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 him...as Grand Constable of France! But there's a catch... Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This is a legendary story about François Villon, the mediaeval French poet and adventurer probably best known in English for his line, « Mais où sont les neiges d'antan? » / "But where are the snows of yesteryear?" Some may recognize the line from Joseph Heller's Catch-22 take-off, "Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?"
As I first began watching this, my immediate reaction was, "What an obvious attempt to cash in on The Hunchback of Notre Dame!", the film whose look and feel most closely resemble this one. But my chronology was backwards. The Laughton Hunchback is 1939. If you have ever seen the Chaney Hunchback from 1923, you may have been struck by how different many of the characterizations are from the more familiar version, especially that of the King. The 1923 French King is a nasty piece of work, just the sort of thinly disguised Napoleon III that Victor Hugo would conceive of. So where did the doddering but dear-hearted 1939 King played by sweet old Harry Davenport come from then? Well, that's easy. From Basil Rathbone's King in this film. They even look the same!
Rathbone, by the way, is completely unrecognizable. If he's played an impish character elsewhere, I've never seen it. He gets most of Preston Sturges's best and most typical lines of dialogue.
Sturges is the reason I was watching the film in the first place. Telltale signs are everywhere in the script, but we definitely do not get effervescent dialogue issuing forth from every mouth the way we expect from the later, classic Sturges films.
I am not a great fan of Ronald Colman ordinarily but he brings a lot of spirit to his part, even if he doesn't have quite the dash of an Errol Flynn. But he does have a lot to do with this film's overall success.
Frances Dee demonstrates once again that she is quite probably the best-looking American actress of the 1930's, although she has all the acting prowess of an Andie MacDowell. (If you insist on talent with your set decoration, then you probably would have preferred to see Paulette Goddard playing the part of the lady-in-waiting who catches Villon's eye.)
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