One of the most popular foreign films of all time, playing continuously in some theatres for over five years, King of Hearts is a "bright, lilting, whimsical, lyrical" (Cue) comedy thatcleverly satirizes the absurdity of w... more »ar with a "message [that is] meaningful and entertaining" (Boxoffice). Bumbling Scottish Private Plumpick (Alan Bates) is sent to a village in the beautiful French countryside during World War I on a suicide mission to detonate explosives set bythe retreating German army. The village, soon to be blown sky-high, has been abandoned by its inhabitantsand replaced with escapees from the local insane asylum. Now, with the mentally challenged running the town, Plumpick is crowned King! But his new title brings him his first horrible decision: to carry out his deadly mission or join the ranks of the blissfully ignorant who know nothing about war. King of Hearts is subtle, visually striking and, in short, the "ultimate display of madness" (Life)!« less
Enchanting fantasy; topical allegory; classic movie
R.L. Holly | Austin, TX USA | 09/03/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A fairy tale set in a French town caught between the opposing armies of the First World War, "King of Hearts" has lost none of its beguiling charm in the 35 years since its original release, nor has its message grown stale. Alan Bates shines as Charles Plumpick, a simple private in a Scottish regiment and perhaps the only sane man in the abandoned town. But is his world of war and brutality really any saner than the make-believe world conjured up by the escaped inmates of the town lunatic asylum, the only residents Private Plumpick encounters during his reconaissance? It is a point of view that depends entirely on one's perspective. This whimsical, gentle tale challenges the watcher to reexamine what constitutes true madness, just as the asylum characters force Pvt. Plumpick, having been to his initial discomfort acclaimed as the King of Hearts, to choose which role he prefers: king of the fools or fool for King George V? Broca directs his own screenplay with a deft touch and using a stellar cast of mostly French actors. A very young Genevieve Bujold makes one of her earliest appearances in a major picture. The English subtitles aren't the best I've seen (and unlike the VHS version, are distractingly present even during English dialogue), but far better than the awful English-dubbed version of "King of Hearts" that is sometimes broadcast or sold. (The best subtitles I have ever seen were on a print that circulated around theatres during the 1970s and 1980s, but I've never seen this version used for home video.) The score by Georges Delerue is one of his best. Quelle Surprise! This DVD version has, without fanfare, at least two entirely new scenes in the film that I have never seen before (and I first saw this in 1977). The first is a lengthier "homily" by Monseigneur Marguerite (aka Bishop Daisy) in the church before Charles' coronation. But the real grabber is an added scene at the very end of the movie that offers a parting glance at the primary players and a final bittersweet twist. Where on earth did this footage come from, and why has it been missing from this film for so long? Does this DVD version offer a "better" ending than the familiar one? It's debateable. But it's certainly intriguing."
Charming Comedy - With a Message
James Skrydlak | Pella, Iowa | 11/21/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Near the end of the First World War, Charles Plumpick is dispatched to a French town that has been wired to explode by midnight. His mission is to defuse the explosives. Never mind that he is an expert at raising and training carrier pigeons. He dutifully sets out on his mission, and avoids capture by the Germans by escaping into an insane asylum.By now, we're all familiar with the idea that war is itself insane. We've all been exposed to the idea that insanity may be a higher form of sanity. What's magical about this film is that it communicates these ideas with such charm and such finesse. I can't imagine that anybody could avoid falling in love with the inmates as they take over the town once it's abandoned.Alan Bates is superb as the gentle yet dutiful Plumpick. A very young Genevieve Bujold is absolutely wonderful as the innocent Coquelicot. I rarely notice the music in a film, but in The King of Hearts it plays a pivotal role in establishing the mood, and accompanying the action. It is also fine music in its own right.This could have been an earnest anti-war film heavy-handedly stating its moral (remember the movie made of Catch-22?). The direction, the music, and the performances of all the actors (Alan Bates and Genevieve Bujold are the only names that I recognize, but there isn't a weak performance here), though, lift this far above that level and make it a masterpiece that has stood the test of time well."
