If I Were King

If I Were King

1938 US Theatrical Poster
Directed by Frank Lloyd
Produced by Frank Lloyd
Written by Justin Huntly McCarthy
(novel & play)
Preston Sturges
Starring Ronald Colman
Basil Rathbone
Frances Dee
Music by Richard Hageman
Milan Roder
Cinematography Theodor Sparkuhl
Edited by Hugh Bennett
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • November 11, 1938 (1938-11-11)
Running time
101 minutes
Country United States
Language English

If I Were King is a 1938 American biographical historical drama film starring Ronald Colman as medieval poet François Villon, and featuring Basil Rathbone and Frances Dee. It is based on the 1901 play and novel, both of the same name, by Justin Huntly McCarthy, and was directed by Frank Lloyd, with a screenplay adaptation by Preston Sturges.


King Louis XI of France (Basil Rathbone) is in desperate straits. He is besieged in Paris by the Burgundians and suspects that there is a traitor in his court. He goes in disguise to a tavern to see who accepts a message from the enemy. While there, he is amused by the antics of poet François Villon (Ronald Colman), who has stolen food from the royal storehouse. The rascal criticizes the king and brags about how much better he would do if he were in Louis' place.

The traitor is revealed to be Grand Constable D'Aussigny (John Miljan), but before he can be arrested, the turncoat is killed in a brawl by Villon. As a jest, Louis rewards Villon by making him the new Constable, though the king secretly intends to have him executed after a week.

His low-born origin kept a secret, Villon falls in love with lady-in-waiting Katherine DeVaucelles (Frances Dee) and she with him. Then Louis informs Villon about his grim fate. Villon escapes, but when the Burgundians break down the city gates, he rallies the common people in routing them and lifting the siege. Having had to put up with Villon's impudence and wanting less aggravation in his life, Louis decides to permanently exile him from Paris. Villon leaves on foot, with Katherine following at a discreet distance in her carriage (which is more of a sedan chair carried between two mounted horses).


Darryl Hickman made his film debut in this film in the uncredited role of a child.


Henry Wilcoxon, Colin Tapley, and C.V. France in If I Were King (1938)

Nine months in France were required to prepare for If I Were King, and the French government cooperated by allowing a replica to be made of the Louvre Palace throne.[2]

Whether Preston Sturges, who at the time was Paramount's top writer,[3] had a collaborator in writing the script is unclear: some early drafts have the name "Jackson" on them as well as Sturges', but the identity of "Jackson" has not been determined. In any event, Sturges finished a draft by February 1938.[2] The final screenplay included Sturges' own original translations of some of Villon's poems.[4]

The film was in production from 12 May to mid-July 1938.[5] Ralph Faulkner, who played a watchman, acted as stunt coordinator and coached the actors on swordplay, and about 900 extras were used for the battle scenes, one of which was cut by the director after the film had opened.[2][3] The film was marketed with the tagline: "His Love-Making was as Dangerous as His Sword-Play".[6]


If I Were King was nominated for four Academy Awards:[7][8]

Hans Drier was also nominated for an Academy Award for his work on the 1930 film The Vagabond King, which was a musical version of the same story.[9]

Other versions

McCarthy's play premiered on Broadway in 1901 and was revived five times up through 1916.[10] It was first adapted in 1920 as a silent film.[1]

In 1925, composer Rudolf Friml and librettists Brian Hooker and W.H. Post turned it into a successful Broadway operetta, The Vagabond King, which featured the songs "Only a Rose", "Some Day", and "Song of the Vagabonds".[11] The operetta was filmed twice - in 1930, starring Jeanette MacDonald and Dennis King[9] and in 1956, directed by Michael Curtiz.[12] Both film versions used only a little of Friml's original score.

The François Villon story was also filmed in 1927 under the title The Beloved Rogue, with John Barrymore in the lead role.[13]

The film was adapted as a radio play on Lux Radio Theater October 16, 1939 with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.. Academy Award Theater adapted it on May 11, 1946 with Colman reprising his part.

There is no connection, apart from the title, between the story and the comic opera by Adolphe Adam called "Si j'étais roi" (English: If I Were King).


External links

Streaming audio

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