The Vagabond King (Paramount) provides a multimillion-dollar answer to a question that nobody has been asking: Where are the snores of yesteryear? In 1901, the short, unhappy life of François Villon, the notorious balladist of 15th century France, was rewritten by Playwright Justin McCarthy as a long, claptrappy rapier romance that held the stage for decades and made E. H. Sothern the most famous scenery-chewer of his time.
In 1925, when audiences went sour on all the high-flown words, Operettist Rudolf Friml sweetened them up with some pleasant, sugary music. The Vagabond King ran for 511 performances on Broadway, and had every high-school tenor in the country gargling such sentimental favorites as Only a Rose, Someday and The Vagabond Song. Hollywood made a movie of the musical in 1930not to mention two film versions of the McCarthy play in 1920 and 1938and now the poor poet's corpse has been dug up once again.
Not Technicolor, not VistaVision can conceal the overripe condition of the subject; and the silly new script ("Your rapid maneuvers leave me breathless indeed"), along with a down-the-same-old-rut production, is ill-calculated to restore life. The principals, Kathryn Grayson and a European tenor called Oreste, sing about as well as most people do in the movies, though at times the audience may find itself wishing that Oreste, who can holler pretty loud when he's a mind to, had two names and only one lung.
Walk the Proud Land (Universal-International) is a western with a difference: the Indians, or most of them, are the good guys. The movie purports to be the true story of John Philip Clum (Audie Murphy), Indian agent for the Department of the Interior, who was sent to Tucson, Ariz, in 1874 to represent the U.S. Government in its relations with the Apaches. Clum arrived with a novel idea, vis., that the Apaches are human.
It is the kind of idea that makes him unpopular with the local Army general, the state governor and the boys in the corner saloon, who begin calling him an "Indian lover." Meanwhile, back on the reservation, black-eyed Tianay (Anne Bancroft), a squaw who is "much woman," moves in on Audie with the conviction that he is "much man." Rather stuffily, Audie refuses to prove it in their adobe cottage, explaining that he is already "pledged," and that at best a white man can handle only one wife at a time. But he does prove, in 88 minutes flat, that a white man can singlehanded do better than the entire U.S. Army at hunting down Indian rebels, and can bring peace, freedom and prosperity to the Apachesprovided, of course, that the scriptwriter is on his side.
Anybody who thinks that wooden-faced Audie Murphy is trying to play the man in front of the cigar store is wrong. He is not.