Biting and witty satire
magellan | Santa Clara, CA | 04/29/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have to admit that for someone who is normally not much of a movie enthusiast this is one of my all time favorite films. The film is a darkly satiric comedy that pokes fun at the absurdity and futility of war. When a group of inmates from a local insane asylum escape during the chaos and confusion into the abandoned French town, the stage is set to ironically contrast the insanity of war brought by supposedly sane people with the harmless behavior of the supposedly insane inmates who are acting out the roles of normal town citizens. And yet it is the innocuous and inoffensive inmates who are caged and ostensibly sane people are making war and running around free.
The inmates wander into the town and assume various roles, from the barber to the mayor. The inmates do this so convincingly that the young corporal who is sent to warn them of the approaching Germans at first can't tell the difference, which becomes a metaphor for the real question in the move, which is, who is really crazier: the inmates, or the "normal" people and soldiers fighting the war?
Unfortunately, the young corporal is unable to avert the confrontation between the British and German companies who march into town, and when the other British troops arrive, the inmates realize it's time for them to go back to their former home in the asylum.
I didn't know most of the cast, except for Adolpho Celi (I recognized him as the heavy from an early Jame Bond movie), Alan Bates and Genevieve Bujold, but I thought all the performances were superb, especially Jean-Claude Brialy, who played the mayer, Pierre Brasseur, who played General Geranium, and the barber (unfortunately I don't recall his real name. Overall, a great movie and a brilliantly witty satire and stinging indictment of the futility and absurdity of war."
"We Have Decided To Be Happy, And There Is No Stopping Us"
El Lagarto | Sandown, NH | 11/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
""We have decided to be happy, and there is no stopping us." So says Bishop Daisy.
When Alan Bates tells an impossibly young Genevieve Bujold, (divine sylph in yellow ballerina finery), that they have only three minutes to live, her response is, "That's great! Such a long time."
King Of Hearts has a whimsical way of tossing cherished assumptions into a cocked hat that succeeds brilliantly. This treasure has only gotten better with time; it delights the eye, the ear, the mind, the funny bone, and the heart.
One could easily enjoy KOH with the sound off, no small French village has ever looked more picturesque, or been populated by more visually appealing citizens. Fellini admirers will find the surrealistic parades familiar; they dance on the surface of reality like bubbles in the sun. Director Philippe de Broca created these film paintings without irony; their fragile magic is simply superimposed on top of the dumb, grim, WWI setting.
Factoring in the superb Georges Delerue score gives you a long succession of movie moments that are poignant at least, and sometimes truly haunting in their beauty. Alan Bates carries the film with a seemingly effortless performance; he makes the familiar look ludicrous and the bizarre seem totally reasonable. On many levels this is a very silly movie that never could work without such a reasoned, level performance.
KOH has really been damaged by over-analysis. It is an enchanting, light-hearted comedy that casts a very particular spell. It is not a daring, bare-knuckled indictment of war, (although it would be hard to miss its anti-war position). It is also not a manifesto proclaiming the wisdom inherent in mental illness. This said, KOH does invite viewers to ask - Who is more crazy, people who shoot each other or people who dress up and play pretend?
In the real world, mental illness isn't adorable. There aren't costumes and parades. There is only pain. In the real world, war is not always moronic and pointless; there is also nobility and valor. But that's the real world; KOH is a movie, an exquisite movie."
An unpretentious but superb critique of dehumanizing society
Fellini8 | California | 05/22/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film revives in an eminently reachable way a tragic conflict already posited by ancient Greek philosophy between "nature" (human nature) and "convention" (society.) The "inmates" or "lunatics"are not insane in an objective clinical sense, but only in the sense of rejecting the dehumanized values (including the ravages of war) imposed by a corrupt, alienated, and dishonest society. That the inmates stand for "nature" or human nature is indicated by their names (General Geranium, Bishop Daisy, the Duke of Clubs/Clover, Mmme. Wild Rose, and Coquelicot/Red Poppy. The "lunatics" humanize whatever they come in contact with - tanks, fireworks, German soldiers, and Scottish soldiers - and they bring out the "flower" in Private Plumpick (Alan Bates). The film suggests touchingly the gentleness and decency of a communitarian but individualistic society based on solidarity rather than hierarchy, domination, egoism and alienation. All this with the lightest of touches and genuine creativity and humor - and a magnificent cast starring some of the greatest French actors. A MUST-SEE, BUT NOT DUBBED OR LETTERBOX."