We’ve run into this phenomenon before: the historical adventure movie based not on a historical incident but on a later story about that incident — in this case, the capture of Jerusalem by the First Crusade in 1099. Now, I like the First Crusade, so I know I’m in for some disappointment here, but let’s see what 1958’s Gerusalemme Liberata (released in English as The Mighty Crusaders) has to offer.
As you can maybe tell, it’s an Italian film, and it’s based on an Italian poem as well: a 16th-century epic by Torquato Tasso. The poem was pretty popular in its day, apparently, and was translated into other languages, inspired various works of art, and so on. It was even adapted into a silent film in 1918, although I can’t find it anywhere. If you know where I can watch it, hook me up.
Anyway, the poem is full of sorcery and weird romantic asides, most of which are not present in this film. The basic plot is that our hero, Tancred (vaguely related to the historical Tancred), meets a Persian warrior-princess, Clorinda. Although they are on opposite sides, they fall in love. This entails spending a lot of time looking passionate, or at least as passionate as a pompadoured douchebag (pompadouchebag?) can look.
Also, Clorinda is apparently cosplaying as three xylophones.
BUT! Not only does Tancred love Clorinda, soppy other-princess Erminia loves Tancred, moustachied villain Argante loves Clorinda, and Tancred’s excitable pal Rinaldo is tricked by the evil Arminda, who nonetheless (wait for it) falls in love with him. In the meantime, disguises are donned, swords are clanged harmlessly together, and both armies consist of a few dozen guys who aren’t quite sure what to do with their spears.
There are some good points: the soundtrack is all horns and booming during the attack on Jerusalem, then goes quiet apart from the lapping of water and clashing of tin swords during Tancred and Clorinda’s fateful duel. That’s not bad.
Also Godfrey says “I and my soldiers did not invade your homeland in search of conquest and riches,” which would have been news to a lot of his soldiers.
Anyway, it’s a dumbass chivalric pantomime, and if you look at it in those terms it’s sort of dimly enjoyable. Clorinda has some great outfits, and Argante has a good time going nyaaah! I can imagine that if you felt like going to the movies on a rainy Sunday afternoon in 1958 you’d be amused by an hour and a half of bright colours, pretty girls and horses galloping around. Certainly a lot happens, even if none of that lot is sensible or convincing.
But it goes without saying that it has nothing to do with the capture of Jerusalem in 1099, and indeed I suspect that some of its viewers (or the poem’s readers) would have been surprised to discover that Tancred was a real person.