Cast & Crew
C. V. France
In the late 15th century, Parisian poet François Villon is a rebel and rabble-rouser, and attracts King Louis XI's attention after he raids his personal food storehouse and distributes it to the starving populace. When Louis suspects that one of his aides is allied with the Burgundians, who have surrounded the city and are demanding surrender, he tortures a prisoner who received a note that came in over the castle walls, and who confesses to the destination of the note. Louis follows up with a disguised visit to the Fir Cone Tavern in the Court of Miracles to deliver the note. That night, François brings the stolen food to the tavern, and insults his "weak" king and, when challenged, also proclaims what he would do if he were king. Louis hears his remarks with amusement, but later his suspicions are confirmed when he sees the Grand Constable D'Aussigny receive the Burgundian missive. A brawl erupts when guards try to arrest François, during which he kills D'Aussigny. After they are arrested, François is released for an interview with Louis, who is faced with a dilemma, since François is a robber and a murderer, but at the same time killed a traitor. Louis dubs François as Count de Montcorbier, his new Grand Constable, but fails to tell him that his punishment will come in a week, when he is to be executed. François is delighted with his newfound power, and his first act is to release all his fellow prisoners. When a herald from Burgundy insists that Louis surrender, François makes an eloquent rebuttal and, refusing to surrender, promises to attack them in one week. Later, François acquaints himself with Katherine DeVaucelles, a lady-in-waiting with whom he had fallen in love when he was still known as François. She does not recognize him, but returns his affection. When the king's generals refuse to fight for fear of defeat, François realizes wielding power is not as easy as it seems, and Louis informs him of his execution date. François attempts to escape, but instead encounters Katherine, with whom he had arranged a rendezvous. She gives him the idea that if the generals did not have six months worth of food, they would surely fight. With this thought, François opens all the palace storehouses to the people and, upon returning to court, reveals his true identity to Katherine. Although at first mortified, she finally accepts him, but he escapes to arouse the people to fight against the Burgundians, who have broken through the city gates. François leads them into battle, and despite the loss of Huguette, his former lover, and many others, they defeat the enemy. François is arrested, but when the generals take sole credit for the victory, Katherine attests to François' heroism, and Louis is once again forced to weigh his misdeeds with his good deeds. Louis sentences François to life imprisonment--in all of France--but exiles him from Paris. François takes to the road with his loyal Katherine following behind, ready to pick him up in her carriage when he tires.
C. V. France
Edwin John Brady
Paula De Cardo
Maj. Philip J. Kieffer
A. E. Freudeman
Harold C. Lewis
L. L. Ryder
Best Art Direction
Best Supporting Actor
If I Were King
Ronald Colman, If I Were King (1938)
Few actors could turn a line of dialogue into poetry as effectively as Ronald Colman could. When the script was as good as the one Preston Sturges provided for If I Were King, the classic tale of a famous French poet who spent a day as a king, Colman performed with an authority few could match. Not only was he a memorable and believable poet, but with the help of stunt coordinator Ralph Faulkner -- with whom he had worked a year earlier on the definitive romantic adventure, The Prisoner of Zenda -- he proved he could swash his buckle as well as current romantic heartthrob Errol Flynn. His performance more than lived up to the film's ad line: "His love-making was as dangerous as his swordplay."
The role of Francois Villon -- poet, thief and king for a day in 14th century Paris -- had been a star-maker on Broadway for E.H. Sothern in the early years of the 20th century. It had already been filmed in 1914 and 1920 (the latter starring William Farnum, who plays General Barbezier in this version), when Rudolf Friml turned it into the successful operetta The Vagabond King in 1925, with such hit songs as "Only a Rose" and "Love Me Tonight." John Barrymore starred in a silent version in 1927 under the title The Beloved Rogue, while Dennis King, who had sung the role on stage, top-lined a now-lost film version of The Vagabond King that co-starred Jeanette MacDonald in 1930.
But it was Colman, in the only sound version of the original play, who was the definitive Villon, leading his army of beggars against the invading Duke of Burgundy and torn between the noblewoman (Frances Dee) and street urchin (Ellen Drew) who love him. Colman was a rarity in Hollywood, a silent star who had successfully made the transition to talking films. For this he could thank his stage training and a voice among the most lyrical in screen history. He also could thank the success of one of his first talking films, the original Bulldog Drummond in 1929. He followed with such hits as A Tale of Two Cities (1935) and Lost Horizon (1937), all of which capitalized on his romantic image, before scoring again with If I Were King. It would take a break from that image, however, to win him a long overdue Oscar® in 1947, when he played a psychotic actor who confuses the real world with his role as Othello in A Double Life.
As a product of one of Hollywood's major studios, Paramount, If I Were King was a quality production all the way. It was produced and directed by Frank Lloyd, who had won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars® for Cavalcade (1933), then directed another Best Picture-winner with Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). Sturges was already the studio's top scribe when he brought his patented blend of intellect and infectious mischief to the script. He would go on to write and direct such classic comedies as The Lady Eve (1941) and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944). Edith Head provided the period costumes, while the art department went all-out to re-create medieval Paris, winning one of the film's three Oscar® nominations for their work (designer Hans Dreier would be nominated again for the 1956 re-make of The Vagabond King).
