Cast & Crew
After a broadcast from his radio station in a small Connecticut town, Hank Martin, a supplier of radio equipment, makes a delivery during a severe thunderstorm because his assistant says that the destination, an old mansion, is too spooky. Upon arriving, Hank is confronted by a girl, who beseeches his help to get away, and by a young man, hiding in a suit of armor, who says he is the girl's friend. A seductive woman then warns Hank not to protect the girl. The master of the house has Hank hook up a battery to an invention, which, the man hopes, will enable him to hear sounds from the past that are still vibrating in the ether. When a voice announces that it is from the court of King Arthur, Hank, frightened, tries to leave, but a door knocks a suit of armor on top of him. He awakens in another time period as a knight, Sir Sagramor, prods him with a lance. When Sagramor takes him to Camelot Castle and brags that he has captured a demon, Hank, to save his life, proves that he has magical powers by lighting his cigarette lighter. King Arthur's magician Merlin, who is envious that he can't make the lighter work, convinces the king to burn Hank at the stake. When Hank notices in his pocket notebook that a total eclipse of the sun occurred at noon on June 21, 528 A.D. and learns from another prisoner, Emile le Poulet, whom he dubs Clarence, that today is the 20th of that year, he threatens to blot out the sun the next day unless he is released. Goaded by Merlin, the king moves the execution time to the immediate present, but Hank then learns that today is actually the 21st and revises his threat. The subsequent eclipse causes the king to beg for the sun's restoration. Hank obliges and then agrees to be the king's prime minister. The "magical" changes instituted under Hank include telephones, messengers on roller skates, factories to produce things people have been happy without, and advertising to make them want those things. When Queen Morgan le Fay, the king's sister, sends word that unless Arthur gives her half his kingdom, she will put his daughter, Princess Alisande, on a torture rack, King Arthur decides that Hank and Sagramor shall joust for the honor to save Alisande. In his cowboy outfit, Hank easily wins by lassoing Sagramor and dragging him around the arena, but he suggests that Clarence, who loves the princess, rescue her instead. Because Clarence is only a page, and therefore cannot marry a princess, the king dubs him Sir Rogers de Claremore, which, it turns out, is the name of Hank's ancestor, whom he has been trying to locate. Afraid that if Clarence dies, he himself will never be born, Hank offers to save Alisande himself and convinces King Arthur to go with him. Merlin, who is friendly with the queen, and Sagramor plot against them, and after Sagramor's men capture Arthur and Hank, and strip Arthur of his beard, Queen Morgan refuses to recognize him. Attracted to Hank, the queen attempts to seduce him. He escapes her grasps and releases Arthur and Alisande from a torture chamber, but they are recaptured and taken to the gallows. As King Arthur is about to be hanged, Clarence, in a helicopter, drops a bomb, and tanks and armored cars equipped with machine guns arrive to do battle. Hank releases the torture victims, but he is then surrounded by the queen's forces. A dynamite explosion knocks him out, and he awakens in the mansion of the inventor just as a radio broadcast of the "Knights of the Round Table" ends. The inventor, whom Hank had imagined as King Arthur, is chagrined because he mistook the voices from the radio show for those of the real historical characters. As Hank quickly leaves, he discovers the girl and boy he met earlier, who resemble Alisande and Clarence, inside his truck. They tell him that the inventor is the girl's father and that her aunt, the seductive woman, who resembles Queen Morgan le Fay, does not want the girl to marry the boy. Hank gives them the truck to go to a minister and walks home in the storm.
Joseph E. Aiken
Malcolm Stuart Boylan
Arthur Vernon Jones
A Connecticut Yankee (1931)
He teamed up with Twain, sort of, in a 1931 film of Twain's 1889 time-travel fantasy, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, shortened to A Connecticut Yankee. Rogers, a real cowboy who grew up on his family's ranch, began his showbiz career in Wild West shows as a lariat virtuoso, worked jokes into his routines, much as W.C. Fields, who began as a juggler, did. By the time of A Connecticut Yankee, Rogers had dozens of films under his belt, some with such self-descriptive titles as Cupid the Cowpuncher (1920), The Ropin' Fool (1922) and The Cowboy Sheik (1924). People loved his barbed but never vitriolic one-liners delivered in an aw-shucks hayseed fashion that blinded nobody to their shrewd, bemused skepticism - a quality that never fails to win American audiences, especially when applied to so-called political life. He and his cowboy persona were relaxed and comfortable. They relocated easily from the bunkhouse of a ranch to a Main Street storefront in Connecticut, where his character, Hank Martin, runs a radio shop, houses the local radio station and fronts the programs in cracker-barrel fashion.
