At least seven movies have been based on Mark Twain's novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889). In addition, there have been a couple of animated tv half-hour features: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1970 tvm) and A Connecticut Rabbit in King Arthur's Court (1978 tvm; vt Bugs Bunny in King Arthur's Court), the latter being a vehicle for Bugs Bunny.
1. A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court US movie (1920). Fox. Starring Harry Myers (Hank). B/w. Silent.
Very little is known about this version, and we have been unable to track down a print. Apparently the subtitles were full of contemporary references, as to the Volstead Act. [JG]
2. A Connecticut Yankee US movie (1931). Fox. Dir Butler. Screenplay William Conselman. Starring Frank Albertson (Clarence), William Farnum (Arthur), Mitchell Harris (Merlin), Brandon Hurst (Sagramor), Myrna Loy (Morgan Le Fay), Maureen O'Sullivan (Alisande), Will Rogers (Hank). 96 mins. B/w.
Radio-store owner Hank goes to a mysterious old house to instal a new battery. The mysterious old householder believes he can communicate with King Arthur via his radio. A suit of armour topples over, stunning Hank. He Dreams he has undergone a Timeslip back to Camelot, where he is almost immediately accused of being a warlock. To protect himself he plays upon his supposed abilities as a seer (see Prophecy) – although much of his prediction is mocked as ludicrous. In the midst of visual gags and the righting of wrongs, he plays a part in the romance between Alisande and Clarence. At the end of it all, he awakens.
Essentially this is a vehicle for the popular comedian Rogers, and has dated badly – not least in its topical references to the Depression and its earnest proselytizing on behalf of democracy. [JG]
3. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (vt A Yankee in King Arthur's Court UK) US movie (1949). Paramount. Pr Robert Fellows. Dir Tay Garnett. Spfx Farciot Edouard. Screenplay Edmund Beloin. Starring William Bendix (Sagramor), Bing Crosby (Hank Martin), Virginia Field (Morgan Le Fay), Rhonda Fleming (Alisande), Cedric Hardwicke (Arthur), Murvyn Vye (Merlin), Henry Wilcoxon (Lancelot). 106 mins. Colour.
This musical is not so much a remake of 2 as a return to the original book: Hank is this time a blacksmith knocked unconscious in the midst of a fierce storm. The production is lavish, the pacing leisurely, and all the sting which 2 – and Twain's original – possessed has been eliminated: this is a Bing Crosby musical first and a fantasy only second. [JG]
4. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court US Animated Movie (1970 tvm). Air Programs International. Pr Walter J Hucker. Dir Zoran Janjic. Screenplay Michael Robinson. 79 mins. Colour.
This reasonably faithful version of Twain's original mixes a lot of very bad animation with some occasional flashes of brilliance, and the same is true of the voice acting: only in the case of the villainous Merlin, animated in a quite different style from all the rest, does everything come together. The script is often very witty. [JG]
5. Unidentified Flying Oddball (vt The Spaceman and King Arthur) US movie (1979). Disney. Pr Ron Miller. Dir Russ Mayberry. Spfx Cliff Culley. Screenplay Don Tait. Novelization Unidentified Flying Oddball * (1979; vt The Spaceman and King Arthur) by Heather Simon. Starring Rodney Bewes (Clarence), Jim Dale (Mordred), Dennis Dugan (Tom Trimble/Hermes), John le Mesurier (Gawain), Ron Moody (Merlin), Kenneth More (Arthur), Sheila White (Alisande). 93 mins. Colour.
A Technofantasy version. Brilliant but nerdish NASA technician Trimble is accidentally launched on an interstellar mission alongside a robot, Hermes, that is his exact Double. But the craft is cast back to the 6th century, where Trimble uncovers and defeats the treachery of Mordred and Merlin at Camelot. There are jolly jokes about being burnt at the stake and stretched on the rack. A battalion of veteran UK comedy actors struggles with appalling tosh. A ghastly movie. [JG]
6. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court US movie (1989 tvm). Consolidated/Schaefer-Karpf. Pr Graham Ford. Exec pr Merrill H Karpf. Dir Mel Damski. Spfx Gabor Budahazi. Screenplay Paul Zindel. Starring Rene Auberjonois (Merlin), Hugo E Blick (Mordred), Michael Gross (Arthur), Bryce Hamnet (Clarence), Whip Hubley (Lancelot), Jean Marsh (Morgana), Keshia Knight Pulliam (Karen Jones), Emma Samms (Guinevere). circa 100 mins. Colour.
The Yankee this time is a 12-year-old black girl, Karen, stunned in a riding accident. The pictures in her schoolbooks provide a sudden technological stimulus to 6th-century England, thanks to adolescent Smith Clarence; her feminist ideas spread thanks to an enthusiastic Guinevere; artefacts like her Polaroid camera establish her as a powerful Wizard, and she is knighted as Sir Boss. She and Arthur go in disguise among the peasants and discover how loathed he is because of Mordred's actions. The notion of Thinning is explored: when Karen's "Magic" ceases to work, Arthur believes the failure of magic arises from his own failure of governance – he is the Land. Karen's departure from Camelot homages Dorothy's from Oz in The Wizard of Oz (1939).
It sounds grim, but this, though no major piece, is a delight. The script has wit. Pulliam is a personable young star, and she and the rest of the cast are clearly in love with the project. Budgetary cracks show through the wallpaper, but it hardly matters. This is among the better Arthur movies. [JG]
7. A Young Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Canadian/Czech/French movie (1995). Filmline/Images/Screen Partners/Astral/World International Network. Pr Nicolas Clermont. Dir R L Thomas. Vfx François Aubry. Screenplay Frank Encarnacao, Thomas. Starring Ian Falconer (Lancelot), Paul Hopkins (Galahad), Jack Langedijk (Ulrich), Nick Mancuso (Arthur), Philippe Ross (Hank Morgan/Sir Dude), Theresa Russell (Morgan Le Fay), David Schaeffer (Clarence), Polly Shannon (Sir Alisande/Alexandra), Michael York (Merlin). 89 mins. Colour.
Young Hank, a high-school wannabe rock-star, hits his head on an amplifier and travels in time. His life is saved by the sole female Knight of the Round Table, Sir Alisande, a Double of modern high-school babe Alexandra. He uncovers that Morgan and Ulrich are plotting to usurp the king, and thwarts their plans with the aid of Lancelot and Alisande. Returned to today, he plucks up the courage to ask Alexandra for a date. This movie is not as bad as it sounds; what grates is the deliberate cheapening of the Matter of Britain through teenage "cleverness". [JG]