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The film opens with a voice-over narration stating that England was released from the grip of civil strife by the emergence of "a new force, wherein flowered courtesy, humanity and noble chivalry." Although the onscreen credits state that the film was based on Sir Thomas Malory's 15th century work Le morte d'Arthur (which was composed circa 1469 and first printed in 1485), the Hollywood Reporter review noted that the screenwriters also drew material from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's series of poems on the Arthurian legend, Idylls of the King (1859). King Arthur was a semi-legendary figure whose life and heroic deeds have been extolled in myth and literature for centuries. There is little factual information about his life, but Arthur May have lived in the 6th century and led the Britons in their resistance against pagan invaders. The first full narrative rendition of the Arthurian legend appeared in Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1139) by English writer Geoffrey of Monmouth. The legend was embellished throughout the Middle Ages to include stories of the Round Table, the search for the Holy Grail and the love between Lancelot and Guinevere.
According to a February 15, 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film's title had been registered with the Motion Picture Association by eight companies or individual producers, including Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and David O. Selznick. A December 13, 1953 Los Angeles Times article reported that Knights of the Round Table was first put into development at Paramount in the early 1940s, and that Albert Lewin collaborated on a screenplay with Talbot Jennings at that time. The extent of Lewin's contribution to the final film has not been determined. The article added that Clark Gable was considered for the role of "Lancelot" during the early planning stages. According to pre-production news in Hollywood Reporter, George Sanders was originally cast in the role of "Modred," but was forced to withdraw from the production due to illness. Hollywood Reporter news items also include Ralph Truman, Henry Oscar, the Don Cossack Riders and British ballet dancer Michel De Lutry in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. According to a March 24, 1953 news item in Los Angeles Herald Express, British Equity initially refused to issue a work permit to Mel Ferrer, in disapproval of the American actor being cast as Arthur. The film was shot at M-G-M's Borehamwood Studios near London, and on location in Tintagel, Ashridge and Trent Park England; Cardiff, Wales; and Belfast and Dublin, Ireland.
Knights of the Round Table was the first film made by M-G-M using the wide-screen process known as CinemaScope. The picture was also the first wide-screen feature film to be shot in England. In a November 22, 1953 New York Times essay on the making of the film, unit man Morgan Hudgins wrote that in addition to being shot in CinemaScope, Knights of the Round Table was shot in "the more normal wide-screen" (with an aspect ratio of 1.66 to one foot, compared to CinemaScope's 2.55:1 aspect ratio) and the standard format. A February 5, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Knights of the Round Table was the first film for international release to feature M-G-M's new optical track stereophonic sound system. For more information about CinemaScope, see the entry below for The Robe.
In its initial release, Knights of the Round Table was preceded by a nine-minute film-also in CinemaScope-featuring the M-G-M Symphony Orchestra playing the overture to the opera The Merry Wives of Windsor. According to a January 1954 article in New York Mirror, Radio City Music Hall installed a new screen, measuring 1,960 square feet, for the film, which marked the theater's first CinemaScope engagement. In August 1956, according to a Los Angeles Times news item, M-G-M was sued by writer Donna B. Costello, who claimed that the studio plagiarized her 1934 play about King Arthur, The Sangreal. The U.S. Federal Court in Washington found in M-G-M's favor in February 1958. According to a Variety news item, the judge ruled that because both M-G-M and Costello had drawn their material from the works of Malory and Tennyson, neither side could claim originality.
Knights of the Round Table received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction (Color) and Best Sound Recording. The film marked the first appearance of actress Dana Wynter in an American film, although her first film appearance in a picture produced in the United States was in 1955 Twentieth Century-Fox production, The View from Pompey's Head (see below) A modern source adds the following names to the crew credits: 2nd Unit Director Yakima Canutt, Recording Supervisor Anthony W. Watkins, Re-rec supv Douglas Shearer and Wesley C. Miller and Assistant Editor Ernest Walker. In addition, the modern source includes the following actors in the cast: Howard Marion Crawford (Simon), John Brooking (Bedivere), Peter Gawthorne (Bishop), Alan Tilvern (Steward), John Sherman (Lambert), Mary Germaine (Brizid), Martin Wyldeck (John), Barry McKay (Green Knight's first squire), Derek Tansley (Green Knight's second squire), Roy Russell (Leogrance) and Gwendoline Evans (Enid).
The Arthurian legend has been the inspiration for numerous films, including Sword of Lancelot (1963), directed by Cornel Wilde and starring Wilde, Jean Wallace and Brian Aherne; the musical Camelot (1967), directed by Joshua Logan and starring Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70); the 1975 satire Monty Python and the Holy Grail, directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones and starring the British comedy group Monty Python's Flying Circus; Excalibur (1981), directed by John Boorman and starring Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren and Nicholas Clay; and First Night (1995), directed by Jerry Zucker and starring Sean Connery, Richard Gere and Julia Ormond.