Dashing cavalier Richard Stiller (Frank Latimore) and his possee of token chums return to his childhood home after fighting in the wars against Spain. His prime motivation is seeking out Louise (Emma Danieli), his childhood sweetheart and true love. Unfortunately he finds the court of Valency embroiled in a state of intrigue. The heretic Duke of Varse (Andrea Aureli) and his devious accomplice Elaine (Gianna Maria Canale) have wiled their way into power, and secretly covet the Dukedom. This is currently under the governance of Louise's brother, Henry (Anthony Steffen), who happens to have a residual hatred of Richard (caused primarily by over-protectiveness).
Elaine, however, soon falls for our hero's charms, especially as she sees in him a potential usurper of the King of France (whom she wants to destroy because he had exiled her when she rejected his advances). She engineers circumstances so that he is discovered in a compromising position with her. Things don't go exactly to plan - Richard escapes and when Henry tries to shoot him he kills her instead. Seeing as the young nobleman was her former lover, Varse takes this opportunity to portray the unfortunate events as a crime of passion and calls for a murder trial. Henry and Louise stand to lose their land if found guilty, but are given one chance; to prove their innocence in a trial by combat. Seeing as Henry isn't trained as a soldier, it is up to the cavaliers to save the day. Cue much melodrama, much fruity language and much energetic swordplay.
This is an entirely harmless, mildly entertaining swashbuckler of the type that used to crop up on sunny mornings during childhood school holidays. Of course, you should have been doing something better that watching this stuff - like sniffing glue or torturing cats - but all the rigorous tomfoolery had a strange appeal. To a more discerning adult (well, one who's learned to grow fond of the bizarre non-filmmaking of Demofilo Fidani and has had more experience in the depressing milieu of existence in the modern age - as encapsulated by the grimacing visage of Tony Blair) it doesn't really hold up so well.
There isn't the camp quality of the traditional peplum, no well-oiled musclemen tossing badly dressed extras into furniture at every opportunity. Indeed, there's very little that is detectably Italianesque whatsoever - except perhaps the internecine narrative twists and double-crosses. Unfortunately it is also lacking in the general goofiness that could have helped make the whole thing a much more enjoyable experience. There are also some basic similarities with the plot of Beatrice Cenci , namely that the saintly heroine stands to lose that which is rightfully hers because of the machinations of less morally upstanding members of her family.
That's not to say that The Devil’s Cavalier is a bad film. It is actually a reasonably crafted example of it's type - of which there were a surprising amount at the time (Mario Costa's The Cavalier in Devil’s Castle (Il cavaliere del Castello maledetto, 59), to name but one). The costumes are lush - in fact Anthony Steffen , again looking disturbingly like a less deranged Christopher Walken, resembles nothing so much as an escapee from an early eighties Visage video. As things should be, the heroine is blonde and dubbed by a Queen Elisabeth soundalike whilst the villainess is brunette, a lot more feisty and dies. Interestingly, Gianna Maria Canale gets the star billing, showing the pulling power (in box office terms) that she had at the time.
Frank Latimore was a Hollywood romantic lead of the forties who made several European films throughout the fifties and sixties, including Joaquim Marchent's Zorro the Avenger (62), Raccioppi's Conspiracy of the Borgias (La congiura dei Borgia, 58) and, strangely, Rene Clement's fantastic Plein Soleil (60). His name turned up in later years as the director of 'English language versions' (or dubbing manager), including the later Steffen movie Stranger in Paso Bravo (Uno straniero a Paso Bravo, 68). There's also a fun opportunity to see the brothers Franco and Andrea Fantasia display their fencing credentials.