A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT / CERT: NA / DIRECTOR: TAY GARNETT / SCREENPLAY: EDMUND BELOIN / STARRING: BING CROSBY, RHONDA FLEMING, SIR CEDRICK HARDWICK, WILLIAM BENDIX, MERVYN VYE, VIRGINIA FIELD / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (AUS)
Legendary crooner Bing Crosby takes the lead role of ‘Connecticut Yankee’ Hank Martin who is inadvertently knocked unconscious only to awake and find himself somehow transported back to 16th Century Camelot in this lively, colourful and still-engaging 1949 musical version of Mark Twain’s classic 1899 novel.
Bright, breezy and vibrant, this handsome production tells the story of a likeable, laidback mechanic Hank Martin (renamed from the Morgan of Twain’s novel) who receives a blow to the head and is somehow thrown back to olde worlde England. Don’t expect any exploration of time paradox or timey-wimey nonsense here (even the implications of the grandfather paradox don’t get a look in!) - this is pure, unassuming and unpretentious family fantasy.
Hank accepts his new situation with remarkable alacrity and a notable lack of consternation, setting about convincing the court at Camelot, with the help of his 20th century wiles and technology, that he is, in fact, a powerful and formidable wizard. Inevitably – this is a romantic fantasy, of course – Hank takes a shine to the incandescent Alisandre la Carteloise (Fleming) but incurs the hatred of faux wizard Merlin (Vye) and the scheming Morgan le Fay (Field). Hank tries to persuade the ageing, sniffly King Arthur (Hardwicke, who also plays equally-sniffly 20th century castle owner Lord Pendragon) to tour his kingdom so he can witness first-hand the wretched conditions endured by his subjects. But, of course, the wily Merlin and Morgan have their own plan to usurp the throne from the ailing King...
Largely eschewing the satire and allegory of Twain’s original novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is a wonderfully creaky cinematic period piece, an ambitious if lightweight production powered by Crosby’s effortless easygoing charm. The film’s 16th century is a shameless Hollywood affectation of broad slapstick, extremely mild peril and a few broad Musical Hall-era performances. The film is sold as a musical but the songs aren’t exactly earworms, with only “Busy Doing Nothing” standing the test of time despite a rather lacklustre staging which belies its jauntiness.
Poor Hank is flung back to the 20th century when he’s again knocked out as he tries to put a stop to Merlin and le Fay’s schemes and is bereft at losing the love of his life. But, of course, there’s a happy ending when Lord Pendragon comes to the rescue and points him in the direction of his niece who bears a remarkable – if unlikely – resemblance to Hank’s historical hottie. Fun and frothy but ultimately slightly forgettable, this new Region 4 DVD (a UK release is still available in a Crosby boxset) is worth tracking down if you’ve a hankering for Hollywood’s golden days of uplifting, lavish and charmingly-naive musical fantasies.