IMPEACH TRUMP.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The King's Thief - 1955


The King’s Thief (1955) is a colorful swashbuckler movie, entertaining and continuing in the vein of last week’s discussion of The Golden Horde (1951) as another Saturday matinee adventure story.  The King’sThief might be easier for us to relate to simply because it is less foreign and exotic.  We don’t really know how the Mongol tribes of Genghis Khan’s gang spoke or interacted with each other, and our uncomfortable ignorance is what makes us guess it’s all pretty phoney.  But The King’s Thief is set in the restored reign of England’s Charles II, which, being that much closer in time to our own, we stand on firmer ground when it comes to accepting Walter Plunkett’s elaborate costumes, the crisp speech, the elegant salons, and the grimy prison as coin of the realm, so to speak.


Both films are quite short, just over an hour, which lends a fast-paced adventure.  No over-burdened Cecile B. DeMille epics here, just grab your sword, tell the story, and get out.  It's filmed in CinemaScope, and looks well in this process.


Ann Blyth is reunited with Edmund Purdom, who starred with her in her previous film, The Student Prince (1954), which we discussed here.  He infamously lip-synched to tenor Mario Lanza in that film, but here Mr. Purdom happily climbs out from the shadow of that star and shines on his own.  He is quite capable, quite handsome in his Van Dyke beard, and seems to be a worthy successor to Errol Flynn.  His career never reached those heights, however.


His best buddy in this movie, Roger Moore, would climb to greater heights, and Mr. Moore is one of the pleasures of this film.  It’s a small role, but he demonstrates the dashing presence that will one day lead him to fame as James Bond.


Two Hollywood greats liven things up considerably, even if this little movie might not seem much in their careers: David Niven, who plays the villain, and George Sanders, so delightfully foppish as King Charles II (he had played this role as well in ForeverAmber (1947).


I love Mr. Sanders’ teasing, “Brr-r-rampton!” when he spies a small black notebook Niven has dropped, thinking it is a bachelor’s “little black book.”  “Some tasty names, I’ll wager?”

That little notebook is the real star of the show.  Niven is the king’s trusted advisor, a nobleman who has, unknown to the king, skimmed off quite a bit of spoils from the recent English Civil War.  I confess, my own interest in this historical time period is because the ultimate losers of the war – those stuffy, self-righteous, stubborn Puritans—came to settle my neck of the woods in the 1630s and 1640s.  Had they remained in power in England, the settlement, governance, and culture of New England might have been rather different.

We might not be so stuffy, self-righteous, and stubborn.  (Bah-ha-ha-ha.)  No, we probably would be.  It’s the climate. 


David Niven, in the aftermath of the restoration of Charles II, that hedonistic, “Merry Monarch,” has taken to discrediting noblemen who fought on the king’s behalf, accusing them of treason, putting them on trial and hanging them, and then skimming a good part of their fortunes for himself.  Boo!  Hiss!


Ann Blyth plays the daughter of one such discredited nobleman, who has lived in exile in France.  Now that the war is done, she’s eager to return to England, but is shocked and heartbroken when her father’s friend comes to tell her the news that David Niven has put her father to death.  Though told she must never return to England now, nevertheless, Ann is a feisty gentlewoman.  She’s heading back to find out what happened to her father, and confront this David Niven fellow.


The black book, mentioned above, has the names of other noblemen on Niven’s blacklist, as well as an accounting of all their fortunes and land he hopes to take.  Edmund Purdom, one of the soldiers of the king who, after the war, was not paid for his services, has become a highwayman.  He robs Niven, and takes the book, not really knowing what it is, but he soon learns that it is worth far more than the all the jewels he’s taken so far.


That book will change hands a lot in a lusty game of keep-away that involves elegant gambling salons, fast chases on horseback through the MGM backlot, assumed identities, subterfuge, sword fighting, and not a little flirting.


A few favorite scenes:  Ann makes another one of those walking down a grand staircase entrances, so effective for establishing credibility in society, making a statement, and building suspense.  And it's just pretty.  Ooh!  Ahhh!

Edmund Purdom escorting her home at night by walking beside her sedan chair, which is carried by stone-faced servants.