One stormy night, Hank gets a call to deliver a car-sized radio battery to a spooky stone mansion on a hill. There he meets a stone-faced butler, an imperious lady of the house, her daughter, whose engagement to a boy she considers plebian she opposes, and the dotty paterfamilias, an inventor who needs the big battery to test his belief that he can tune in on the past. No sooner do Hank and the old inventor hear voices from King Arthur's time than a French window blows open, knocking over a suit of armor, which lands on Hank, conking him out. The framing device then yields to the story within a story, which has fun with the idea of modern inventions transplanted to 528 A.D. "Canst tellest me where the hellest I am?" Hank drawls to the knight who drags him in chains to Camelot's round table. When he dazzles the court by producing instant fire from his cigar lighter, the jealous Merlin (Brandon Hurst), seeing the newcomer as a rival, sells Arthur on the idea of burning Hank at the stake.
A Connecticut Yankee takes a lot of liberties with the book, an approach that works disarmingly, reinforcing the idea that we're watching something freewheeling and zany. More important than not taking the book totally seriously, the film's eight writers convince us that we're watching a film that never takes itself too seriously, befitting a dream. Its structure, such as it is, fits Rogers's casual style comfortably as Hank's dozing mind recasts the mansion's denizens into Camelot's principals. Thus the inventor (William Farnum) is transformed into Arthur, the unreceptive butler (Mitchell Harris) becomes a hostile knight, the high-handed lady (Myrna Loy) is reincarnated into Arthur's evil sister, Morgan Le Fay, while the lovelorn ingénue from the mansion (Maureen O'Sullivan) becomes the high-born lady forbidden from marrying the commoner in both worlds (Frank Albertson). The latter figures in one of the asides: Hank gets the young man upgraded to royal rank, having him dubbed Sir Rogers de Claremore (a genuflection to Rogers's Oklahoma home town).
Hank's turnaround is launched by the book's juiciest scene. Just before Hank is about to be burned, he learns from the handy-dandy pocket almanac he carries that June 21, 528 A.D. - the date of his scheduled execution - was also the date of a solar eclipse. Surrounded by kindling, he proclaims his intention to blot out the sun. When it happens, Hank's fortunes soar as he pretends to make the sun reappear. Dubbed Sir Boss by the impressionable Arthur, he swings into 20th century action, including taking on the enemy knight in a joust, exchanging lance and armor for cowboy hat and chaps, then lassoing his adversary to the ground. After proclaiming himself a Democrat in favor of prosperity, farm relief, freedom for Ireland and beer for all, Hank sets about industrializing Camelot along modern lines. In no time, the screen is filled with switchboard operators in medieval garb, mass-produced miscellany and an assembly line of which Henry Ford would have been proud. Then, in a meeting of minds with Twain, Rogers announces that he's inventing advertising in order to make people want what they had been perfectly happy without.
Twain's vernacular is right in Rogers's wheelhouse, and he makes the delivering of it seem easy. His offhand manner encourages receptivity to the film's absurdities, not that the glut of 20th century stuff his Camelot factories turn out doesn't come in handy. When Hank and Arthur learn Morgan Le Fay has, with the help of a treacherous Merlin, kidnapped the princess, and they ride off to rescue her only to wind up on the gallows, about to be hanged, the Camelot cavalry comes to the rescue. In a scene of delightful excess, a fleet of flivvers bounces over the enemy turf, augmented by tanks, planes and a helicopter that bombs Morgan Le Fay's castle to rubble. It enables the film to end on a bang-up note of rising nonsense, with everybody, including the deadpan baddies, drawing us into the good time they convince us they're having.
