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The film opens with the following narration spoken by Vincent Price: "Charles of Burgundy, by brute force and bribery, has divided France against itself; thus, to dethrone its anointed king, Louis XI, and seize the throne for himself. Already, half the country has either flocked or fallen to him, and the rebel princes, dukes and barons have assembled a few miles from Paris: first, to sign the great alliance of the Public Wheel, and then to lay siege against the city and destroy Louis." Franois Villon, the pseudonym of Franois de Montcorbier (or Franois des Loges,) is considered one of the greatest French lyric poets. Born in Paris in 1431, the young Villon was reared by the canon Guillaume de Villon, the chaplain of Saint-Benoit-le-Betourne, following the death of his father. After graduating from the University of Paris with both bachelor and master degrees, Villon was banished from Paris after killing a priest in June 1455 during a drunken brawl. Between prison sentences for various crimes, Villon managed to compose Le Lais and Le Grand Testament, as well as various ballades and chansons. Finally, in 1463, Villon was condemned to death for his part in another brawl, but his sentence was commuted once again, this time to banishment from Paris for ten years. He was never heard from again.
In November 1951, Hollywood Citizen-News announced that Paramount was planning to produce The Vagabond King, with Tony Martin and Jean Simmons. In December 1953, Hollywood Reporter reported that Paramount had offered the lead role to Mario Lanza. The role of "Villon" eventually went to European tenor Oreste Kirkop, who made his film debut and is credited onscreen simply as "Oreste." In October 1954, John Derek was announced in the role of a French officer, but did not appear in the picture. According to Daily Variety, four songs from the original operetta were used in The Vagabond King, with six new songs created specifically for the film by the original composer Rudolf Friml, with the help of lyricist Johnny Burke. According to the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, four other song classics were submitted to the PCA for approval, but were not performed in the viewed print.
According to Hollywood Reporter, pioneer radio star Harry McNaughton made his feature film debut in The Vagabond King. Hollywood Reporter news items and production charts include Iris Burton, Torben Meyer, Joe Ploski, Alma Mansfield, Peggy Creel, Richard Cutting, Donna Percy and Russ Clarke in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Location shooting took place in Chatsworth, CA, according to a late December 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item.
The Vagabond King was first filmed by Paramount in 1930, starring Dennis King and Jeanette MacDonald under the direction of Ludwig Berger (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30). The Justin Huntly McCarthy play and novel If I Were King, upon which the operetta The Vagabond King is based, has been the basis of numerous films, including the 1920 Fox production If I Were King, starring William Farnum and Betty Ross Clarke and directed by J. Gordon Edwards (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20); and the 1927 United Artist release The Beloved Rogue, directed by Alan Crosland and starring John Barrymore and Marceline Day. In 1938, Paramount made its first non-musical version of the McCarthy story; If I Were King featured Ronald Colman and Frances Dee under the direction of Frank Lloyd (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40).