I'm a competitive fencer, so if anybody's interested in a DVD about
the history of dueling, it would be me. Of course, the title of
Deadly Duels struck me as rather sensationalistic (and how
right I was!) but the lure of learning more about the history of
swordplay was too strong to ignore. There's certainly plenty of
interesting material out there on the topic, but alas, Deadly
Duels is a flop.
The documentary is divided into three 50-minute parts, which probably
played as separate episodes on television. "Duels of Chivalry"
purports to trace the history of dueling from its origins in the
Germanic tribes that overran the Roman Empire through to the Middle
Ages, spilling over a bit into the Renaissance. "Duels of Honor"
picks up the thread in the Renaissance, describing how the chivalric
judicial duels metamorphosed into private duels of honor between
gentlemen, and how the tradition survives even today. "Dueling
in the New World" finishes up the program by taking a look at
the adoption of the dueling habit in the
newly independent United States, most notably among gentlemen of the
southern states and more rough folks in the "Wild West."
Deadly Duels has some of the elements needed for a decent
documentary. There's a decent chronological structure; we get to see
clips from various experts giving insights about the material; and we
are shown re-enactments of the various dueling styles to add some
life to the program. But when it comes to putting these decent ideas
into action, Deadly Duels has a much harder time.
Most off-putting is the simultaneously sensationalistic and cheesy
style. Far too much screen time is taken up
by oddly unconvincing re-enactments of duels. (Are those shields
really made of plywood? Sure looks like it.) Couldn't they have hired
some experienced fencers instead of general-purpose stunt men (or
random bystanders) to do the action scenes? In the second program,
when we get to see a few moves by a professional fencing instructor,
the difference suddenly becomes blazingly clear. Yep, this guy
knows what he's doing. Yep, those other guys are amateurs.
The program clearly wants to emphasize the violence and strangeness
of the various dueling cultures that are
profiled here... but it really tries too hard. I felt like saying to
the filmmakers, "Hey, I'm already watching this program. You've
got my attention. Now quit rubbing my nose in how dramatic, gory, or
violent this stuff was, and give me some real facts to feed my
interest." Unfortunately, facts are rather thin on the ground in
Deadly Duels. Yes, we do get clips from various "experts,"
but it didn't take all that long for me to start wondering exactly
how reputable these fellows really were. The historical information
(such as it was) seemed reasonably accurate, but whenever the topic
shifted over to interpretation, I got an odd feeling that the
theories these guys were expounding were not, shall we say, well-documented.
Probably the best portion of the documentary is a section in "Duels
of Honor" that deals with the modern-day university dueling
clubs in Germany. This is one area that Deadly Duels actually
goes into decent detail on, as we get to learn a bit about the
history of the dueling fraternities, find out that the facial scars
from dueling were considered a sign of prowess and manhood, and even
witness an actual modern-day student duel taking place. If the rest
of the program had managed to be as focused as this, Deadly Duels
could have been much more interesting.
I'd have given Deadly Duels a slightly higher mark if it
hadn't also been rather repetitive. Several re-enactments are
repeated from one episode to the next (and it's not like they're so
good we really want to see them again) and some of the same material
is dragged out several times. Considering that there's a wealth of
interesting material out there on the subject of dueling (the program
never touches on the fascinating career of fencer Aldo Nadi, for
instance), there's no excuse for the skimpy content of Deadly
Deadly Duels appears in what I presume is its original 1.33:1
aspect ratio. The image quality isn't absolutely horrible, but it's
certainly below par. It has an overall rather low-budget feel to it,
with a lot of pixellation and colors that often look a little "off."
There's not much to ask from the Dolby 2.0 soundtrack, but it still
manages to be a bit below average. The sound is flat and slightly
muffled-sounding, although it's otherwise adequate.
There are no special features on this DVD.
really can't suggest Deadly Duels as even a rental. I'm
probably the ideal target audience for the documentary, as I'm a
fencer and quite interested in the history of dueling... and even I
didn't care for it at all. I found the amateurish, cheesy feel and
the skimpy amount of information to be an all too deadly combination.