are so grumpy.

John, who has so far shown us balls of solid steel, stands up tall and elects for "trial by combat". This sets up a dramatic scene where John and the Knights duke it out on the olde tyme field of battle with armored suits and battleaxes and pikes. John has skills and he defeats two junior Knights in one-on-one combat. Actually, he kills them both, which really surprised me, as he had been setting himself up as all anti-vigilante, but now he essentially takes the law into his own hands here.


Trial by combat, which, as I mentioned before, was the film's original title, a perfectly suitable title at that, and I wonder why the need to change it to the equally bland A Choice of Weapons? A legal matter with copyrights, perhaps?

With just a hopping mad Giles and one junior Knight left now, John turns and runs into the castle (why?). He fights his way down to the cellar (though he couldn't know Marion and the Colonel are down there), and throws open the locked door. Marion and the Colonel have escaped their chains by now, knocking out the Commissioner with a combination of their blind luck and the Commissioner's clumsiness, and are preparing to blow open the locked door with a itsy-bitsy black powder cannon. Coming through the door, John ducks and the cannon blast kills the last junior Knight behind him and clears the decks so that our heroes can escape.


Cannon.

It's now down to just John and Giles, smacking and hitting each other as they run (stumble) in full armor through the castle yards. Getting some separation, Giles jumps on a horse and tries to gallop off to freedom. Unfortunately for him, Jaws the servant shows up at that moment, looking for revenge for his fallen master, and he lowers the gate just as Giles rides under it. Ouch. And with that, our heroes walk off making lame quips and holding hands.


Giles impaled and hanging.


The end. Worth a watch, I say.

Written in August 2009 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.



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