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If I Were King (1938)

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Vagabond poet François Villon rises to high office in 1463 Paris.


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Title: If I Were King (1938)

If I Were King (1938) on IMDb 7.5/10

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Nominated for 4 Oscars. See more awards »


Cast overview, first billed only:
Frances Dee ...
C.V. France ...
Father Villon
Captain of the Watch
Heather Thatcher ...
The Queen
Stanley Ridges ...
Bruce Lester ...
Noel de Jolys
Alma Lloyd ...
Walter Kingsford ...
Robin Turgis
Colin Tapley ...
Jehan Le Loup
Ralph Forbes ...
John Miljan ...


In 1463, Paris is besieged by the Duke of Burgundy, arch-rival of the king, who is content to sit tight while the poor starve. But there are traitors in Paris, and King Louis goes undercover to find one, thereby meeting Francois Villon, poet, philosopher and rogue. By chance Villon kills the king's traitor and is ordered to replace Grand Constable of France! But there's a catch... Written by Rod Crawford <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


His Love-Making was as Dangerous as His Sword-Play


Adventure | History


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Release Date:

11 November 1938 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

If I Were King  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


This film marked the second Oscar nomination that art director Hans Dreier received for working on the same story. He had been nominated for working on the 1930 film The Vagabond King (1930), which was a musical version of "If I Were King". See more »


Rene: Fine time to be writing poetry.
François Villon: What better time? If a man isn't inspired by his own death, he's beyond inspiration.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The opening credits are displayed on the roofs and outside walls of houses. See more »


Version of François Villon (1945) See more »

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User Reviews

Literate & Intelligent Entertainment
30 July 2002 | by (Forest Ranch, CA) – See all my reviews

A cunning king of France allows a rapscallion poet to become Lord High Chancellor - for the space of only one week...

IF I WERE KING is a fascinating film based on the fictionalized lives of two very real personages, Louis XI and François Villon. The performances are impeccable, Preston Sturges' script is literate and Paramount Studios provided excellent production values.

As Villon, Ronald Colman makes full use of his most magnificent talent

  • his beautiful speaking voice. Like honey flowing over velvet, it
caresses the dialogue & adds emotional heft to the lines of Villon's poetry used in the film. While perhaps a bit mature to swashbuckle altogether convincingly, he plays the lover very creditably in the romantic scenes.

Obviously determined not to acquiesce the entire film to Colman, Basil Rathbone is hilarious as King Louis. Gaunt, wizened & cackling like a crone, he effortlessly steals his every scene. Eschewing the use of his own superb speaking voice, Rathbone plays a character that will remind some viewers of the disguises the actor would use shortly as Sherlock Holmes. The sequences between Rathbone & Colman are very enjoyable, especially since in their only other joint appearance, A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1935), they had no scenes together.

The two women involved in Villon's life are portrayed by Frances Dee & Ellen Drew, one an aristocrat, the other a wench - lovely ladies both. Smaller roles are filled by fine character actors Henry Wilcoxon, Walter Kingsford, Sidney Toler, John Miljan & Montague Love. Way down the cast list is the always reliable Ralph Forbes, playing the king's toady.

Movie mavens will spot an uncredited Lionel Belmore playing the Chief Steward of the royal palace.


Fat & ugly, Louis XI (1423-1483) was nicknamed 'the Spider' as a grudging tribute to his remarkable skills at plotting & scheming. Although he showed talent in administration from an early age, he also was quite adept at angering his father, Charles VII, and ultimately had to take refuge at the Burgundian court until the time of his succession to the throne. Almost universally unpopular, he set up an elaborate spy network which kept him informed as to nearly all that went on in his kingdom. His overriding mission was to crush the power of the great nobles, especially Burgundy - now ruled by the successor to Louis' former protector - and this he was largely able to do, thanks to his policy of encouraging the minor nobles and the middle class. The might of the French crown was significantly strengthened during his despotic reign.

François Villon (1431-1463?) was both France's greatest lyric poet and a complete scoundrel & ruffian. Raised by a chaplain, Villon absorbed none of the virtues of the Church, consorting with the basest of companions and involving himself in numerous scrapes, misdeeds & robberies. His murder of a priest during a street brawl was but one of several outrages. Imprisoned many times both in Paris and other French municipalities, Villon was almost preternaturally fortunate in being able to take advantage of various pardons & amnesties - all undeserved. After one final clemency, he was banished from Paris for life - whereupon he completely disappears from the historical record.

Although stained by a most unsavory reputation, critics have long admired Villon's poetry and have extolled both the exquisite imagery of his tender verses and the unremitting detail in the poems describing his coarser experiences.

The bulk of the tale told in IF I WERE KING is a complete fantasy. There is no indication that Louis XI & Villon ever even met.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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