A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
R0 - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (24th May 2020).
The Film

"A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" (1949)

The year is 1912 and Hank Martin (played by Bing Crosby) is a small town blacksmith and mechanic in Connecticut who is well loved by the community. One night during a thunderstorm, he is knocked out and strangely awakens in the year 528, across the Atlantic Ocean in Camelot. King Arthur (played by Cedric Harwicke) reigns over the land and the modern era American is quickly taken as prisoner by Sir Sagramore (played by William Bendix). Close to being executed, Hank uses his knowledge of science and technology to prove his usefulness to the kingdom, therefore being granted clemency. But this angers Merlin (played by Murvyn Vye) who sees Hank as a rival to his closeness to the King... Will Hank be able to survive in the different era and how will he be able to find his way back to his correct time?

Mark Twain's beloved classic story has had quite a few adaptations for the screen since its publication in 1889. The first was the 1921 silent film by Fox which had the modern setting as 1921. Fox studios remade the film in 1931 as a talkie, starring Will Rogers) in the lead. The 1949 Paramount production was the first to be shot in Technicolor, and adding a musical component fitting for the star, singer and actor Bing Crosby. There was a musical stage version by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart produced in 1927 but the film version did not use that version as the basis for their film version. Besides turning the story into a musical, there were a few other differences in comparison to the source material. Hank Morgan was for some reason renamed Hank Martin. In the film there are bookends of Hank speaking to Lord Pendragon in modern times as he details his ordeal of traveling back in time, revealing from the start that he is able to return to his time period. As the film version has Hank being a man from 1912, he is shown repairing an automobile at the start - something that had not yet been invented when the book was first published. The original story has Hank living for a few years in King Arthur's time, while in the film it has been significantly shortened, so Hank's marriage to Alisande (played by Rhonda Fleming) left out, though a romantic link between them is still in the 1949 film. The original story never explained the sudden jump in time and the film does the same. It may fall in the science fiction category for having a time travel story, but Twain's story was more of a satire on modern day in comparison to the past, with emphasis on the importance of the reality of science against the period setting's reliance on divine nature. The film version may hint at these points, but it is buried under the costume spectacle and the comedy of seeing a modern man in the past and how he can intrigue and also fool the ancient people.

Directed by veteran Hollywood director Tay Garnet from a screenplay adapted by Edmund Beloin, "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" doesn't particularly break new ground in terms of filmmaking or storytelling. The dialogue is stilted for many of the characters giving them a "ye old fashioned" tone with accompanying costumes from the Paramount studios wardrobe department looking sharp and beautiful as expected from a film made in this time period, designed by Mary Kay Dodson and Edith Head. Crosby has most of the natural sounding dialogue coming from the modern period, using terms and phrases that would have been lost in King Arthur's time period but still understandable to twenty-first century film audiences. Charming as usual without a flaw to his character, he is adept in fixing and building with his blacksmith skills, smart with his wits and knowledgeable with an almanac in his pocket, and also one with a lovely singing voice with musical sense. Basically the character of perfection and one people could only dream of becoming. William Bendix as Sir Sagramore is on a miscast side, with the American actor not even attempting to do an English or period accent in his role, and mostly there for comic relief that don't work half of the time. When one is watching a Bing Crosby film, they would expect a great amount of songs in the picture. But unfortunately there are only five musical sequences in the entire film and they are not the grandest of all, with more emphasis on the singing, rather than dazzling visuals of dancing and choreography seen in musicals of the period. For positive notes, there are some great classics within, such as "If You Stub Your Toe on the Moon" and "Once and for Always" sounding fun and beautiful as expected.

"A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York on April 7, 1949 and had a general theatrical release from April 22, 1949 in the United States. One musical sequence, "Twixt Myself and Me" performed by Murvyn Vye was deleted after the premiere and is sadly now considered a lost deleted scene. Crosby's performance was praised, but the film itself received mixed reactions, from its inconsistent tone and fairly average scenario and adaptation. The $3.4 million budgeted film only grossed $3 million in its theatrical run and considered a flop. "If You Stub Your Toe on the Moon" was expected to be a hit on the radio but the song also did not hit with the charts either. The film could not find an audience in the masses, but it still lives up to be a fun and innocent film, filled with wonderfully colored imagery, great musical segments, and some memorable sequences like the duel and the solar eclipse. In the digital age, the film was first issued on DVD in the Bing Crosby Double Feature with 1948's "The Emperor Waltz" by Universal, who owns the rights to the Paramount library of the era. It was later reissued in the 11 film Bing Crosby The Silver Screen Collection - 1940s and the 24 film Bing Crosby The Silver Screen Collection by Universal. Umbrella Entertainment has now reissued it as a standalone DVD in Australia.

Note this is a region 0 NTSC DVD

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio (non-anamorphic) in the NTSC format. The film opens with an early 2000s Universal logo. The opening credits are slightly windowboxed while the rest of the film is in the fullframe without black bars in the 1.33:1 box. The Technicolor image has seen better days but it actually looks fairly good. Colors are separated correctly, damage and debris are in very few moments signifying a cleaning and remastering. Detail is also quite good with the costume patterns. On the other hand, faces are a little too strong on the pink side and colors such as blues and darker tones seem a little faded. The film would strongly benefit from a full restoration, but hopefully in the future Universal will give more love to the vast Crosby films in their library.

The film's runtime is 106:51.



















Audio

English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
While the image is fairly good, the original mono audio is sometimes problematic. On the positive side, music, effects, vocals, and dialogue are all fairly clear with conversations being understandable. Sadly there is a consistent hiss during the film from start to finish and the remastering seemingly couldn't remove it. Also considering it is a mono film from the late 40s, there are the obviously fidelity issues to be found.

There are no subtitles available for the feature.

Extras

Sadly no extras are available on the disc. For the US DVDs there is a theatrical trailer, but that has not been ported here.

A clip of the film has been embedded below, courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment

Packaging

The package claims "region 4" only but it is in fact a region 0 disc.

Overall

"A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" is a timeless tale about time travel, and while this Bing Crosby starring production may not be the best version of it, it includes some great musical sequences and the always indelible Crosby is a wonder to see and hear. The Umbrella Entertainment DVD has a good transfer in video and a slightly hissy audio track, but the film is still worth checking out.

The Film: B- Video: B Audio: C+ Extras: F- Overall: C+

 


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