A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Comedy, Musical, Adventure | 106 mins | Released: 1949
Director: Tay Garnett
Starring: Bing Crosby, Rhonda Flemming, Cedrick Hardwicke, William Bendix, Murvyn Vye, Virginia Field, Joseph Vitale
Our Rating: 7
Hank Martin (Bing Crosby), an American mechanic, is knocked out and wakes up in the land of King Arthur. Here he finds romance with Alisande la Carteloise (Rhonda Fleming) and friendship with Sir Sagramore (William Bendix).
Unfortunately, the heroic Hank also incurs the hatred of both Merlin (Murvyn Vye) and Morgan le Fay (Virginia Field). While Hank persuades King Arthur (Cedric Hardwicke), an aged, semi-perpetual, cold-in-the-nose invalid, to tour his kingdom in disguise to see the true, wretched condition of his subjects, Merlin and Morgan plot to usurp his throne. When Hank tries to stop them, he is returned to his own time.
Heartsick over losing the woman he loves, he goes on a tour of a British castle. Its owner, Lord Pendragon (Hardwicke again), sends him to see his niece, who looks just like Alisande.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is a 1949 American musical comedy film directed by Tay Garnett and starring Bing Crosby, Rhonda Fleming, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, and William Bendix.
Based on the 1889 novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, the film is about a mechanic in 1912 who bumps his head and finds himself in Arthurian Britain in AD 528, where he is befriended by a knight and gains power by judicious use of technology. When he falls in love with the King’s niece, her fiancée Sir Lancelot takes exception, and when he meddles in the politics of the kingdom, trouble ensues.
Filmed in early 1948, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court was released April 22, 1949, distributed by Paramount Pictures. The film was a popular success and became one of the highlight films of 1949.
The film soundtrack was composed by Jimmy Van Heusen with lyrics by Johnny Burke. The orchestral score was written by longtime Paramount staff composer Victor Young, who also conducted the orchestra for many of Crosby’s Decca Records recordings.
“If You Stub Your Toe on the Moon” by Bing Crosby
“When Is Sometime” by Rhonda Fleming
“Once and for Always” by Bing Crosby and Rhonda Fleming
“Busy Doing Nothing” by Bing Crosby, William Bendix, and Cedric Hardwicke
“Once and for Always” (reprise) by Bing Crosby and Rhonda Fleming
“Twixt Myself and Me”
A highlight of the film is the scene in which Hank Martin teaches the court musicians how to “jazz up” the medieval music they are playing. Perhaps the best-known song from the score is “Busy Doing Nothing,” which Hank, Sir Sagramore and the King sing when they are strolling through the woods pretending to be peasants.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court was one of the highlight films of 1949. The film was nominated for AFI’s Top 10 Fantasy Films list.
Mark Twain got his idea for Hank Martin to use the eclipse for his benefit from Christopher Columbus. Columbus actually used an eclipse knowingly to perhaps alter history. Stranded in Jamaica in 1503, on his fourth voyage, Columbus and his crew were wearing out their welcome with the natives, who were feeding them. Columbus knew a lunar eclipse was coming, so he “predicted” the Moon’s disappearance. The natives begged him to bring it back and, of course, he did, in due time.
One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by MCA ever since.
The filmmakers couldn’t use the musical’s original score because it had already been purchased for use in Words and Music (1948), a Richard Rodgers tribute.
Deanna Durbin’, on the verge of retiring from the screen, turned down opportunities to costar with Bing Crosby in this film and his previous vehicle that year, Top o’ the Morning (1949).
It was hoped that the song “If You Stub Your Toe On The Moon” would be as big a hit as Bing’s previous hit “Swingin’ On A Star” but it never caught on and was never put out on records.
Crosby insisted that first-time Paramount contractee Rhonda Fleming share star billing with him because he was worried about carrying the sole weight for a film’s success or failure.
Gail Russell tested for the role of Alisande. Although the test itself doesn’t survive, photos of Russell’s test being filmed does.
In the long shot where Hank makes the sun “vanish” during an eclipse (a process shot), the sun is depicted as being covered by a black disk while the sky around it remains sky-blue; in reality, the sky would go dark, as if night had fallen.
In the joust between Hank and Lancelot, cranes are used to lift them to their horses. Those cranes – whose obvious purpose is to make Martin and Lancelot look utterly ridiculous – are copied from an scene in Olivier’s The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France, and are totally fictional; in reality, a full suit of armor did not weigh more than the full equipment of a modern day infantryman, and knights were drilled to be fully able to mount a horse without needing any silly mechanical aids.