One of my all-time favourite films which I have loved since I first saw it well over forty years ago. The best film by director Philippe de Broca whose previous hits included Cartouche and That Man From Rio, The King Of Hearts is more whimsical than those other films but just as charming and amusing in a very French way. Its anti-war message, so popular in the 1960s, is quite obvious but The King Of Hearts is much more than that. If nothing else, it can be enjoyed for its slightly surreal visual style and engaging performances.
Not a big hit in France when it was first released, The King Of Hearts soon acquired cult status in other parts of the world, running for years at one theatre in the United States. The premise is simple - in the dying days of World War One, the Germans are about to retreat from a small French town as the British approach. But before they go, the Germans mine the town to explode. The residents find out and run for their lives, leaving behind the forgotten inmates of the local insane asylum. The inmates get out and take over the town, each assuming a particular role ranging from prostitute to duke, and create their own little utopia, blissfully unaware of the war raging around them. Hearing about the booby trap, the British colonel sends a lone soldier into the town to defuse the device. The lunatics mistakenly think he is one them and declare him to be their king.
The King Of Hearts is one of those films in which what happens is not always as important as the way it happens. There is a beautiful sequence in which, one by one, the inmates discover and adopt their new stations in life, the transformation of Micheline Presle from drudge to bordello madam being especially remarkable.Read more ›
I first saw this film in Canada at a drive in movie and i loved it. I tell all my friends all about this movie but because no one has ever heared of it they think im nuts and have inmagined it. Its a great movie and it should be seen by everyone. Since seeing this movie i ask but just one question, WHO ARE THE REAL SANE PEOPLE OF THIS WORLD? Cant wait for it to be back in print. JET
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From the very beginning this film draws you into the story with ease. A small town is occupied by the Nazis. The allies are about to liberate it so the Nazis boobytrap the town square, causing all the residents to flee. Our reluctant hero is sent in by the allies to find out more, only to discover the lunatic asylum is all that's left. What really makes this film stand out are the performances from the childlike lunatics taking over the town. There are quite a few bellylaughs in this film and it doesn't drag anywhere. Very pleasant film to pass the time.
A fairy tale set in a French town caught between the opposing armies of the First World War, "King of Hearts" has lost none of its beguiling charm in the 35 years since its original release, nor has its message grown stale. Alan Bates shines as Charles Plumpick, a simple private in a Scottish regiment and perhaps the only sane man in the abandoned town. But is his world of war and brutality really any saner than the make-believe world conjured up by the escaped inmates of the town lunatic asylum, the only residents Private Plumpick encounters during his reconaissance? It is a point of view that depends entirely on one's perspective. This whimsical, gentle tale challenges the watcher to reexamine what constitutes true madness, just as the asylum characters force Pvt. Plumpick, having been to his initial discomfort acclaimed as the King of Hearts, to choose which role he prefers: king of the fools or fool for King George V? Broca directs his own screenplay with a deft touch and using a stellar cast of mostly French actors. A very young Genevieve Bujold makes one of her earliest appearances in a major picture. The English subtitles aren't the best I've seen (and unlike the VHS version, are distractingly present even during English dialogue), but far better than the awful English-dubbed version of "King of Hearts" that is sometimes broadcast or sold. (The best subtitles I have ever seen were on a print that circulated around theatres during the 1970s and 1980s, but I've never seen this version used for home video.) The score by Georges Delerue is one of his best. Quelle Surprise! This DVD version has, without fanfare, at least two entirely new scenes in the film that I have never seen before (and I first saw this in 1977). The first is a lengthier "homily" by Monseigneur Marguerite (aka Bishop Daisy) in the church before Charles' coronation. But the real grabber is an added scene at the very end of the movie that offers a parting glance at the primary players and a final bittersweet twist. Where on earth did this footage come from, and why has it been missing from this film for so long? Does this DVD version offer a "better" ending than the familiar one? It's debateable. But it's certainly intriguing.
