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Under Two Flags  /  If I Were King

Under Two Flags (1936)
August 18, 2006 - 7:30 pm

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by Twentieth Century Fox.

Under Two Flags  (1936)

Directed by Frank Lloyd

Frequently adapted for film, the Foreign Legion story "Under Two Flags" (1936) catered to Depression-era audiences' taste for high adventure in exotic locales to distract them from the despair and monotony of the breadline.

Helmed by Frank Lloyd, who directed other literary actioners such as Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), the film stars Ronald Colman, already a veteran of the cinematic Legion with the 1926 Beau Geste. Colman plays Col. Victor, who, as in Beau Geste, joins the corps out of familial loyalty. Though suave as always, Colman does not capture the roguish qualities of Gary Cooper in Morocco (1930) or Cary Grant in Gunga Din (1939). Lloyd and Colman paired more successfully in If I Were King two years later.

Simone Simon was set to make her American screen debut as Cigarette (previously played by Theda Bara), the cafe singer who falls for Col. Victor, but Lloyd fired her after two weeks because of her temperamental attitude. The "New York Times" commented that her replacement, Claudette Colbert, "was not particularly fitted for the role" and lacked qualities the original author imagined. Modern audiences unfamiliar with the novel may disagree.

Supporting actor Victor McLaglen is reliably brutish as a battalion commandant, though Rosalind Russell as the patrician Lady Venetia is neither as believable nor as enjoyable as in her later, more acerbic roles in His Girl Friday (1940) or The Women (1939). This restored version includes a glimpse of prolific character actor John Carradine, whose role was excised from the more commonly seen 1943 reissue. A brief selection of outtakes from Under Two Flags will be presented after the feature.

Donna Ross

Twentieth Century-Fox Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck Screenwriters: W.P Lipscomb, Walter Ferris, Alan Rivkin, Bess Meredyth Based on the novel "Under Two Flags" by Ouida Cinematographer: Ernest Palmer Editor: Ralph Dietrich Cast: Ronald Colman, Claudette Colbert, Victor McLaglen, Rosalind Russell

35mm, 110 min.

Preserved in cooperation with Twentieth Century Fox, the Academy Film Archive and The Library of Congress from the original 35mm nitrate picture and soundtrack negatives, a 35mm nitrate work print, a 35mm nitrate print and a 16mm print.  Laboratory services by Triage Motion Picture Services, Audio Mechanics, OJ Audio.  Special thanks: Schawn Belston, Jon Mirsalis.

This evening is dedicated to the memory of Dorothy and Carl Anderson, and recognizes Carl Anderson's lifetime commitment to motion picture art direction and design.  It has been made possible by a gift from Renee and David Kaplan.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

If I Were King  (1938)

Directed by Frank Lloyd

Justin Huntly McCarthy's durable 1901 play about famed 15th-century French rogue-poet Francois Vi lion has been the subject of numerous film adaptations. Gaumont's production appeared in 1915; Fox released a version in 1920; John Barrymore squared off against Conrad Veidt in Alan Crosland's The Beloved Rogue in 1927. A two-color Technicolor variant, Vagabond King, was based on a 1925 operetta; while Katherine Grayson and Dreste headlined a 1956 remake of the musical.

The property was considered such a warhorse by 1938 that a "New York Times" reviewer could claim, "with all the world a-tremble, it is reassuring to be able to reach out one's hand and touch a reasonably constant factor like Francois Villon." Screenwriter Preston Sturges was initially reluctant to recycle such well-worn and dated material, but he nevertheless threw himself into the project (even doing his own translations of Vilion's poems), and effectively transformed a somewhat turgid drama into a brisk romantic comedy.

Directed by Frank Lloyd, If I Were King feels like pure Sturges, suffused with his characteristically cynical humor, biting dialogue and penchant for imposters and underworld types who ultimately reform. At Sturges' suggestion, a nearly unrecognizable Basil Rathbone was cast as King Louis XI, a year before he became the iconic Sherlock Holmes. Rathbone plays his part with a comically high voice, cackling laugh and stooped posture. Near the zenith of his career, Ronald Colman stars as Villon, a dashing, romantic smooth-talker straddling that fine line between hero and cad. Colman infuses the role with panache and keen wit, putting the lie to critics who doubted that such a gentlemanly actor could be convincing as a lowdown scoundrel.

Ed Carter

Paramount Screenwriter: Preston Sturges Based on the play "If I Were King" by Justin Huntly McCarthy Cinematographer: Theodor Sparkuhl Art Directors: Hans Dreier, John Goodman Editor: Hugh Bennett Cast: Ronald Colman, Basil Rathbone, Frances Dee, Ellen Drew, C.V. France

35mm, 100 min.

Preserved in cooperation with Universal Pictures from 35mm acetate fine grain master·positive materials and a 35mm nitrate print.  Laboratory services by YCM Laboratories, Todd-AD/Glen Glenn.