King of Hearts is now open for discussion

Our October 2007 film selection, King of Hearts, is now open for discussion. Members who would like to Post an Official Commentary about this film are welcome to do so (Contact Ron or Roger if you would like to have posting privileges to this blogsite). Anyone, member or not, can place brief comments here by simply clicking on the comments button.


2 thoughts on “King of Hearts is now open for discussion

  1. KING OF HEARTS (1966)


    Writer/director Philippe de Broca, aka Phillipe Claude Alex de Broca de Furrussac, considered this film to be his “crowning achievement” –no pun intended. Not a prolific director, giving us small classics like CARTOUCHE (1962), and THAT MAN FROM RIO (1964), he labored over each film lovingly. Early on in his career he spent time as a AD for both Claude Chabrol and Francois Truffaut. He directed only 43 films from 1953-2004. A devout humorist, he appeared KING OF HEARTS (1966) in the cameo role of Corporal Adolf Hitler. A colorful human being, he was once married to Margot Kidder, and had a child with Marthe Keller.

    He released this film with unflinching accuracy right in the middle of America’s anti-war rallies and protests of the 60’s. It achieved an instant cult status. For several years in Seattle it rivaled the outrageous ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1970) as a popular midnight screening. In Cambridge, MA, it broke a world record for being shown on one screen for over five years.

    The music for the film was composed by Georges Delerue. A very prolific composer, he has written 339 film scores since 1950. J. Hoberman of THE VILLAGE VOICE wrote, “In KING OF HEARTS there is a lilting score by Georges Delerue that shamelessly pastiches his own music from JULES ET JIM (1962)”. He wrote the scores for a lot of very impressive films, like SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER (1960), PLAYTIME (1961), JULES AND JIM (1962), THAT MAN FROM RIO (1964), THE PUMPKIN EATER (1964), A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (1966), ANNE OF A THOUSAND DAYS (1969), THE CONFORMIST (1970), TWO ENGLISH GIRLS (1971), DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973), and JULIA (1977). If that were not impressive enough he also wrote the scores for SILKWOOD (1983), SALVADOR (1986), PLATOON (1986), and STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1984). He died in 1992. No doubt he is writing heavenly requiems as you read this.

    The beautiful cinematography, colorful and satiric tableau, was done by Pierre Lhomme. He shot 74 films since 1953. KING OF HEARTS was his twelfth project. He also lensed MAURICE (1987) CAMILLE CLAUDEL (1988), CYRANO DE BERGERAC (1990), and JEFFERSON IN PARIS (1995).

    We follow the zany WWI adventures of Scottish Private Charles Plumpick, an ornithologist mistaken for an ordinance expert, who was sent to French village on what was considered a suicide mission. It was nearing the end of the war, and as the German garrison prepared to leave the village, they wired up all of their excess bombs and explosives, cramming them into a huge concrete blockhouse erected in the town square. It stood under the church tower, with its statuesque clock complete with a mechanical armored knight who clicked out and pounded a bell with his battleaxe at midnight. The fiendish spiked-helmeted Hessians used this as a trigger for their planned Gaulish mini-apocalypse.

    The entire population of the town had evacuated, leaving the denizens of the insane asylum to wander freely in the streets, shops, and homes. At one point after Plumpick arrived in the village, while fleeing the Germans, he masqueraded as an inmate. He sat next to a house of cards. When challenged by the soldiers, the first inmate introduced himself as the Duke of Clubs. So naturally Plumpick decided that he would be the King of Hearts. The mad folk immediately accepted him as royalty, waving hankies out the barred windows as he fled.

    Racing about the streets like a rodent in a maze while endeavoring to evade the blood-thirsty Germans, Plumpick was knocked unconscious. Coming to he found himself wandering in a dazed dream of mirth and madness, for the inmates had assumed the identities of the missing populous—the cathouse was opened with aplomb and glee, one became the archbishop and another became the barber, and the shiny fire engine became a fun ride vehicle, with dozens of uniformed bogus fireman hanging from it. All the pouting, posing, prancing, postulating, pedantic raving and political machinations were accompanied by merrymaking music as some of them played fife, drum, and horns becoming a circus band. Each tableau and each little drama or comedic circumstance was underscored with carnivale tinkling as the masque’s players performed their chosen roles. We watched while the spirit of Jacques Tati and the circus of Fellini showered us with absurdity and symbolism.

