Heart of a Lion

Lionheart was going to be the first part of a film trilogy about the children’s crusade. It began filming in late 1985 and finished in early 1986, but was shelved because the film didn’t have a bankable leading man. It would only receive a limited theatrical release in the late summer of 1987. Even if it got a wider release, the trilogy would never have been completed on time because the director died in 1989. However, Franklin J. Schaffner wasn’t even the first choice of director. Originally, Francis Ford Coppola was going to be the director until the star that they chose was fired from Back to the Future. As for Franklin, he was not exactly a skimpy consolation prize seeing as how he directed the likes of Planet of the Apes, Patton and Papillon. This P trilogy reminds me of Christina Ricci’s best starring roles being in Prozac Nation, Pumpkin and Penelope.

F.F.C. had history with Franklin. F.F.C. had co-written the script for Patton (1970). The film won Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Film and Best Screenplay. I find it interesting that 1987 was when Lionheart got released because that was the year when Franklin became the President of the Directors Guild of America. It’s strange that it took so long given the pedigree behind the camera. The main producer was Talia Shire. Besides the brother/sister dynamic that she shares with F.F.C. in nepotistic fashion, she was the wife of the film’s main executive producer i.e. Jack Schwartzman. Their company, TaliaFilm II Productions, had produced Sean Connery’s comeback as James Bond – Never Say Never Again (1983). That movie was also produced by Producers Sales Organization a.k.a PSO.

PSO were attached to produce Lionheart in late 1984, but they pulled in early 1985 for a reason that I gave in the first paragraph. Who knows how Franklin managed to put the squeeze on the distributor, Orion Pictures, albeit it wasn’t much of a squeeze given that the limited cinema run was held in Canada as a sort of a testing ground. A bad idea that would prove to be a big mistake in the long run seeing as how they should have released it in England first, given the number of English actors like Patrick Durkin as seen below with Helena Tóth (whose Facebook profile is where I got most of these pics from). She was the production manager. She must speak English since she was a production supervisor of Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead remake.

Back to before, maybe Lionheart was released because Orion Pictures saw a little bit of Mark Hamill in the lead. The poster does lend itself to the interpretation of a medieval Star Wars. Franklin dying on July 2 in 1989 is rather timely in the supernatural sense given that one of the actors died on July 23. I’m referring to Michael Sundin, who is incorrectly credited as Michel Sundin. He was primarily famous for being a presenter on a BBC children’s TV show called Blue Peter. His tenture lasted from 1984 to 1985. The latter year was when Return of Oz came out. The significance being that Michael was one of the actors who played Tik-Tok. Michael died of AIDS. He was the first Blue Peter presenter to die. The below photo was taken in Portugal, but the film wasn’t just shot there. It was also filmed in Hungary.

Lionheart has its moments and merits, but there’s a definitely a sense that it would have been considerably better had it been lensed by F.F.C. At least, we would have an uncut version or deleted scenes available on Blu-Ray format. Without his involvement, the most famous main player in the cast and crew is Gabriel Byrne. Even then, the film is barely shown on TV (if ever) despite the fact that he was previously in Excalibur (1981). Film buffs and historians should be grateful that it managed to find a home on DVD despite being in its recut state. The soundtrack lasts for 82 minutes whereas the film is 104 minutes long. The music cues are longer than what’s in the film, which indicates trimming of scenes. If you try to match the soundtrack to the film’s score, there is at least one cue which is absent from the film altogether. This suggests that the scene was removed wholesale.

The above photo was also taken in Portugal. if you assemble the soundtrack in the order of how they are heard in the film then the below list is what you would get. The tracks that are presented in bold were removed from the 1994 re-release: The Ceremony, The Castle, Bring Him BackFailed Knight, The Circus, Robert & Blanche, Children in BondageGates of ParisParis Underground, The Road from Paris, The Banner, The Dress, MathildaThe Plague, Forest Hunt, The Lake, The Wrong Flag, Final Fight, King Richard and The Future (this was absent from the Japanese version despite Japan having a track record for having exclusive tracks).

Once again in Portugal. The man is the still photographer. He is credited in English as Egon Endrényi, but is credited in Hungarian as Endrényi Egon. The latter is how Helena Toth (as Ágnes Tóth) had credited him on Facebook. Egon has worked on A Knight’s TaleThe Bourne Identity, Underworld, Hell Boy and Hell Boy II: The Golden Army. As for the below photo which was taken during the Hungary shoot, the person wearing the white hat is a wardrober who was tagged on Facebook as Balázs Piri Mari. She is named Mari Balázs-Piri on IMDB, but she went uncredited for her contributions. The moustached man holding the cigarette on the right is Gábor Szabó. He was the unit manager whereas the man holding the megaphone was one of the assistant directors. His name is Gábor Váradi.

What’s fascinating about Lionheart is that the struggle to get the film from production to distribution is akin to the struggle that Richard Donner had in moving Ladyhawke from pitching to filming. It took him years whereas F.F.C. began advertising Lionheart in trade print form during the fall of 1984. Besides featuring the aforementioned PSO, the advertisment is notable for how Menno Meyjes is credited as the sole writer. I find his involvement to be fascinating given that he previously worked with Steven Spielberg, the man who fired the star of Lionheart from Back to the Future. Menno adapted The Color Purple for Stephen, who directed it from June to August of 1985. When Lionheart began filming in September of 1985, you have to wonder why F.F.C. even bothered. Ladyhawke flopped by the beginning of June despite the triple threat of Rutger Hauer, Matthew Broderick and Michelle Pfeiffer. It didn’t help that even Tom Cruise’s Legend had flopped by the end of May in 1986.

In November of 1985, Menno Meyjes had his name credited as the teleplaywright of an episode titled The Mission. The significance is that the episode was directed by Spielberg for a TV series called Amazing Stories. Menno would go on to help write the story for Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Besides the irony that Lionheart is such an obscure film that it was painfully eclipsed by the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie of the same name, it’s ironic that the soundtrack has received more attention than the film itself. This film is usually discussed by fans of Jerry Goldsmith than those of the star, speaking of whom – it’s particularly ironic that Eric Stoltz looks younger in Lionheart than he did a year earlier in Back to the Future. Then again, you can work wonders with hair, make-up and lighting.

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