King of Hearts (1966 film)

King of Hearts (original French title: Le Roi de cœur) is a 1966 French comedy-drama film directed by Philippe de Broca and starring Alan Bates.

Le Roi de cœur (original French title)
King of Hearts (United States)
Original U.S. release poster
Directed byPhilipe de Broca
Produced byPhilipe de Broca
Written byDaniel Boulanger (screenplay)
Maurice Bessy (screenwriter)
StarringAlan Bates
Music byGeorges Delerue
CinematographyPierre Lhomme
Edited byFrancoise Javet (II)
Distributed byLes Productions Artistes Associés
United Artists (United States)
Release date
  • 21 December 1966 (1966-12-21)
Running time
102 minutes
LanguageFrench, English, German
Box office$580,000[1]

The film is set in a small town in France near the end of World War I. As the Imperial German Army retreats, they booby trap the whole town to explode. The locals flee and, left to their own devices, a gaggle of cheerful lunatics escape the asylum and take over the town thoroughly confusing the lone Scottish soldier who has been dispatched to defuse the bomb.


Charles Plumpick (Bates) is a kilt-wearing French-born Scottish soldier of the Signal Corps, caring for War pigeons, who is sent by his commanding officer to disarm a bomb placed in the town square by the retreating Germans.

As the fighting comes closer to the town, its inhabitants—including those who run the insane asylum—abandon it. The asylum gates are left open, and the inmates leave the asylum and take on the roles of the townspeople. Plumpick has no reason to think they are not who they appear to be—other than the colorful and playful way in which they're living their lives, so at odds with the fearful and war-ravaged times. The lunatics crown Plumpick the King of Hearts with surreal pageantry as he frantically tries to find the bomb before it goes off.

Theatrical releases

When it was released in France in 1966, King of Hearts was not especially successful critically or at the box office, with only 141,035 admissions.[2]

However, it achieved bona fide cult-film status, when United States distribution rights were picked up by Randy Finley and Specialty Films in Seattle in 1973. It was paired with Marv Newland's Bambi Meets Godzilla and John Magnuson's Thank You Mask Man and marketed under the heading The King of Hearts and His Loyal Short Subjects.[3][4] During the mid 1970s, it was seen in repertory movie theaters across the United States, eventually running for five years at the now defunct film house, the Central Square Cinemas[5] (2 screens) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[6]

Main cast

Stage adaptation

In 1978, King of Hearts was adapted as a Broadway musical of the same name, with a book by Joseph Stein, lyrics by Jacob Brackman, music by Peter Link, orchestrations by Bill Brohn, set design by Santo Loquasto, and direction and choreography by Ron Field. The cast featured Don Scardino as the lead character, who was reworked as an American soldier named Johnny Perkins. Pamela Blair, Bob Gunton, and Millicent Martin played supporting roles. Opening at New York City's Minskoff Theatre on October 22, 1978, amid a three-month newspaper strike that may have impeded its advance publicity, the show closed after 48 performances.[7]


  1. Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 279
  2. J.P.'s Box Office
  3. (Jan 27, 1975) The Milwaukee Journal retrieved May 4, 2015
  4. "Randy Finley", retrieved May 4, 2015
  5. DeLuca, Gerald A. "Central Square Cinemas". Cinema Treasures. Cinema Treasures, LLC. Archived from the original on 2016-05-20. Retrieved 16 June 2017. The most famous bit of programming here was Philippe de Broca’s 1966 "King of Hearts", which ran for four years or so and spawned a huge cult following that gave the film new life across the United States. The Central Square Cinemas closed April 1, 1980.
  6. Criterion retrieved May 5, 2015
  7. Kelly, Kevin. "A broken 'Hearts': Director looks at what went wrong." The Boston Globe, December 24, 1978.
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