Cast & Crew
Michael Donovan, a former soldier of fortune, is reduced to playing nursemaid for playboy George Foster in Paris. One evening, Michael is approached by Paul Valdis and Christian Ledgard about a mission. The men explain that they support Stefan Bernaldo, the people's choice to lead their small country, and need Michael to kidnap their king Peter so that he is not harmed when they attempt a bloodless coup. After a new cabinet headed by Bernaldo is put in power, they explain, the king will be restored to the throne. With George in tow, Michael goes to the country's capital, where a costume ball is being held at the palace. While George is flirting with the Countess Sonia, Michael finds the king's chambers. He gets George and the two sneak into Peter's room, where they discover that Peter is a young boy. Peter thinks that Michael and George, who are dismayed at having to kidnap the youngster, are gangsters from Chicago, and he is thrilled at the possibility of having an adventure with them. Countess Sonia enters and sounds an alarm, but feels duty bound to accompany the young king when he shows Michael a secret passageway out of the palace. While the foursome go to the safe house arranged by Valdis, the corrupt cabinet, headed by Gino, determines to find Peter before they are overthrown. Michael and the others are greeted by Augusta and Mischa, the caretakers of the hideout, and after Peter runs off crying because of Michael's rudeness, Michael tells Valdis that he wishes to quit. Valdis warns Michael that they all will be killed if Peter is returned to the palace now, and Michael decides to stay. The next day, Peter and Michael become friends when the soldier teaches the boy king how to play football, while at the palace, Valdis' men incite the people to overthrow Gino's cabinet. Later, when Sonia and George visit a gypsy camp, Sonia slips a note with their whereabouts to the fortune-teller and asks her to give it to Gino, whom Sonia does not know is dangerous. Sonia informs Peter that the cabinet's soldiers will soon arrive, and he tells Michael. Michael is proud of the boy's determination to do as his people would wish, and the pair escape to search for Bernaldo. After a hard journey, they reach the palace, where they are captured by Gino's men. They are taken to the fortress of Prince Edric, who was once a friend of Peter's family but is now in league with Gino. Gino tells Peter that he will release Michael, but after Peter is taken away, Michael is thrown in the dungeon, where George is also being held. In order to discredit Bernaldo, who has announced to the people that their beloved king would be returned that day, Gino decides to kill Peter. While Peter is being led to the firing squad, Sonia discovers Gino's treachery and frees Michael and George. Aided by Sonia and George, Michael's ferocious fighting saves the day. Michael shoots Gino as Bernaldo's soldiers arrive, and Peter is rescued. Later, Sonia persuades George to stay and marry her, and a tearful Peter awards Michael his country's highest honor before he departs.
C. Henry Gordon
Pedro De Cordoba
Thomas A. Braidon
Joseph R. Tozer
Jean De Briac
John W. Green
Joseph M. Schenck
Howard Ellis Smith
Darryl F. Zanuck
A master of uneasy pairings like the adorable orphan and the bookie in "Markie," filmed as Little Miss Maker (1934), and the Salvation Army sergeant and the professional gambler in "The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown," the source of Guys and Dolls (1955), Runyon had worked his magic in the same vein with "Gentlemen, the King!" The story told of a group of big-hearted gangsters who bond with the boy king they've been hired to kidnap. By the time the story reached the screen, the gangsters had been turned into a soldier of fortune (McLaglen) whom boy king Bartholomew mistakes for gangsters come to recruit him because of his formidable crap-shooting skills. The young man's openness wins McLaglen over to his side, setting the stage for a final shoot out as McLaglen fights to restore the king to his throne. Even with those changes, the author's popularity was strong enough that 20th Century-Fox originally billed the film as "Damon Runyon's Professional Soldier."
Darryl F. Zanuck had picked up the story's rights shortly after creating 20th Century Films. When he first announced the project in 1933, he had hoped to sign Gregory La Cava to direct and Franchot Tone to play Donovan, the mercenary. After the merger that created 20th Century-Fox, his focus shifted to another MGM star, and he arranged to borrow Wallace Beery. Then he decided instead to use Beery for A Message to Garcia (1936) and go with long-time contract player McLaglen in the lead. By then he had also changed his directorial choice, first to John Ford, then to Tay Garnett, whose breezy, fast-paced style and skill at concocting running gags would serve the film well. He also arranged to borrow a new player from MGM, Bartholomew.
