The King’s Thief (1955)
This sword wielding adventure is just the right tonic for a rainy Sunday afternoon if you can get your hands on a copy. By no means does it fall into the category of MGM’s other spectacles like Ivanhoe or Knights of the Round Table that were reserved for Robert Taylor but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold it’s own for the uninitiated. It’s also given the cinemascope treatment and has a recent Oscar winner and a soon to be holder of the golden statuette.
We’ve a familiar story here with George Sanders as Charles II, and David Niven cast surprisingly in a villainous role usually reserved for Basil Rathbone or Robert Douglas as the King’s trusted Duke who points out all the traitors within range of the King’s court. Niven sees to it that Ann Blyth’s father is the most recent nobleman hung for treason. The reason? Land and money of which Niven claims large portions as his own. Ann is currently in Norway and begins her journey back to England to reclaim her Father’s good name and expose Niven and his own evil designs.
Niven’s about to tangle with Edmund Purdom and his trio of highwaymen who not only strip him of his jewels and money belt, but they claim a little black book of names and wealth. Not surprisingly two names have been crossed off, one of which is poor Ann’s Father. As long as that book is in someone else’s possession, Niven is in trouble of being exposed. This is where the movie begins to show that it was either speedily put together or scenes were clipped to meet budget restraints or perhaps a combination of both. The fact that this is a glossy MGM effort coming in at less than 80 minutes is in itself rather shocking. According to IMDB, the film was directed by Robert Z. Leonard but also lists an uncredited Hugo Fregonese. The fact is it seems like the film makes too many convenient plot jumps resulting in Ann crossing paths with Purdom and finding an ally way too easily as they both pinpoint Niven as a dangerous foe. It quickly morphs into a “B” programmer that looks like an “A” project gone wrong.
But what the hell, it’s still a fun adventure and yes that is Roger Moore under the long hair as Purdom’s best buddy. The pair are in this till victory or death once Purdom lays a challenge at Niven’s feet exposing himself as the highwayman in possession of the incriminating book. Don’t be surprised if Niven thwarts all the plans against him and imprisons the boys and keeps poor Ann under his thumb to do his bidding. That is until our heroes can turn the tables on their master and make every effort they can to make their way to the Crown Jewels and King George Sanders.
Cue the customary sword fight with Purdom and Niven at the fade out and might Edmond wrap his arms around the fair lady? I’m not telling.
Keep your eyes open and you’ll spot a parcel of character players including John Dehner as Niven’s accomplice, Rhys Williams as a jailer, Alan Mowbray sneaks in and the smooth Paul Cavanagh makes an appearance as well warning Ann of the treachery that awaits her.
As far as costume pictures go, this is a minor effort but that doesn’t mean it’s not an enjoyable though forgettable affair. Niven may be the villain of the piece but unlike Rathbone or Douglas, he seems to be playing David Niven. He’s quick with the wit and plays it light and slick as if he knows all along he’ll be the last man standing. It’s also a chance to see a pre famous Roger Moore and it isn’t a stretch to see that leading roles awaited him let alone world wide fame. This is where you non-Moore lovers can voice your opinions. Hey, he was the Bond of my childhood so get over it.
Moore and Niven, friends off screen, would still be fighting the good fight years ahead in the 1980 WW2 adventure, The Sea Wolves.
King’s Thief turns up on TCM on occasion and like me, you might even have a VHS copy lying about to revisit on occasion.