Review of: BY THE SWORD

Review of: BY THE SWORD

Post by Palit, Sum » Thu, 20 May 1993 22:53:00


I'm posting this for someone else, hope ya'll enjoy..


------------------------------- Original Message -------------------------------

This is all I have:



   ROGER EBERT by Roger Ebert


   Two and a half stars

   Suba ............... F. Murray Abraham

   Villard ............ Eric Roberts

   Clavelli ........... Mia Sara

   Trebor ............. Chris Rydell

   Rachel ............. Elaine Kagan

   Gallagher .......... Brett Cullen

   Hansen Entertainment presents a film directed by Jeremy Kagan.
Produced by Peter E. Strauss and Marlon Staggs. Written by John
McDonald and James Donadio. Photographed by Arthur Albert. Edited by
David Holden. Music by Bill Conti. Running time: 91 minutes.
Classified: R (for language).

   ``By the Sword'' is about fencing, a sport not often covered in the
movies, and it handles it in an interesting way -- although the
surrounding plot is a little too neat and obvious to really carry the

   The film stars Eric Roberts as Villard, a world-class fencing
champion who now runs his own exclusive fencing school in New York
City. Into his school one day walks Suba (F. Murray Abraham), who says
he is a fencing teacher. He looks more like one of the homeless, and
Villard takes mercy on him, giving him a job as a janitor and locker
room attendant.

   But Suba CAN teach fencing. And he can fence. That gradually
becomes clear to Villard, who is an arrogant man but not an unkind
one, and who eventually gives the man his chance. It turns out that
Suba is, in fact, a great teacher -- although not necessarily
according to the methods established by Villard and his late, great

   The father, we learn, was killed in a fencing match many years ago.
The match was apparently over an affair of the heart, and honor. His
sword, now retired, rests in a glass case in the fencing academy. If
we are veteran moviegoers, the moment we learn this information little
alarm bells start going off in the backs of our minds. Who killed
Villard's father, all those years ago? Could it be --might it be -- is
it conceivable that -- it could be none other than Suba, now finally
out of prison?

   Well, of course it is. The Law of Economy of Characters, in my
Moviegoer's Glossary, teaches that there are no unnecessary characters
in a movie, and so if Suba is there, and the story of the long-ago
killer has been told, the rest is obvious. And starting from there, we
can promise ourselves, as surely as God made little green apples, that
sooner or later Suba and Villard will be facing each other with their
swords in their hands.

   The movie adds some supporting characters in order to show us
things about fencing that we didn't know, and things about romance
that we have already learned in a thousand other movies. But ``By the
Sword'' is really about Villard and Suba, and as Eric Roberts and F.
Murray Abraham play them, they create characters much more interesting
and dimensional than this thin screenplay really requires.

   Roberts makes Villard a very precise man, filled with himself,
smart -- and too aware that he is smart. He is so mannered, we feel
there must be a vulnerability there somewhere that he has long
practiced to conceal. Abraham, who can certainly be mannered when he
wants to (see ``Amadeus''), is here a more ordinary man at first, so
that we have to look to see the qualities underneath. Then, as the
full meaning of his appearance becomes clear, he seems to swell.
Fencers seem to be patrician by their nature; the sports does not
attract or reward humility. By the end of the movie, what we are
really seeing is a duel of two egos.

   Minireview: ``By the Sword'' (R, 91 minutes) stars Eric Roberts as
a world-class fencing champion and instructor, and F. Murray Abraham
as the hapless man who drifts in off the street and says he can teach
fencing. Well, of course he can, and he has a secret that links him to
Roberts' past, too. Fine performances, but the material is thin and
too obvious. Rating: Two and a half stars.


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