Wednesday, January 16, 2019

MADE IN 1938 Blogathon: If I Were King


Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Robin of Pop Culture Reverie are hosting a blogathon tribute to the exemplary film season of 1938. Our journey begins HERE or HERE.


The Irish politician, historian and writer Justin Huntly McCarthy (1859-1936) is one of the creative minds to be inspired by the life of the poet and rabble-rouser Francois Villon (1431-1463). In 1901 McCarthy gave us the romantic novel and four-act play If I Were King

The history of If I Were King in film includes a 1912 Italian short, and a 1920 Fox feature starring William Farnum. A 1930 adaption of Rudolf Friml's operetta The Vagabond King with the Broadway star Dennis King and Jeanette MacDonald was remade by Michael Curtiz in 1956 starring Oreste Kirkop and Kathryn Grayson.

Our 1938 film was nominated for 4 Oscars: Basil Rathbone for Best Supporting Actor, Hans Drier and John B. Goodman for Best Art Direction, Loren L. Ryder for Best Sound and Richard Hageman for Best Original Score.

Ronald Colman

Ronald Colman is Francois Villon, a poet, a leader of men, a lover of women, and a thief. His foster father, a priest played by C.V. France, gave young Francois a supportive home and an excellent education. That Francois' nature was roisterous and led him to a life of questionable pursuits in no way reflects upon his upbringing. Colman brings to this role the introspection of Conway in Lost Horizon, the devil-may-care attitude of his Englishman in The Prison of Zenda and a dash of derring-do from his Bulldog Drummond of old.

Basil Rathbone

King Louis XI (1423-1483) is holed up in Paris while his political rival the Duke of Burgandy and his rebels surround the city with the hopes of starving the King into submission. It is most annoying. Adding to the annoyance is the robbery of his storehouse and the presence of a traitor is in his midst.

Basil Rathbone's Louis is played with a querulous speech, a mincing walk, and a joyful cackle at whatever tickles his fancy. His quirks almost belie a quick wit and an even quicker turn to action when deemed necessary. If the real Louis were anything like his fictional counterpart he truly deserved his nickname of "cunning."

Villon is a double-edged sword for the monarch. King Louis discovers that the poet outlaw is behind the thievery at the storehouse, but at the same time, Villon dispatches the traitor who has been bedeviling the monarch.

Villon must be punished for the thievery, yet he must be rewarded for unmasking the traitor. Having heard the boastful bandit regale his followers with what he would do if he were king, Louis puts the rogue to the test. Villon is tasked with replacing the traitorous Chief Constable and given a week to set things in Paris and the whole of France aright. Villon considers himself more than able to fulfill this task, not realizing that the king intends to hang him at the end of his, more or less parole.

Ronald Colman, Ellen Drew

We meet two of the women in Villon's life in this story. Huguette is played by Ellen Drew. She knows Villon for the dog and liar he is but loves him for the sweetness in his soul that she hears in his poetry. She is loyal and feisty, and Villon is telling her the truth when he says he does not deserve her. 

Ronald Colman, Frances Dee

Frances Dee is Lady Katherine de Vaucelles, a lady-in-waiting to the Queen. Katherine wins the poet's heart with her beauty and gains his respect for her character. She is an independent thinker whose bravery is brought to the fore by her affection.

Francois Villon uses his personal view of the world and knowledge of the lower classes for the betterment of their attitude toward the King. His efforts to rouse the generals to battle, which they are loathed to do, presents a trickier situation. Villon wants to bring the battle to the Burgundians before all of Paris is starved. The generals are of a different mind and refuse to budge. It is at this point Villon learns that his fate has always been the hangman's knot, yet he turns the situation to victory, earning the grudging respect of his sovereign.

Ronald Colman, Basil Rathbone

Louis XI: "Once more you've made everything very complicated. You have a devilish talent for seating me on the point of the sword of justice and it is becoming uncomfortable in the extreme."

Francois Villon: "I am sorry I have no cushion to offer for Your Majesty's --- comfort."

Louis XI: "Now, now please --- please spare me your witticisms. It is difficult enough trying to be King of France."

Francois Villon: "I found that out, Your Majesty."

Louis XI: "You know, that is the first nice thing you've said to me."

Ronald Colman and a cast of thousands.
And this is inside the palace. Wait until you see the climactic battle!

The romance in the story of a rogue granted an offhand wish is wonderfully told in this adaption of McCarthy's play by the Preston Sturges. More than one viewing is necessary to catch all of the droll wit tucked away in the adventurous tale. Frank Lloyd, the director of epic films such as Cavalcade and Mutiny on the Bounty, knows his way around and through a costume extravaganza. Many familiar faces from Henry Wilcoxon to Walter Kingsford to Sidney Toler and more show up to delight classic movie fans. 