John Dehner as Niven’s captain of the guard.  He gets thrown out of a coach, and roundly tricked by Ann in a cute scene where she, being taken into custody, fakes heart trouble.  She has set up a plan where Dehner must take her to an apothecary shop, that happens to be run by the son-in-law and daughter of her faithful servant played by Tudor Owen.  His daughter, played by Queenie Leonard, refuses to let Dehner into the room where they are putting Ann to lie down during her "illness", “Please sir, I’ll have to remove her bodice,” she admonishes him.  Then, door closed, she allows Ann and her father to tie her up, and reminds them to gag her so it will look like Ann had no help in her escape.


By the way, favorite go-to man Ian Wolfe is among the familiar faces.

Ann and Purdom are a handsome pair, but there is little lovemaking when the plot is a constant chase for escape.  Ann wants to use the book as evidence against Niven, but Mr. Purdom wants to sell the information.


There are swordfights, and when Purdom and Moore are imprisoned, Ann is forced by Niven to visit them to get information on the whereabouts of their gang.  If she does not agree work for Niven as a double agent, he will ship her off in indentured servitude to the New World.  “A grim and so far unsuccessful effort to populate the colonies.”  America, ewww!  Who wants to go there?  She’d probably end up in Massachusetts, currently overrun with those stuffy, self-righteous, and stubborn sore loser Puritans, scrubbing floors for a humorless magistrate until, a few decades hence, she is hanged for a witch.

Instead, in a brave attempt to avoid all that, she slips Purdom a stiletto to pick the lock on his iron chains.  There is a painstaking and nail-biting escape from the prison.


The final hat trick is using Niven’s own coach, which Purdom had previously stolen, to gain entrance to the castle where the crown jewels are kept.  Purdom and Ann, pretending to be relatives of Niven’s, are allowed a private tour to see the crown jewels, which Purdom will attempt to steal and ransom back to the king, thereby demanding an audience with him so they can rat on David Niven.


But…ZOUNDS!  The king arrives unexpectedly just as Edmund Purdom is pummeling a Beefeater over the crown jewels!  Ann is desperately trying to stall Sir Isaac Newton in the next room by pretending to know more about astronomy than he does!  How will it end?!!

Our pal Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it “…one of the most thorough banalities of the year.”


I think it deserves better, as a fun and rollicking adventure, a sumptuous costume drama with a lot to look at, not the least of which lovely Ann Blyth in her period clothes.  I would suggest the movie could have been made more memorable by a scene with her singing at a pianoforte.  No such luck.  The King's Thief has been shown on TCM, and is available on DVD.

Ann would sing in her next movie, her last movie musical, Kismet (1955), which we covered here.

By the end of 1955, Ann would be expecting her second child, a baby daughter born in December.  In October, Modern Screen, gushing over the news of her latest pregnancy, ran a rather long article recounting the major events of her life: her career start in radio as a child, her terrible spine injury as a teen, the loss of her mother, and a look back at her dating years that must have been with a certain degree of self-serving nostalgia for a magazine that must now satisfy itself with the less juicy news of her steady marriage and respectable motherhood.

Since her marriage, her babies, and her 30th birthday only a few years away, Ann’s place in the hearts of the movie-going public may not have changed, but the magazines, after having rabidly pursued her since her teen years, were beginning to turn their voracious attention to younger, single stars where there was a greater opportunity for them to write about scandal.  It was attention Ann apparently was happy to do without.

Speaking of the period when she was being tagged, her soft voice takes on an edge of firmness.  “This is a phase of your life—even if you’re in pictures—that’s quite private and special.  Not that you’re unwilling to share a certain amount, but only so much.”

Come back next Thursday when we discuss Ann’s teen years as a Hollywood actress during World War II, during years that were personally challenging, heartbreaking, anxious, and uplifting.  She made friends she kept for life, and films that would live forever.



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Modern Screen, October 1955, article by Ida Zeitlin.


The New York Times, August 13, 1955, review by Bosley Crowther, p. 7.
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 THANK YOU....to the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.  And thanks to all those who signed on as backers to my recent Kickstarter campaign.  The effort failed to raise the funding needed, but I'll always remember your kind support.

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TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
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UPDATE:  This series on Ann Blyth is now a book - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -

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The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on Audible.com, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.


 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings''

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood





Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.


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A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.

2 comments:

Kevin Deany said...

I don;t remember this one too much, but remember enjoying the Miklos Rozsa score....and, as always, George Sanders.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Kevin, George Sanders always stands out, doesn't he? I liked the movie, it's lightweight but fast moving and enjoyable.

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