By Brooks Williams
KING OF HEARTS reminds me of STAR TREK. Both were released in 1966, and both, unfortunately, were considered major failures during their initial runs.
But then the 70’s happened. It was a harder, more ironic decade—and both seemed to find their niches. There is a story about DeForest Kelly (who played Dr. McCoy on TREK), who was invited in the early 70’s, to a STAR TREK get-together in a NYC apartment. He expected to, maybe, sit around in the living room talking to a dozen fans about Captain Kirk’s horniness, green slave girls and Tribbles—but when he arrived he was astounded to find 5,000 fans lined up around the block!
Something similar happened to KING OF HEARTS. As I mentioned, KOH ‘bombed’ when first released in France. It had only about 140,000 box office admissions—and that was disappointing to director Phillipe de Broca, whose earlier film, THAT MAN FROM RIO racked up almost 5 million admissions in France alone. But the 60’s were not really the decade to go all “anti-war” —with Vietnam raging and bleeding all over the nightly news. (The counter culture had yet to take over the studios, and when they did, and with Vietnam safely tucked away—then they made their mark: COMING HOME, APOCALYPSE NOW, THE DEER HUNTER, and later, PLATOON, BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY, FULL METAL JACKET etc… Only John Wayne had the guts to make a Vietnam movie while the war was still going on. He released THE GREEN BERETS in 1968, with help from LBJ and the Pentagon. Of course, when making a film—besides guts—you also need brains, talent, expertise and a cinematic vision. Unfortunately The Duke’s offering had none of that!
But that is not the case with KOH. It’s a beautiful shimmering jewel of an anti-World War I diatribe-film—right up there with Kubrick’s classic PATHS OF GLORY. And, like STAR TREK, it came of age perfectly in the early/mid 70’s. Especially in the Boston area where it caught fire on Mass Ave, and played for 5 years at the Central Square Cinemas, opening with a Marv Newland cartoon that could be construed as an anti-Vietnam cinematic short—BAMBI MEETS GODZILLA.
Alan Bates stars, and the cast also include 23-year old Genevieve Bujold in one of her first major roles. (interestingly enough, her previous film was called THE WAR IS OVER)! The great Georges Delerve does the music—he of VIVA! MARIA, THE LAST METRO, and over 300 other musical scores. And, in one scene, a monkey comes out of nowhere riding a bicycle – a perfect Surrealist moment that is just as satisfying cinematically as the screeching white cockatoo shock-cut in CITIZEN KANE!
It’s at The Colonial tonight, May 31st. See it. Love it. Treasure it.