If I Were King deserves acclaim as one of the great movies released in 1938. It will delight the viewer who likes their love stories and their adventures with touches of thoughtfulness and humour.


Movie trivia:


William Farnum appears in this film as General Barbezier, one of those timid generals so bothersome to both His Majesty and Francois Villon, whom Farnum played in 1920.












28 comments:

  1. How have I never heard of this film? It sounds delightful. Now, I'm going to have to track it down so I can watch it, thanks to your lovely review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For years I knew of The Vagabond King (opera/operetta geek), but it wasn't until a couple of years ago that I caught on to this wonderful movie. It truly is a treat.

      TCM ran it a few months back when Colman was Star of the Month. Basil Rathbone just blew me away!

      Delete
  2. Preston Sturges adapted this? Wow. Sounds like a cross between Flynn's ROBIN HOOD and A TALE OF TWO CITIES.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sturges is amazing and his sly humour is woven throughout. Robin Hood meets Two Cities really works. It is a memorable movie.

      Delete
  3. A Ronald Colman favorite! It also provided Basil Rathbone with one of his best roles. I love their scenes together. Errol Flynn also played Villon is an episode of the anthology Screen Directors Playhouse.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Errol? Cool. I can definitely see him as Villon.

      I haven't seen Walter Brennan in Kentucky, but he must have been something to grab votes away from Basil Rathbone's performance in this movie.

      Delete
  4. Haven’t seen this in an age but remember it being a treat. Love your photos.
    Also remember Oreste in The Vagabond King.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is rarely shown on television these days and that is a real shame.

      I would love TCM to have included The Vagabond King during Kathryn Grayson month. One opportunity lost, but there will be others. I think we need Basil Rathbone to get the star of the month treatment.

      Delete
  5. Nice. Not a fan of this period of history, I'll admit (I just don't connect to it) but Basil Rathbone is always a delight, especially when he's playing someone villainous :-).

    Tam May
    The Dream Book Blog
    https://thedreambookblog.wordpress.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm fascinated by the many who were inspired by these "characters". Rathbone certainly rules the roost here, as he often does.

      Delete
  6. I have never seen or heard of this one! The joys of reading others posts! Maybe I can catch it next time its on TCM- Ronald Colman is handsome!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ronald Colman is indeed dreamy! He was born to play this role or any other role for that matter. I've never seen him less than perfect. (Don't you hate it when people gush?)

      I do hope TCM brings it around again soon. More and more people would love it.

      Delete
  7. I love this film! Great review. And Ronald Coleman, what a great distinctive voice.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Everything comes together to make a movie that you can't help but love. Ronald Colman certainly knew how to use that melodious voice of his. It and he are one of the treasures of classic movies.

      Delete
  8. As some other people here, I've never even heard of this one. This review certainly made me want to watch it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is certainly a movie that should be more well known. I can't imagine many people not being delighted by the story and the performances.

      Delete
  9. I love this film and as you correctly point out, everything comes together with intelligent direction from Frank Lloyd and I like the way you describe him as a director who 'knew his way around'. Rathbone is wonderful and such a presence on the screen and of course Ronald Colman never disappoints. Most importantly, it's a lot of fun without treating the audience as stupid. Thanks for a fantastic review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the compliment. And thank you for pointing out how the audience is respected in this entertaining movie.

      Delete
  10. I haven't seen this film, but it sounds so charming in your review! I've always enjoyed Ronald Colman when he played a rogue -- he usually seems like such a sedate gentleman, but he has that twinkle in his eye, as in 1944's Kismet, that tells you he has a small devil tucked up his sleeve and it could pop out anytime.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, Colman is such a lovable rogue! I know this is a movie that would bring you joy. I've been imagining TCM giving Basil Rathbone the Summer Under the Stars treatment and programming this in primetime. Hey, why not?

      Delete
  11. Thank heavens for YouTube, because there is a version of this film there. This will be terrific!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I never thought to check YouTube. Good to know. And I'm so pleased for you.

      Delete
  12. I'm not a huge Ronald Colman fan, but your piece makes me think I have to check out this one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Often it takes that one special role to turn your mind around on an actor. At least, it has worked that way for me in the past. The movie offers a lot to enjoy.

      Delete
  13. This film sounds interesting. I may have to add it to my "Must Watch List". Thanks for joining the blogathon with this excellent article.

    I also invite you to read my contribution to the blogathon.

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2019/01/24/when-icons-collide-bette-and-errol-in-the-sisters-1938/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for hosting the blogathon. I enjoyed your article and hope you enjoy If I Were King someday.

      Delete
  14. Great review! I had never heard of this film!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you and this movie come together at the perfect time.

      Delete

REMAKE AVENUE: The Racket, 1928 and 1951

Many of our excursions to Remake Avenue begin on Broadway and today's is no exception. Bartlett Cormack's play The Racket had...