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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Critique Quotes| Text At the movies

Connecticut Yankee first editionFirst U.S. edition
By Mark Twain
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

Original title
A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur

Also called
A Yankee in King Arthur's Court

First publication
1889, England

Literature form

Literary, science fiction, satire

Writing language

Author's country
United States

Approx. 120,000 words

Blindness scene
Bing Crosby and William Bendix play the Yankee and medieval knight for laughs in 1949's Connecticut Yankee.

Twain's biting tale as a musical romcom

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949): Director Tay Garnett; writer Edmund Beloin; featuring Bing Crosby, Rhonda Fleming, William Bendix, Cedric Hardwicke

Many adaptations have been made of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and most of them have something in common. They all knock the edges off Twain's acerbic satire on both medieval life and early capitalism.

The 1949 version is no exception. In fact, it's one of the worst, turning the story into a light-hearted romantic comedy, complete with musical numbers straining to delight.

But the makers of the film knew their audience, as the movie was a hit in its time.

One of the biggest attractions for that audience must have been the presence of Bing Crosby, considered one of the biggest popular musical figures of the twentieth century. The movie is accordingly warped in his image, turning Hank Martin (the surname changed from Morgan) into an affable, easy-going fellow only slightly on the make. He's even surrounded at times by a gang of adoring children that he leads in song, reminiscent of Crosby's most famous movie, Going My Way. (The song "If You Stub Your Toe on the Moon" is an obvious attempt to replicate the success of that earlier film's "Swinging on Star".)

Hank Martin is captured by Sir Sagramore in 1949's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

Of course, the plot line of Twain's novel is abbreviated and switched about. The main medieval character is the knight Sir Sagramore (William Bendix) who is now Hank's good-natured sidekick, instead of his deadly challenger as Twain would have him. Mainly he's in this movie for humorous effect. So is King Arthur (Cedric Hardwicke) himself, with a perpetual sneeze and a running gag about being startled trumpets blaring repeatedly.

At one point the three of them—Hank, Arthur and Sagramore—traipse around the countryside in disguise, supposedly to see how the common people live but mostly to sing jovial songs about doing nothing.

Romantic interest—and another singing partner for Crosby—is supplied by glamorous actress Rhonda Fleming. She actually plays two roles. She is Arthur's beautiful niece, Alisande la Carteloise, whom Martin fails to save from evil clutches in the Middle Ages, and she is an identical woman he meets after arriving back in modern times, providing a happy ending of sorts and a (literal) wink to the audience.

Crowd-pleasing to the very end.

— Eric


Critique Quotes| Text At the movies