Cast & Crew
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
In 1461, with the military forces of the noble leader Charles, the Duke of Burgundy, gathering outside the gates of Paris, King Louis XI is warned that the city's defenses are weak at best, as the unpaid mercenaries who make up the majority of his army are deserting en masse. Louis is then told his only chance for survival is to forge an allegiance with the notorious poet-thief, François Villon, also known as "king of the vagabonds," but this idea is quickly rejected, for Villon has ridiculed the king in numerous poems. With his chancellor, Tristan, Louis goes to the Fir Cone Tavern, and witnesses Thibault d'Aussigny, his provost marshal, meet with Rene de Montigny, a rebel spy, and receive a list of Parisians loyal to Burgundy. After the boastful Villon tells the disguised Louis that "he and destiny" will overthrow the despot king, the poet and Thibault duel. The nobleman is saved from Villon's sword by the arrival of Parisian troops, and while Thibault and Rene slip away to join Burgundy's forces, Villon is arrested by Louis, despite the pleas of Huguette, a beautiful tavern wench. Learning from Thibault that Louis plans to stay in Paris and fight, Burgundy orders his troops to burn the farms surrounding the city, hoping to starve the king out of his stronghold and turn the people of Paris against Louis. After hearing the incarcerated Villon sing another insulting song about his reign, Louis orders the poet brought to his orchard, where many a dead traitor hangs from the fruit trees. Villon is offered a stay of execution, however, if he agrees to become provost marshal and lead the people of Paris against Burgundy. Under the name of Count de Montcorbier, Villon frees his friends from prison and begins to court Lady Catherine de Vaucelles, one of Louis' ladies-in-waiting with whom he had long before fallen in love from afar. Though she had promised Louis to marry any man of his choosing, Catherine becomes incensed when she learns she is to be betrothed to Villon, whom she recognizes as the traitorous poet. Later, she changes her mind about Villon when Thibault arrives in Louis' court to demand the king's surrender, only to be rebuffed by the new provost marshal and returned to Burgundy on a donkey. As the insulted Charles marches his troops toward Paris, Villon orders a royal ball be held, in order to reassure the people of Paris of the king's confidence in victory, as well as force into action General Antoine de Chabannes, the commander-in-chief of Louis' forces, who Villon suspects is a traitor. Back at the Fir Cone Tavern, Rene invokes Villon's name in hopes of turning the vagabonds against Louis, but Huguette rejects the spy's claims. Meanwhile, Villon barely escapes death at de Chabannes' hands when he is rescued by Ferrebouc, the captain of Louis' guard. Villon then returns with Huguette to the Fir Cone, where he raises a vagabond army to fight Burgundy. Thus, when the rebel duke and his forces sneak into Paris at midnight, they ride into Villon's trap and are soundly defeated by the Parisians. Huguette, however, makes the ultimate sacrifice for love when she steps between a crossbow's arrow and Villon. With Burgundy dead and his reign secured, Louis reminds Villon of his stay of execution, so as his final act as provost marshal, Villon pronounces his own death sentence. When the Parisians question their king's treatment of the man who led them to victory, Louis offers to pardon Villon if anyone will take his place before the hangman's noose. Though none of the vagabonds offers his or her life in exchange for Villon's, Catherine does. Louis then quickly changes his judgment, instead ordering Villon and Catherine to marry, while quickly adding the provision that the noblewoman's lands be forfeited as payment for the war against Burgundy.
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
G. Thomas Duggan
Rita Maria Tanno
C. O. Erickson
John P. Fulton
Louis Van Den Ecker
Walter Hampden, who plays King Louis XI in this film, never saw it. He died more than a year before its release.
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." François Villon, the pseudonym of François de Montcorbier (or François 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).
Released in United States Fall September 1956
No print exists of this film. Ernst Lubitsch directed additional scenes when Ludwig Berger was not available.
Released in United States Fall September 1956