Also nominated for the film were Richard Hageman's score and Basil Rathbone's scene-stealing performance as King Louis XI, who lets the court think him mad as he manipulates nobles and peasants to consolidate his power. Rathbone, who was Margaret Mitchell's first choice to play Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind (1939), would achieve screen immortality the following year with his first performance as Sherlock Holmes, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, a role he would repeat in a series of films for Universal Studios throughout the '40s. Another future sleuth in the film was Sidney Toler, cast as one of Villon's lower-class friends, who would take on the role of Charlie Chanlater in 1938.
Producer/Director: Frank Lloyd
Screenplay: Preston Sturges
Based on the Novel and Play by Justin Huntly McCarthy
Cinematography: Theodor Sparkuhl
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, John Goodman
Music: Richard Hageman
Cast: Ronald Colman (François Villon), Basil Rathbone (Louis XI), Frances Dee (Katherine de Vaucelles), Ellen Drew (Huguette), Henry Wilcoxon (Captain of the Watch), Stanley Ridges (Rene de Montigny), Sidney Toler (Robin Turgis), John Miljan (Thibaut d'Aussigny), William Farnum (General Barbezier).
by Frank Miller
If I Were King
Ellen Drew, 1914-2003
She was born Esther Loretta "Terry" Ray on November 23, 1914, in Kansas City, Missouri. The daughter of a barber, her family moved to Chicago when she was still an infant and she lived a very quiet childhood far removed from the glamour of Hollywood. She was encouraged by some friends to enter a beauty contest when she was just 17. After winning, she tried her luck in Hollywood, but found that they were no immediate offers for her particular talents.
She eventually took a waitressing job at C.C. Brown's, a famed Hollywood Boulevard soda fountain, and had virtually abandoned her dreams as a starlet when William Demarest, a popular actor's agent and well-known character actor, spotted her. Demarest arranged a screen test for her at Paramount, and she was promptly placed under contract for $50 a week.
For the first few years, (1936-38), Drew got only bit parts, and was often uncredited. When she finally got prominent billing in the Bing Crosby musical Sing You Sinners (1938), she decided to change her name, from Terry Ray to Ellen Drew. She earned her first major role in Frank Lloyd's If I Were King (1938) opposite Ronald Colman, yet for the most part of her career, rarely rose above "B" material and second leads. Still, she had some fine exceptions: Preston Sturges' enchanting comedy Christmas in July (1940), with Dick Powell; Tay Garnett's lighthearted war romp My Favorite Spy (1942) co-starring Kay Kyser; Julien Duvivier's taut The Imposter (1944), holding her own with a brooding Jean Gabin; and Mark Robson's chilling low-budget chiller Isle of the Dead (1945) opposite Boris Karloff. Drew made some notable television appearances in the late '50s including Perry Mason and The Barbara Stanwyck Show, before retiring from the entertainment industry. She is survived by her son David; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Ellen Drew, 1914-2003
Epitaph? What's that?- Colette
Oh, usually something good about somebody bad... after they're dead.- Francois Villon
Fine time to be writing poetry.- Rene
What better time? If a man isn't inspired by his own death, he's beyond inspiration.- Villon
François Villon was a fifteenth-century French poet who, after being arrested for various violations, was eventually banished from Paris. Although the correct spelling of his first name is "François," the film's credits spell it "Francois." Copyright records add the following information about the production: Waldo Twitchell and his staff researched in France for nine months. A replica of the throne of the Louvre Palace was made in cooperation with the French government. Bit player Ralph Faulkner coached the actors on swordplay. A writer named Jackson is credited on early drafts of the script as a co-screenwriter with Sturges, but the writer's identity or contribution has not beem determined. A Hollywood Reporter news item noted that approximately nine hundred extras performed in the battle scenes. The film was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Basil Rathbone for supporting actor; Hans Dreier and John Goodman for interior decoration; L. L. Ryder for sound; and Richard Hageman for original score. Modern sources claim that Preston Sturges finished a draft of the script by February 1938, and that the film originally opened with a battle scene that was later cut by Lloyd. In 1920, Fox Film Corp. made the first version of Justin Huntly McCarthy's play and book, also called If I Were King starring William Farnum and Betty Ross Clarke (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.2125). Many other versions of McCarthy's story have been made, including United Artists' 1927 version, The Beloved Rogue, directed by Alan Crosland and starring John Barrymore; and a 1930 Paramount musical, The Vagabond King, directed by Ludwig Berger and starring Jeanette MacDonald and Dennis King (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.0346 and F2.6005). Paramount remade the musical in 1956, with direction by Michael Curtiz.
Released in United States 1938
Released in United States 1938