    Alan Bates had fun playing Plumpick, a sad sack bird lover who was roped into an impossible mission, and emerged lunatic royalty and the better man for it. He had wonderful comedic timing and a very expressive face and body. He spoke like a musician playing a woodwind, with octaves and tones and intonations that were hard to describe and impossible to imitate. He was equally at home on the stage or on the screen. He always accepted the challenging roles, and never sold out accepting inferior roles just for the income; pay attention brilliant performing whore, Michael Caine. Bates did appear in 84 films from 1950-2004, spanning a 50 year career. In his final performance as Agrippa (the Charles Laughton part) in the TV remake of SPARTACUS (2004), he looked ill as he was fighting the pancreatic cancer that would kill him. No other actor showed such versatility, energy, and talent in the 1960’s outshining his peers Albert Finney, Robert Shaw, Oliver Reed, and Terence Stamp. He played Laurence’s Olivier’s son in THE ENTERTAINER (1960), and was beyond brilliant in THE CARETAKER (1963), ZORBA THE GREEK (1964), GEORGY GIRL (1966), KING OF HEARTS (1966), FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (1968), Ken Russell’s WOMEN IN LOVE (1969) –in which, along with co-star Oliver Reed was the first major male star to do full frontal nudity in a major motion picture, and then he went on to star in THE GO-BETWEEN (1970), AN UNMARRIED WOMAN (1978), THE ROSE (1979), VOYAGE AROUND MY FATHER (1982), with the ailing Olivier, Claudius to Mel Gibson’s HAMLET (1990), and Robert Altman’s GOSFORD PARK (2001).

    The young Genevieve Bujold played the loony ballerina, Poppy in KOH. She is French-Canadian, and was in Paris with a Montreal acting troupe, and she was cast in three big French films in 1966. LA GUERRE EST FINE, with Yves Montand, KING OF HEARTS, with Alan Bates, and Louis Malle’s LE VOLEUR. As the wannbe ballerina Poppy, she exhibited many of her trademark qualities, “a ferocious intensity along with a childlike vulnerability”. She was 24 years old. She made her Hollywood debut with Richard Burton in ANNE OF A THOUSAND DAYS (1969); garnering an Oscar nomination. She has appeared in 63 films since 1963. She began her education in a strict Catholic Convent School, but when caught reading a “forbidden novel”, she was expelled and found herself free and ready to express herself artistically. KING OF HEARTS was actually her ninth film, the first few being done in Quebec. She has always been a very talented and charismatic actress. I remember her vividly in THE TROJAN WOMEN (1971), with Irene Papas, COMA (1978), with Michael Douglas, MURDER BY DECREE (1979), with Christopher Plummer, TIGHTROPE (1984), directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, CHOOSE ME (1984), with Keith Carradine, TROUBLE IN MIND (1985), with Kris Kristofferson, THE MODERNS (1988), with John Lone, and David Cronenberg’s DEAD RINGERS (1988), with Jeremy Irons. In 1995, after just one day’s shooting, she walked off the set of STAR TREK: VOYAGER, and the plum role of Captain Kathryn Janeway went to Kate Mulgrew. The piece of video shot of Bujold is considered a hot collectable for Trek fans. It is included in the 2004 DVD release of the series first episode.

    In KING OF HEARTS, Adolfo Celi played Col. MacBibenbrook. It was an odd casting choice really to have this very Italian actor playing a Scotsman, attempting to speak French. He was very popular in Italy and Europe, having appeared in 102 films from 1946-1987. He was introduced to American audiences in 1965, appearing in three big Western films, THUNDERBALL, THE AGONY AND THE ECSTACY, and VON RYAN’S EXPRESS. In 1966 he did KING OF HEARTS, and GRAN PRIX. He then worked with Peter Sellers in THE BOBO (1967). One of his last English-speaking roles was in Frank Perry’s MONSIGNOR (1982), with Christopher Reeve and Genevieve Bujold. I loved the promo for the film, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I have killed for my country. I have stolen for my Church. I have loved a woman –and I am a priest.”

    Richard Lester in 1967 released HOW I WON THE WAR, with John Lennon and Michael Crawford, and he burlesqued WWII just as de Broca had done with WWI. KING OF HEARTS led the way into the appreciation of topical anti-war and anti-militarism prevalent during “The Summer of Love”. To some extant KOH helped with the acceptance and popularity of other anti-war films to come, like Mike Nichols’ CATCH-22 (1970, Kurt Vonnegut’s SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE (1972), and Robert Altman’s M.A.S.H. (1972). KOH also contributed to the sentimental treatment of mental illness. Other films of that genre included DAVID AND LISA (1962), LILITH (1964), Peter Brooks’ MARAT/SADE (1967), THE SWIMMER (1968), and Ken Kesey’s ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975), directed by Milos Forman.

    Death has no sting here amongst these Commedia pratfalls and fervent bits of satire –yet the message is clarion; war is the dominion of dunces, as the silly characters play dolts and the soldiers, German, British, and French are presented as caustic idiotic cardboard caricatures. Still at the close of the tale, as protagonist Plumpick chooses fantasy over reality, we have to seriously question who were, and are, truly the madmen.

    Glenn Buttkus 2007

  2. This was a period film for me in that I was of age when this film was released and was able to relate to it. I appreciated the use of the obsurd through out the film especially the crowning glory when at the end the star was force to enter the asylm for refuge from the “real” world.

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