Grade:  C+/B-
Fantasy musical comedy romance
Not rated (would be G)

Disney didn’t invent family movies. As early as the 1930s, studios were adapting literary classics by Stevenson, Verne, Kipling, Dickens, and Twain with the intent that they might appeal to whole families. Disney’s philosophy was to make films for children that adults could also enjoy; those early family films were made for adults, but with content that might also keep children entertained. So many of these films were pleasant entertainment, which is to say a kind of middle-of-the-road offering meant to please a lot of people a little.

When The New York Times’ Bosley Crowther reviewed A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court(1949), he called it “that good time to be had by all.” Like many costumed adventures the studio system produced, this Twain adaptation featured a fantasy common to children (being transported to another time and place) and musical numbers that were a staple back then. While the adults were enjoying the romance and music, children were engaged by the escapist adventure and comedy, with everyone appreciating crooner Bing Crosby (The Bells of St. Mary’s, Going My Way, Holiday Inn) as Hank Martin, an easy-going blacksmith/mechanic from 1912 who awakens from a bonk on the head to find himself in medieval England, where he falls for King Arthur’s niece (Rhonda Fleming), becomes a knight, and has to out-wizard Merlin (Murvyn Vye) in order to survive.    

But that was then, and this is now. Despite the engaging premise, A Connecticut Yankee doesn’t have quite the same crackling energy and spitfire gags as Bob Hope’s costumed pirate romp The Princess and the Pirate (1944), nor does it have the intricacy of plot and memorable scenes that still make Danny Kaye’s The Court Jester (1955) a great film. Both of those costumed adventures are stronger than A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which may have been more restrained because director Tay Garnett had a better track record with dramas and war movies than he did musicals or comedies. In fact, his last comedy prior to this one was seven years earlier: the bomb My Favorite Spy, with Kay Kyser. Everything in A Connecticut Yankee seems as mellow as Crosby’s character, when a more accomplished comedic director might have varied the pacing and contrasted Crosby’s mellowness with more madcap situations or manic characters.

Is A Connecticut Yankee still entertaining? Yes, but the film’s muted energy and leisurely pacing can make attentions drift until an engaging moment pops up again. Thankfully there are a number of them, as when Hank lights matches or uses his 20th-century knowledge to wow them with “magic.” Or when Merlin decides that Camelot isn’t big enough for two wizards and manipulates a jealous Sir Lancelot to rectify the situation. Or when Sir Sagramore (William Bendix), Hank, and a disguised King Arthur (Cedric Hardwicke) act as poor wanderers so the king can see how his people are really living . . . and they sing a catchy song, “Busy Doing Nothing,” that you’ll remember weeks later.

Crowther thought Bing Crosby made this film, and the veteran of all those “road” pictures with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour does have an engaging personality in this film. But in recalling those road pictures, you remember the snappy one-liners, ad libs, and good old American one-upmanship and wish there were more of that here. Alas, Crosby-as-Hank lacks a worthy opponent for a duel of comedic wits, with the only two to engage in banter being a doddering king and a blundering knight who is busted down to squire. With Crosby delivering lines in his droll style, ultimately, what’s missing from this film is a banter-worthy jouster to challenge him.

The box on this Universal Blu-ray says “black & white” and the above black-and-white photos are promos, but don’t worry. The film is in color, featuring the rich, warm colors of a Technicolor movie from the period.

Entire family:  Yes
Run time:  107 min., Color
Studio/Distributor:  Universal
Aspect ratio:  1.33:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HDMA 2.0 Mono
Bonus features:  none
Amazon link
Not rated (would be G)

Language:  1/10—Something may have escaped me, but I didn’t notice a thing

Sex: 1/10—Cheek-to-cheek embraces, but that’s about it

Violence:  2/10—A joust, plus some other mischief, all bloodless and comic or semi-comic

Adult situations:  2/10—Banquet drinking, and an imprisonment and slave auction

Takeaway:  Fans of Bing Crosby and old-time musical-comedy adventures will enjoy this one, and maybe even families with younger children because there are some memorable moments in the film, and the concept works well enough when it doesn’t slow for a romance that’s tepid by today’s standards