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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I happened to see this episode of the "HISTORICAL MYSTERIES" series
narrated by Carey Wilson, because it was tacked into one of the middle
1950s "MGM ON PARADE" (1955) series, between a scene from "ANCHORS
AWEIGH (in black and white - but it was of Gene Kelly dancing with
Jerry the Mouse), and Dore Schary and Richard Brook telling George
Murphy about producing a buffalo stampede in the Badlands of South
Dakota, for the film THE LAST HUNT.
The "HISTORICAL MYSTERIES" series is of interest in dealing with stories of curiosity or interest that might not be brought to the screen as a full scale movie. One of these, THE MAN IN THE BARN, about whether John Wilkes Booth was killed in Garrett's Barn in April 1865 or escaped while another man died, I just described. It may be touched on in the upcoming Harrison Ford film MANHUNT about Booth's escape for two weeks following the assassination. The subject of this particular short was somewhat discussed when I reviewed the Louis Jourdan film DANGEROUS EXILE. This is about the ill-fated King Louis XVII of France: the lost "Dauphin" who probably died in 1795.
Recently the remains of the boy who died in the Temple were subject to DNA testing, and appears to be the remains of a Bourbon prince (but is it Louis XVII or an elder brother of his who died in 1789?). This short looks at one of the possible claimants for the title of "lost Dauphin".
Just like the list of suspects for "Jack the Ripper" runs the gamut of the obscure to the notorious to the famous, the list of potential dauphins is extensive. The chief candidate (not the one here) was Karl Naundorff, an inventor from Holland who certainly looked like Louis XVI, and came close to getting his claim recognized. But it wasn't recognized. There was also the so - called "Duc de Richemont" who had a following in France. The most famous was one John James Audubon, the great naturalist and artist. He was born in Haiti, and came to the U.S in the 1790s as a boy. As he grew up he hinted at a grand ancestry far beyond his Haitian parents. Probably he saw this as a type of easy publicity with perspective art buyers.
And then there is Rev. Eleazar Wheeler. This gentleman was of Native American ancestry, and became a preacher in the Midwest. According to the short, he is visited in the 1830s by Prince De Joinville, the son of the then reigning King Louis Philippe of France. De Joinville tells Wheeler that he is the actual Dauphin, and asks him to sign a document abdicating his rights to the throne. Wheeler refuses, and explains he has no intention of pressing any claim, but won't sign that document as he has no right to interfere with his son's rights - but he will train his son to only seek to be a good American citizen. Yet Wheeler writes a book a decade later that gives his so - called credentials as the dauphin. The surviving sister of the Dauphin, the Duchesse of Angouleme, asks De Joinville on her deathbed if Wheeler is telling the truth, and the Prince says it was the writings of a deranged man. And after hearing this, the Duchesse dies.
So we are asked if De Joinville told the dying Duchesse the truth, or if she was lied to for dynastic reasons. And that is how the episode ends.
Most historians would agree that Wheeler was an eccentric old man who thought he was the Dauphin, but was wrong. But what makes the story really hard to believe is De Joinville rushing to the deathbed of the Duchesse to tell her the truth about Wheeler. You see, De Joinville's father had become King of the French in 1830 when the Bourbon Restoration Monarchy of King Charles IX of France was toppled. The Duchesse was the daughter-in-law of King Charles, and his niece as well. She did not like the Orleans Monarchy. Why, on her deathbed (in 1844) would she have believed the heir to that throne that a pretender was a fraud and not her long lost brother? I find that hard to really believe at all.
The acting is passable in this short, but the key of the series was the odd story being told. The short ends with Wilson suggesting that some of the neighbors we have may be Wheeler's descendants, and may be the legitimate heirs of the throne of France.
King Without a Crown, The (1937)
*** (out of 4)
Another nice entry in MGM's "Historical Mysteries" series with Carey Wilson doing the narration and Tourneur behind the camera. This time out we hear the mystery surrounding the true identity of a preacher from Wisconsin who claimed to have been the lost Dauphin and perhaps should have been the King of France. The story goes back to Louis XVI and whether or not he died as a child or was snuck out of the prison he was in, taken to America and left there until he could go back to France and claim his crown. This series is one of my favorites and this here is yet another example of why the conspiracy theorist in me loves it so much. I hadn't really heard of the mystery here so I found the entire set up to be a rather interesting one. At the same time, I can't comment on how true the story was or where the truth actually lied. I will say that this short does a nice job at giving out the "evidence" surrounding this story and director Tourneur does a good job at bringing it to life. He made another film in this series, THE MAN IN THE BARN, about John Wilkes Booth, which is a lot better and certainly worth searching out but this too is good.
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