While such veterans as Farnum and Hurst are the means of poking gentle fun at old styles steeped in the staginess that often spilled over into early talkies, Ireland's O'Sullivan brings youthful freshness to a stock ingénue role, and Loy is a delight. Cast in a string of troublemaker roles at that early stage of her career, she brings a playful sexiness to Morgan Le Fay, even in the improbable scenes in which she's supposed to have fallen for Hank and romances him in a good-humored vampish way. Neither she nor Rogers could have known that she'd also bring a dash of color to those scenes. Director David Butler had the idea to have Hank's face hand-tinted pink in every frame of every print of their love scene, and so it was. (Loy later wrote that Rogers was essentially a shy man in real life.) A Connecticut Yankee may look slapdash - at times its action, especially when played out against obviously painted flat backgrounds, is only a notch or two above Three Stooges production values. But its winning goofiness conceals a lot of professional savvy, not least of all from Rogers, whose homespun awkwardness and slightly nasal twang may have begun as the real thing, but by 1931 belonged to the realm of the art that concealed art.
Director: David Butler
Screenplay: William M. Conselman, Owen Davis, based on the novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
Cinematography: Ernest Plamer
Art Direction: William S. Darling
Music: Arthur Kay
Film Editing: Irene Morra
Cast: Will Rogers (Hank Martin aka Sir Boss), William Farnum (King Arthur/Inventor), Frank Albertson (Emile le Poulet/Clarence), Maureen O'Sullivan (Alisande/Clarence's Sweetheart), Brandon Hurst (Merlin/Doctor in Mansion), Myrna Loy (Queen Morgan le Fay/Evil Sister in Mansion), Mitchell Harris (Sagramor/Butler in Mansion).
by Jay Carr
AFI Catalogue of Feature Films
Will Rogers: A Biography, by Donald Day, David McKay, 1962
Will Rogers, Performer, by Richard J. Maturi and Mary Buckingham Maturi, McFarland, 1999
Will Rogers in Hollywood, by Bryan B. Sterling and Frances N, Sterling, Crown, 1984
Will Rogers Biography, by Joseph H. Carter, www.willrogers.com
Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming, by James Kotsilibas-Davis & Myrna Loy, Knopf, 1987
The Films of Myrna Loy, by Lawrence J. Quirk, Citadel Press, 1980
Maureen O'Sullivan: "No Average Jane," by David Fury, Artist's Press, 2007
A Connecticut Yankee (1931)
The title card in the screen credits reads "Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee." The working title of the film was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. According to a New York Times news item, the sets were to be designed by Joseph Urban; however, William Darling is listed for settings in the screen credits and in all the contemporary sources. In the print viewed, the face of the Will Rogers character turns the color red when the Myrna Loy character kisses him. According to a modern interview with the director, David Butler, every print sent out was hand tinted at this spot in the film. The name "Sir Rogers de Claremore," used in the film for the supposed ancestor of the character played by Rogers, refers to Rogers' real hometown of Claremore, OK. The Motion Picture Herald reviewer wrote, "The hanging sequence in the climax scene should be cut. It is distasteful and tinges a magnificent comedy with a grimness that doesn't belong." According to a pre-release news item, John Garrick, Lumsden Hare and William V. Mong were in the cast; their participation in the final film has not been confirmed.
A July 11, 1991 New York Times article about a recent solar eclipse relates two historical precedents for the scene in this film in which "Hank" threatens to blot out the sun: "On his visit to Jamaica in 1504, Columbus extorted food from natives by consulting an almanac, threatening to make the moon disappear, and then agreeing to return it just before the eclipse ended. In 1806 an Indian in the Midwestern United States named Tenskwatawa won great fame as a prophet-and embarrassed the territorial officials-by using the same technique during a solar eclipse."
This film was chosen as the tenth of the year's best films by New York Times. The novel was adapted into a Broadway musical in 1927 by Herbert Fields, with music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Fox and the Mark Twain Co. produced another film based on the same source in 1920, entitled A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court, which starred Harry Myers and was directed by Emmett J. Flynn (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.0780). Variety said that with the exception of What Price Glory, the earlier version of Twain's story was "probably the best silent comedy Fox ever turned out, and among the leaders of its class released by any firm." Variety noted that Douglas Fairbanks originally turned down the story, and speculated, "The staff working on this sound version must have run off the silent print plenty." Twentieth Century-Fox re-released this film in 1936. Paramount produced A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in 1949, which starred Bing Crosby and was directed by Tay Garnett.