King of Hearts (1966) (NR)

Comedy 102 min. February 23, 2018
By Sam Weisberg
We need another movie about lovable loonies liberating martinets like we need a hole in our heads — think The Fisher King or, God help us, With Honors. But you’d be hard-pressed not to find yourself somewhat enchanted — if not exactly bowled over laughing — by Philippe de Broca’s wistful and whimsical 1966 World War I–set comedy King of Hearts.

This 4K restoration enhances the already bewitching greenery and tony cathedrals of Senlis, the lush French medieval village where King of Hearts was shot. It even brightens up the film’s loudest, happiest spectacle: Genevieve Bujold, dolled up from start to finish in a strangling yellow tutu, playing a virginal naif who thinks she’s a budding escort. Her incessant widened-eye twitches somehow never lose their fascination.

The story is a familiar comedy-of-errors conceit. A lowly Scottish soldier stationed in France (Alan Bates) is mistaken for a munitions expert, and sent to defuse a bomb placed by German troops in a clock tower. The town he’s assigned to has been abandoned, save for a group of newly freed mental patients, who impersonate circus performers, brothel matrons and foppish royalty. When he reports these activities to military personnel, his superiors consider him crazy. The inmates themselves, blissfully unaware of the war, do the same when he tries to warn them of the impending explosion.

De Broca relies too often on easy gags — sped-up tank chases, the mispronouncing of names — and an unendingly brash score of polkas and marches. But in casting Bates — of gritty kitchen-sink drama fame — gloriously against type, de Broca renders this character’s transformation from stodgy to manic a deliriously endearing affair.
Philippe de Broca Alan Bates, Pierre Brasseur, Jean-Claude Brialy, Geneviève Bujold, Micheline Presle, Michel Serrault, Julien Guiomar, Adolfo Celi, Jacques Balutin, Yves Robert Daniel Boulanger Philippe de Broca, Michelle de Broca Cohen Media

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