48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Charming Comedy - With a Message21 Nov. 2000
- Published on Amazon.com
Near the end of the First World War, Charles Plumpick is dispatched to a French town that has been wired to explode by midnight. His mission is to defuse the explosives. Never mind that he is an expert at raising and training carrier pigeons. He dutifully sets out on his mission, and avoids capture by the Germans by escaping into an insane asylum. By now, we're all familiar with the idea that war is itself insane. We've all been exposed to the idea that insanity may be a higher form of sanity. What's magical about this film is that it communicates these ideas with such charm and such finesse. I can't imagine that anybody could avoid falling in love with the inmates as they take over the town once it's abandoned. Alan Bates is superb as the gentle yet dutiful Plumpick. A very young Genevieve Bujold is absolutely wonderful as the innocent Coquelicot. I rarely notice the music in a film, but in The King of Hearts it plays a pivotal role in establishing the mood, and accompanying the action. It is also fine music in its own right. This could have been an earnest anti-war film heavy-handedly stating its moral (remember the movie made of Catch-22?). The direction, the music, and the performances of all the actors (Alan Bates and Genevieve Bujold are the only names that I recognize, but there isn't a weak performance here), though, lift this far above that level and make it a masterpiece that has stood the test of time well.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Biting and witty satire29 April 2005
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I have to admit that for someone who is normally not much of a movie enthusiast this is one of my all time favorite films. The film is a darkly satiric comedy that pokes fun at the absurdity and futility of war. When a group of inmates from a local insane asylum escape during the chaos and confusion into the abandoned French town, the stage is set to ironically contrast the insanity of war brought by supposedly sane people with the harmless behavior of the supposedly insane inmates who are acting out the roles of normal town citizens. And yet it is the innocuous and inoffensive inmates who are caged and ostensibly sane people are making war and running around free.
The inmates wander into the town and assume various roles, from the barber to the mayor. The inmates do this so convincingly that the young corporal who is sent to warn them of the approaching Germans at first can't tell the difference, which becomes a metaphor for the real question in the move, which is, who is really crazier: the inmates, or the "normal" people and soldiers fighting the war?
Unfortunately, the young corporal is unable to avert the confrontation between the British and German companies who march into town, and when the other British troops arrive, the inmates realize it's time for them to go back to their former home in the asylum.
I didn't know most of the cast, except for Adolpho Celi (I recognized him as the heavy from an early Jame Bond movie), Alan Bates and Genevieve Bujold, but I thought all the performances were superb, especially Jean-Claude Brialy, who played the mayer, Pierre Brasseur, who played General Geranium, and the barber (unfortunately I don't recall his real name. Overall, a great movie and a brilliantly witty satire and stinging indictment of the futility and absurdity of war.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
"We Have Decided To Be Happy, And There Is No Stopping Us"24 Nov. 2006
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"We have decided to be happy, and there is no stopping us." So says Bishop Daisy.
When Alan Bates tells an impossibly young Genevieve Bujold, (divine sylph in yellow ballerina finery), that they have only three minutes to live, her response is, "That's great! Such a long time."
King Of Hearts has a whimsical way of tossing cherished assumptions into a cocked hat that succeeds brilliantly. This treasure has only gotten better with time; it delights the eye, the ear, the mind, the funny bone, and the heart.
One could easily enjoy KOH with the sound off, no small French village has ever looked more picturesque, or been populated by more visually appealing citizens. Fellini admirers will find the surrealistic parades familiar; they dance on the surface of reality like bubbles in the sun. Director Philippe de Broca created these film paintings without irony; their fragile magic is simply superimposed on top of the dumb, grim, WWI setting.
Factoring in the superb Georges Delerue score gives you a long succession of movie moments that are poignant at least, and sometimes truly haunting in their beauty. Alan Bates carries the film with a seemingly effortless performance; he makes the familiar look ludicrous and the bizarre seem totally reasonable. On many levels this is a very silly movie that never could work without such a reasoned, level performance.
KOH has really been damaged by over-analysis. It is an enchanting, light-hearted comedy that casts a very particular spell. It is not a daring, bare-knuckled indictment of war, (although it would be hard to miss its anti-war position). It is also not a manifesto proclaiming the wisdom inherent in mental illness. This said, KOH does invite viewers to ask - Who is more crazy, people who shoot each other or people who dress up and play pretend?
In the real world, mental illness isn't adorable. There aren't costumes and parades. There is only pain. In the real world, war is not always moronic and pointless; there is also nobility and valor. But that's the real world; KOH is a movie, an exquisite movie.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Incredible movie, poor DVD version8 Dec. 2009
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This has always been one of my favorite movies, and I reluctantly shelled out big bucks to get a copy of the discontinued DVD version. Everything about it is GREAT, absolutely perfectly transferred, but the SUBTITLES were CHANGED in a number of scenes from the original theatrical & VHS release subtitles. The unpleasant result is less humor & less unique character development in several instances. It really detracted from my enjoyment of the film. Anyone who has been a repeated viewer of this movie should notice this, yet I haven't seen it mentioned in any reviews. Also translating Cocliquot's name (sorry about misspelling) to POPPY seems almost tacky to me. Finally, I could have done without the additional 57 second final scene inside the asylum; TKOH is an ANTI-WAR FABLE; the original ending (which I saw in theatres 30-odd years ago)of Bates naked at the gate is both appropriate & metaphorically in line with the message of the movie. Presentation of his actual life inside the asylum is absurd & off the track. Still, apparently De Broca kept this scene (although not in theatrical release) so DVD is worth having in order to have it, if you are a die-hard fan. Get the 1990 VHS release is my recommendation for a duplication of the original theatrical experience.