The young actor had burst on the MGM scene in 1935 when producer David O. Selznick brought him over from London to play the title role in David Copperfield (1935). The film's success would quickly establish his image as the most patrician of child actors, skilled at playing children of the wealthy and titled. The studio immediately put him to work as Greta Garbo's son in Anna Karenina (1935). His loan to Fox for Professional Soldier added another dimension to his screen image. With his acting skills and playful nature, Bartholomew could effectively portray his pampered characters' transitions to more rough-and-tumble images of childhood, as when Donovan teaches King Peter to play ball. It was a trope that would reappear in his most popular later films.
McLaglen was a natural for military parts like his leading role in Professional Soldier. As a young man, he had run away from home in South Africa at 14 in an attempt to fight for England in the Boer War (his father, an influential minister, secured his release from military service). In later years, he distinguished himself as the star of military stories like What Price Glory (1926) and its two sequels, and he headed his own private cavalry brigade, the California Light Horse Troop, in Hollywood, though their main activities would appear to have been playing polo and dressing up to go out drinking.
For the final fight scenes in Professional Soldier, Fox hired sharpshooter Sydney Jordan, a silent film cowboy star who had started supervising stunt work in 1916. That was a wise choice, as the practice at the time was to use live ammunition during filming. It took a professional like Jordan to guarantee that stars like McLaglen and Bartholomew, whose characters were caught in the crossfire, survived to make other films.
The film's supporting cast included Gloria Stuart, a leading lady of the '30s who would achieve her greatest fame as the elderly Rose in Titanic (1997), and, in his film debut, Michael Whalen. The former stage actor would become one of Fox's most reliable B movie stars of the era, most notably as crime-solving reporter Barney Callahan in a trio of low-budget mysteries starting with Time Out for Murder (1938), also opposite Stuart. Viewers with a quick eye can watch for two future leading ladies in small roles as gypsy dancers. Lynn Bari would go on to become Queen of the Bs at Fox, while Rita Hayworth would only become a star after leaving the studio for Columbia, where she would reign as one of Hollywood's greatest sex symbols.
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Director: Tay Garnett
Screenplay: Gene Fowler, Howard Ellis Smith
Based on the story "Gentlemen, the King!" by Damon Runyon
Cinematography: Rudolph Mate
Score: R.H. Bassett
Cast: Victor McLaglen (Colonel Michael Donovan), Freddie Bartholomew (King Peter), Gloria Stuart (Countess Sonia), Constance Collier (Lady Augusta), Michael Whalen (George Foster), Pedro de Cordoba (Stefan Bernaldo), Lumsden Hare (Paul Valdis), Dixie Dunbar (Entertainer), Lynn Bari, Rita Hayworth (Gypsy Dancers).
by Frank Miller
The opening credits introduce the film as "Damon Runyon's Professional Soldier." The film was prepared for production by 20th Century Pictures and was released after the company merged with Fox Film Corp. A November 9, 1933 Daily Variety news item indicates that when Twentieth Century was handling the property, Gregory La Cava considered directing it. Early versions of the script, contained in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, suggest that the character of "George Foster" be played by Franchot Tone, and that of "Picklepuss," which became "Mischa," be played by Mischa Auer. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Wallace Beery was originally set for the role of "Michael Donovan," but was instead placed by Twentieth Century-Fox in A Message for Garcia. Hollywood Reporter news items also noted that John Ford was scheduled to direct the film, that actor Freddie Bartholomew was borrowed from M-G-M, and that Rian James was signed to work on the script. James's contribution to the completed film, however, has not been confirmed. A studio publicity release stated that Sydney Jordan, "Hollywood's most famous sharpshooter," was hired "to perform the dangerous shots." Hollywood Reporter production charts include Douglas Wood and Jack Byron in the cast, but their contribution to the final picture has not been confirmed. A October 30, 1935 Hollywood Reporter news item incorrectly stated that Kenneth Macgowan was taking over associate producer chores from Raymond Griffith, but the reporting error was corrected the next day. New York Times noted that the picture cost in excess of $750,000 to produce. According to the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, also at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, the song "Joan of Arkansas" was written by Johnny Green and Edward Heyman for George White's 1935 Scandals, but was not used in that film. Michael Whalen made his screen acting debut in this picture.