July 17, 1995 12:00 PM

>BLADE BOOM

MANY CLAIM TO BE ON THE CUTTING edge of contemporary moviemaking, but the London-based Baptys company has earned the bragging rights. In the past year the 70-year-old, prop-weapon-making firm has supplied swords—some 850 in all, not to mention sundry lances, cudgels, dirks and pikes—for all three of Hollywood’s recently released historical saber-rattlers: Rob Roy, the 18th-century Highland fling starring Liam Neeson; Braveheart, Mel Gibson’s kilt-or-be-killed Scots epic; and the new Arthurian romance, First Knight, starring Richard Gere and Sean Connery. “We were working seven days a week, 14 hours a day,” says weary Baptys manager Richard Hooper. “It stretched us to our limit.”

Reality, as in any movie, also got stretched. That’s not a medieval-weight steel sword that Gere or Gibson brandishes. “We use aluminum because it’s [a third] lighter and safer,” confides Dale Clark, who handled the props on First Knight and Rob Roy. While the dulled swords caused no injuries during filming, they “ended up scuffed and bent,” he says, “so we had to keep on replacing blades.”

All of which made for some staggering demands at times on Baptys workers. For First Knight “you had 150 knights who all needed swords, scabbards and spare blades,” Hooper says. Predictably, Hooper’s one complaint is as old as Hollywood itself: lack of screen time. “We had to come up with 40 shields two weeks before shooting,” he notes. “Then you hardly see the shields at all in the film.”

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