Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1949)

Time for a bit of time traveling, by way of the 1949 movie A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, starring Bing Crosby, Rhonda Fleming, William Bendix and Sir Cedric Hardwicke.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Shrimps For A Day (1935)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 4 (1933-1935) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 20 minutes, 42 seconds)

The Gang are taken to a party hosted by the sponsor for their orphanage, where an adult couple finds a lamp and wishes to be kids again. They are mistaken for being part of the group of orphans, and are brought back to the orphanage. This short managed to be both hilarious and full of heart. As the two adults-turned-into-kids, George and Olive Brasno do a pretty good imitation of adults as kids, and quickly gain our sympathy as they are forced to deal with the problems the other kids are facing, like being forced to take castor oil, and listen to the mean couple in charge of the orphanage, Of course, Spanky (George McFarland) keeps getting into trouble, and manages to provide most of the humor (especially when the “new” orphan tries to get to sleep in between the squirming Spanky and Scotty). To nobody’s surprise, I really liked this one, and can’t wait to see it again!

And Now For The Main Feature…

In 1905, blacksmith Hank Martin (Bing Crosby) is trying to return a horse to his owner during a storm, and is knocked out by a tree branch.  When he wakes up, he finds himself in Camelot, circa 528 A.D., where he is discovered by Sir Sagramore Le Desirous (“Saggy”) (William Bendix). After being taken to the court of King Arthur (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), Hank is then condemned to be burned to death.  Performing a “miracle,” he is freed and then knighted by the king, becoming “Sir Boss.”  At a ball given in his honor, Hank meets one of King Arthur’s nieces, the Lady Alisande la Carteloise (Rhonda Fleming), and falls in love with her, even though she is engaged to Sir Lancelot (Henry Wilcoxon).  Hank jousts with Sir Lancelot, winning his own way, but “Sandy” goes back to Lancelot.  Hank decides to leave, but reconsiders his decision when he sees a regular family broken up by the plague and some unjust laws. To see if he can fix the overall problem, Hank convinces the king and Saggy to join him on a trip through the kingdom so that King Arthur can learn what his people really think of him.  However, the evil wizard Merlin (Murvyn Vye) overhears, and decides to take matters into his own hands. Will Hank, Saggy and the king be able to evade Merlin’s men, or will Merlin take over the kingdom?

In 1889, famous American author Mark Twain published his story A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court. In the years following, the story was adapted for several films (including a 1921 silent film and a 1931 talkie with Will Rogers) and a 1927 stage musical (with music by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart). In 1944, Bing Crosby starred in Going My Way for his home studio Paramount Pictures, a role for which he won the Best Actor Oscar. With that Oscar win under his belt (and a few major hits that followed it up), Bing became a big enough star that his contract with the studio gave him his choice of directors, writers and cast. For A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, he chose director Tay Garnett (known at the time for directing the 1946 drama The Postman Always Rings Twice, although he had had his start in 1920 as a gag writer for Mack Sennett and Hal Roach). It had been hoped that they could use the score from the 1927 Broadway show, but they were unable to do so as a result of it being purchased by MGM for their musical tribute to Rodgers and Hart, Words And Music (1948). So Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen composed some new songs for the film to add to Victor Young’s score. For the leading lady, the role was offered to Deanna Durbin (who turned it down), before being given to Rhonda Fleming (who had recently attained leading lady status, and would gain the nickname of “Queen Of Technicolor” alongside Maureen O’Hara). The movie was filmed in 1947 with retakes occurring in 1948, but, for reasons unknown to me as yet, was released in 1949 to great success.

This is one of those rare book-based films that I can actually claim to have read the original novel (not only that, but the Wishbone version as well). Outside of the 90s film A Kid In King Arthur’s Court that I saw as a kid, and the bits and pieces I’ve seen of the Disney film Unidentified Flying Oddball (1979), I haven’t really seen any other adaptations of this story, so my comments are mostly with regard to this film. My feeling has long been that the film’s writers essentially took a few moments and characters/character names from the book and changed things around to build this film around Bing Crosby and his persona. In the novel, the incident with the solar eclipse, for example, was the method for which Hank proved his sorcery (and become “Sir Boss”) near the beginning of the story, but in the movie, it’s used towards the end of the film. For the movie, the character of Alisande la Carteloise (portrayed by Rhonda Fleming) was made one of King Arthur’s nieces, instead of being a commoner. We also saw Merlin (Murvyn Vye) become the central villain, with the church not being included at all (no doubt due to the Production Code). The film also seems to take place over several weeks versus several years in the original novel. Many other changes were implemented beyond this handful of examples, so how you feel about the original novel will certainly impact how you look at the movie (at least, if you have read the novel).

Me, personally? I like Bing Crosby and his screen persona, so I definitely prefer this film over the novel. I have long enjoyed some of the music, with the romantic duet “Once And For Always” (performed by Bing and Rhonda Fleming) and the comedic song “Busy Doing Nothing” (performed by Bing, William Bendix and Sir Cedric Hardwicke) being the main standouts. The comedy is superb as well, with two scenes in particular really imprinted in my mind. One is the ball where Bing’s Hank modernizes the music and dancing, much to the initial chagrin of the king and his guests (at least, before they also realize that Hank’s ways are more fun)! The other would be the unusual (to say the least) jousting tournament between Hank and Henry Wilcoxon’s Sir Lancelot. It’s not a perfect film, with some otherwise ridiculous moments that don’t really make much sense (seriously, why was Bing’s Hank allowed so much movement when he was supposed to be getting burned at the stake?). Still, it’s a film that I’ve enjoyed many times since I got it on DVD years ago as part of a double-feature with the equally fun (in my book) The Emperor Waltz (1948), and for that reason alone, I have no hesitation in recommending this musical comedy!

The movie is available on DVD from Universal Studios.

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2022) with… A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1949)

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On August 23, 2022, Universal Studios released A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1949) on Blu-ray. This Blu-ray seems to be working with an HD scan that looks pretty good. Most (if not just about all) of the dust, dirt, and other artifacts have been cleaned up. For the most part, the color looks pretty good, similar to the recent Blu-ray release of Blue Skies (1946) from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. There are some minor sections where the color doesn’t look quite as vivid as it seems like it should, but it’s an overall good release of a wonderful film (and certainly as good as it is likely to get anytime soon).

Film Length: 1 hour, 47 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Emperor Waltz (1948)Bing CrosbyThe Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad (1949)

Out Of The Past (1947) – Rhonda Fleming – The Killer Is Loose (1956)

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