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Mark Twain would have approved.

Author: F Gwynplaine MacIntyre from Minffordd, North Wales
12 July 2002

Harry C. Myers is now remembered only for his role as the drunken millionaire in Chaplin's "City Lights". (Coincidentally, Myers and Chaplin both died on Christmas Day, although in different decades.)

Although never quite a star, Myers was an actor of great skill who played major supporting roles in several silent comedies ... most notably as the villain in "Exit Smiling", the movie that was supposed to ignite Bea Lillie's career. Between his supporting roles, Myers starred in the 1921 film "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court". I was able to screen an archive copy of this film which had three reels missing.

This film bears a weird relationship to Mark Twain's novel (which was plagiarised from an earlier novel titled "The Fortunate Island"). Myers does not play Hank Morgan, the artisan hero of Twain's novel. Instead, Myers is cast as Martin Cavendish, a jazz-age bachelor of 1921 who happens to read Twain's novel just before he gets hit over the head by a burglar.

Naturally, he wakes up in Arthurian England. Because Cavendish has read Twain's book, he knows what he's "supposed" to do ... and, sure enough, he soon sets about remaking sixth-century England to resemble jazz-age California. The knights wear suits of armour equipped with Prohibition-style hip flasks, and - instead of riding horses - they ride motorcycles. (In Twain's book, the knights rode bicycles.)

Eventually, our hero wakes up in the present again, and he promptly elopes with his mother's secretary ... an attractive damsel who resembles the lady Melisande of King Arthur's court.

Myers's on-screen character resembled that of Raymond Griffith: dapper and resourceful, unflappable in dangerous situations. This film has a large budget, and it shows up on screen in the magnificent sets and costumes. (Historical accuracy be damned.) Especially funny is the climactic scene, featuring more than two hundred knights riding to the rescue in full armour, all mounted on motorcycles: this film uses even more motorcyclists than Raymond Griffith's film "Paths to Paradise".

Myers gets good support from Rosemary Theby, a very thin and plain-faced actress who usually played lacklustre roles (she played W.C. Fields's wife in "The Fatal Glass of Beer") but she's surprisingly sexy here as the villainous Queen Morgan le Fay. In real life, Theby was Myers's wife, and their on screen chemistry in this film is considerable.

Also well-cast is William V. Mong as Merlin the evil magician. Mong had starred in the title role of a previous film version of "A Connecticut Yankee" made way back in 1910, the year Mark Twain died. George Siegmann is good here as Sir Sagramore, although not as brilliant as William Bendix would be in the Bing Crosby remake of this film.

It's a shame that this film isn't better known. Based on the incomplete version I've screened, I'll rate it 7 points out of 10. The script takes considerable liberties with Twain's novel, but the movie is very much in Twain's comic spirit. Harry C. Myers shows real talent here, and it's a shame that he never became a comedy star.

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