If I Were King


Adventure / History

Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 75%
IMDb Rating 7.1 10 906

Plot summary

February 08, 2023 at 11:29 PM


Frank Lloyd

Top cast

Frances Dee as Katherine DeVaucelles
Basil Rathbone as Louis XI
Henry Brandon as Soldier
Ellen Drew as Huguette
720p.BLU 1080p.BLU
927.63 MB
English 2.0
24 fps
1 hr 40 min
P/S ...
1.68 GB
English 2.0
24 fps
1 hr 40 min
P/S ...

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by blanche-2 8 / 10

Entertaining story of Francois Villon and Louis XI

Ronald Colman gets his wish in "If I Were King," a 1938 film also starring Basil Rathbone and Francis Dee. Colman plays the vagabond poet Francois Villon, who is overheard by the disguised King (Basil Rathbone) criticizing His Highness and talking about what he would do if given the chance. He and his entire party are arrested, and Louis makes Villon the Lord High Chancellor. Villon gets to work immediately and elevates the king's reputation among the people. He opens up the stores of food at the palace and gives it to the citizens - they have no food because the city is being held by the Burgundians. The sentences he passes out to anyone arrested are merciful and fair. It seems as if he has succeeded. But what the King has failed to inform Villon is that he is only Chancellor for a week - and he has that week to convince the French army, who are refusing to fight the Burgundian army, to do so and win.

"If I Were King" is a great deal of fun, and Ronald Colman is delightful as Villon. But first, in response to a previous post, a word about accents. The previous poster asks if there was a vocal coach available, as there were people speaking in British and American accents - no French accents. Hollywood often confuses the accent issue of films set in foreign lands by casting one or two people who have some type of accent while the rest do not. The rule in acting is that no accent is necessary when doing a film or a play set in a foreign country. Why? Because the people of that country are not speaking English. They are speaking their own language. They are NOT walking around France speaking English with a French accent. This is why when actors perform Russian plays, or Hollywood did films set in Nazi Germany, Budapest, Spain or anywhere else, the actors did not have to use an accent of that country. An accent would only be necessary if a German were in America speaking English, for instance.

To get back to the cast, led by the wonderful Colman, Basil Rathbone is excellent as the hated Louis, and Frances Dee is lovely as Katherine de Vaucelles, who falls in love with the Lord High Chancellor.

Someone complained because Errol Flynn did not play this role. Flynn would have been marvelous, as he was a very charismatic actor, but I think Colman is marvelous. His Louis is not only energetic and charming, but highly intelligent, and Colman is able to shade the role in a way that Flynn, who tended to be much more superficial in his characterizations, could not.

An enchanting film, highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ron Oliver 10 / 10

Literate & Intelligent Entertainment

A cunning king of France allows a rapscallion poet to become Lord High Chancellor - for the space of only one week...

IF I WERE KING is a fascinating film based on the fictionalized lives of two very real personages, Louis XI and François Villon. The performances are impeccable, Preston Sturges' script is literate and Paramount Studios provided excellent production values.

As Villon, Ronald Colman makes full use of his most magnificent talent - his beautiful speaking voice. Like honey flowing over velvet, it caresses the dialogue & adds emotional heft to the lines of Villon's poetry used in the film. While perhaps a bit mature to swashbuckle altogether convincingly, he plays the lover very creditably in the romantic scenes.

Obviously determined not to acquiesce the entire film to Colman, Basil Rathbone is hilarious as King Louis. Gaunt, wizened & cackling like a crone, he effortlessly steals his every scene. Eschewing the use of his own superb speaking voice, Rathbone plays a character that will remind some viewers of the disguises the actor would use shortly as Sherlock Holmes. The sequences between Rathbone & Colman are very enjoyable, especially since in their only other joint appearance, A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1935), they had no scenes together.

The two women involved in Villon's life are portrayed by Frances Dee & Ellen Drew, one an aristocrat, the other a wench - lovely ladies both. Smaller roles are filled by fine character actors Henry Wilcoxon, Walter Kingsford, Sidney Toler, John Miljan & Montague Love. Way down the cast list is the always reliable Ralph Forbes, playing the king's toady.

Movie mavens will spot an uncredited Lionel Belmore playing the Chief Steward of the royal palace.


