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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court


A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949)

      I am never one to pass up a Bing Crosby musical, but that is not to say a Bingo flick is a guaranteed smash hit. With A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court I find my stance goes against the grain of opinions at the time the film was released. Although I truly fought the instinct to turn the movie off, moviegoers in 1949 loved Bing’s designated Technicolor extravaganza of the year. The singer was a huge draw in the 1940s no matter if the subject was a large- or small-scale production. The movie also earned Director Tay Garnett a shot at a nonexclusive contract with Paramount, which he regrettably turned down.

     I have never been a huge fan of subject matter that occurs before 1880, so perhaps the medieval theme deterred my fascination with A Connecticut Yankee. Perchance it was the song selection, which I found a bit dull and arbitrarily sprinkled throughout the story. Maybe the story was just a bit too haphazard to maintain my attention. Regardless the reason, I found myself disappointed.

     Crosby plays a 1905 blacksmith/auto mechanic who recounts the story in flashback. Somehow while in his home state of Connecticut, a lightning storm knocks him from a horse and leaves him unconscious only to wake to a Camelot knight poking him in the chest with a lance. Crosby’s Hank takes little convincing to believe he truly has been transported to 528 A.D. England, and the stranger is whisked to the presence of an aging and ailing King Arthur (Sir Cedric Hardwicke). The knight who has captured Hank, Sir Sagramore (William Bendix), tells a tall tale of how the beast transformed from ogre to dragon to his current form, and Arthur declares Hank must be burned at the stake. Just before his intended demise, however, Hank uses the glass from his pocket watch to ignite a bit of paper, convincing all, including Merlin, that he is a sorcerer, thus securing his freedom. Having hence been knighted, Hank mingles with the “people of quality” in the castle and courts Rhonda Fleming‘s Alisande, who happens to be betrothed to Sir Lancelot. Merlin, an evil character, sends for Lancelot when he sees the couple kissing to ensure a hasty end to Hank’s visit.

     Lancelot engages Hank in a joust, but knowing he can either run away as a coward or die as a hero, Hank opts to clamor unarmed onto a smaller horse (the one that traveled with him from Connecticut) and out maneuver the iron clad knight. He lassoes the man and makes a fool of him, which only drives Alisande into her fiancée’s arms. Next, an experience with a poor family who has seen naught but the ill favor of the throne inspires Hank to ask King Arthur on a common-man’s journey to London. Dressing as vagabonds, Hank, Arthur and Sagramore (who has been Hank’s servant) wander about while Merlin plans their end. The trio is captured, sold as slaves, escapes and faces beheading before Hank can use a solar eclipse –described in the modern almanac he carries– to convince the spectators of the group’s true identities.

     We are given no explanation as to how Hank happens to return to his home time, but one has to question why Hank made no effort whatsoever to find a way back. He seemed utterly content to act as a blacksmith and inventor thousands of years before his correct era. I found the story line to be a bit fragmented also. Besides the romance plot between Hank and Alisande, the modern man’s adventures are rather scattered and unconnected. If one ascribes to the theories of time travel that suggest any change in the past will forever alter the future, Hank sure is screwing things up. He “invents” a safety pin and pistol, alters Arthur’s role as king and introduces scandalous dance moves and music to the medieval people.

     The story is based on the Mark Twain novel, but being ignorant of that work I cannot offer a comparison of the drama. The book must have been popular as movie versions were make several times, with this being the musical adaptation.

Source: Robert Osborne


Hitchcock Blogathon #6: Lifeboat

Ring a Ding Ding

Lifeboat (1944)

     I recal when the contemporary Phone Booth came out a few years ago, many viewers complained that the entire movie takes place in that dang phone booth. Jump back about 60 years and Hitchcock gave us a masterpiece that persists entirely in a Lifeboat.

     Starting after an explosion when a ship and U-boat sink each other, we meet the various characters as they clamor into a lifeboat. The 10 characters represent all walks of life. From a glamorous reporter in Tallulah Bankhead, to a distraught mother whose baby dies, a sailor with a gangrenous leg, and a Nazi soldier. The German character presents the conflict in the story as the other passengers are unsure if he can be trusted. Indeed, he is hiding a flask of water and compass and will lead the boat towards a Nazi vessel. The characters are all very different, and what starts out as a good-natured jaunt turns into tense hatred among the characters as rations dwindle and exhaustion sets in.

     The story is credited to John Steinbeck who wrote a novelette for Hitchcock of which the director was not too fond. Like most Hitchcock films, the story would be worked on my multiple parties but only one or two would be credited on screen. In this case, Steinbeck got the billing even though studio writer Jo Swerling wrote the screenplay, relying minimally on the novelette. After a year of writing and casting, trouble started with the Office of War Information. Officials said the story offered the depiction of Americans the Nazi propagandists like to promote and the German character is the only hero. Yet somehow Hitchcock’s script survived and was nominated for Best Screenplay (in addition to Best Cinematography and Best Director).

     Bankhead, who was famous for her stage work but had done notoriously poor in films, was Hitchcock’s ideal actress for the role of Connie Porter. The character was developed with bits of Bankhead’s personality, although not the part the cast and crew saw on the set. Apparently adverse to undergarments, Bankhead often lifted her skirt or spread her legs on screen and off, disconcerting crew members and cameramen. Hitchcock’s response to complaints was: “This is not for me to handle. We shall call the hairdresser.”

The MacGuffin: Given the entire motivation of the story is survival, there is no MacGuffin propelling the plot.

Where’s Hitch? With the action confined to a boat, Hitchcock clearly could not just walk by to make his cameo appearance. Instead, he appears in an ad for a weight-loss product, complete with before and after shots of the director who around the time had lost significant weight.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

I will be posting reviews of Hitchcock movies every hour ending at 8 p.m. today, but other members of the Classic Movie Blog Association, which is hosting the blogathon, have plenty to offer also. Links to their articles is up at the CMBA site. Check them out!

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