Fat & ugly, Louis XI (1423-1483) was nicknamed 'the Spider' as a grudging tribute to his remarkable skills at plotting & scheming. Although he showed talent in administration from an early age, he also was quite adept at angering his father, Charles VII, and ultimately had to take refuge at the Burgundian court until the time of his succession to the throne. Almost universally unpopular, he set up an elaborate spy network which kept him informed as to nearly all that went on in his kingdom. His overriding mission was to crush the power of the great nobles, especially Burgundy - now ruled by the successor to Louis' former protector - and this he was largely able to do, thanks to his policy of encouraging the minor nobles and the middle class. The might of the French crown was significantly strengthened during his despotic reign.

François Villon (1431-1463?) was both France's greatest lyric poet and a complete scoundrel & ruffian. Raised by a chaplain, Villon absorbed none of the virtues of the Church, consorting with the basest of companions and involving himself in numerous scrapes, misdeeds & robberies. His murder of a priest during a street brawl was but one of several outrages. Imprisoned many times both in Paris and other French municipalities, Villon was almost preternaturally fortunate in being able to take advantage of various pardons & amnesties - all undeserved. After one final clemency, he was banished from Paris for life - whereupon he completely disappears from the historical record.

Although stained by a most unsavory reputation, critics have long admired Villon's poetry and have extolled both the exquisite imagery of his tender verses and the unremitting detail in the poems describing his coarser experiences.

The bulk of the tale told in IF I WERE KING is a complete fantasy. There is no indication that Louis XI & Villon ever even met.

Reviewed by bkoganbing 9 / 10

Rousing the Rabble of Low Degree

Francois Villon, born 1431 was all that If I Were King makes him out to be. Poet, satirist, duelist, and consorter with the rabble of low degree as Brian Hooker's lyric from The Vagabond King, he was all this. His satire brought him some big time trouble, a death sentence. But a last minute commutation by the monarch he satirized, brought him banishment in 1463. Villon went so far into obscurity that we do not know when he died after leaving Paris.

From these facts Justin Huntly McCarthy wrote a popular romantic play that premiered in 1901 and was later made into an operetta with score by Rudolf Friml and Brian Hooker. McCarthy took into account the politics of the time in medieval France. Louis XI was only King for two years, ascending the throne in 1461. The monarchy after leading France to an ultimate victory in the Hundred Years War against the English, was leader of a shattered land with many of the lesser lords quite a bit more powerful than the king. Chief among these in France at the time was the Duke of Burgundy. Whoever held that title ruled an area about a third of modern day France.

It's those Burgundians who have Paris surrounded and are dictating terms to Louis XI when the story opens. Villon and his sidekicks have broken into one of the King's warehouses and helped themselves to some food. Taking it back to the tavern owned by Robin Turgis, Villon makes a few choice comments about Louis XI. Unbeknownst to him, Louis himself is there on a mission to ferret out a traitor among his counselors. The traitor turns out to be the Constable of Paris. When a fight breaks out, Villon kills the constable.

This puts Louis in a dilemma as he sees it. Villon has killed a traitor, but he's insulted the person of the king. Since Villon brags about how much better a job he can do, Louis makes him Constable of Paris and gives him a noble title.

No man on the silver screen ever spoke the King's English better than Ronald Colman. I could listen to that man recite the Yellow Pages. He's a perfect Villon.

Basil Rathbone was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1938 for Louis XI. Louis XI was known as the spider king because the man was the craftiest of schemers. He usually had about 5 or 6 options given any situation, most of us are lucky if we have one alternative. Dealing from weakness as he was, he had to be a man of cunning, guile, and deception.

Interesting talking about the King's English when dealing with a pair of figures from medieval France. But the contrast between the romantic Villon and the crafty Louis is what drives the film. That and the partnership of necessity they form and the later grudging respect they develop for each other. Colman and Rathbone have the classical training needed to make If I Were King work.

The two main female characters acquit themselves well. Frances Dee as noblewoman Katherine DeVaucelles and Ellen Drew as the tragic Huguette are just fine. And among the supporting cast, I particularly like Sidney Toler as tavern owner Turgis. It's quite a contrast from playing Charlie Chan.

For me watching If I Were King is like watching The Vagabond King without the music since I know where the songs go. It's like watching a production of Pygmalion after seeing My Fair Lady. You keep waiting for the songs to start.

Particularly I listen for Colman to break into the Song of the Vagabonds as he rouses the citizens of Paris. It's a great moment in both the play and the musical.

You will thrill when you hear Colman rouse that rabble of low degree even if he doesn't sing.

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