KINGS GO FORTH has a rather grand and portentous ring to it as a title, suggestive of a sweeping saga on a mighty event. This modest 1958 WW2 melodrama isn’t exactly royal, but remains casually watchable for 109 minutes thanks to its charismatic leads, even if the script is basically a platter of hooey that leaves little impression five minutes after its over.
Set in southern France, in the fall of ’44, where action in that region is winding down to sporadic bursts.* With lots of time off from the business of killing ‘Krauts’, two GIs have enough r&r to wine & dine the local damsels (war as speed-dating). In this case, the sought after Mademoiselle is Natalie Wood. Frank Sinatra and Tony Curtis get to be buddies despite coming from opposite sides of the tracks, and both get tangled up with the doe-eyed lovely. Sinatra’s intentions are honorable (cough) while Curtis is out to polish his inner heel. The lady happens to be “part Negro”, and interracial romance was still controversial when the film was made. The issue is patly detailed and resolved, the screenplay from Merle Miller and direction from Delmer Daves not as bracing as Curtis’ other racial lesson exercise from the same year, The Defiant Ones.
Sinatra is good; he plays it straight without injecting ‘hip’ business.** Curtis could play a jerk with his eyes closed. At 33, he was on a roll that year, enjoying a big hit with The Vikings and a moderate score off The Perfect Furlough, with his superior job in The Defiant Ones netting him his first and only Oscar nomination. Wood, 20, is attractive as ever, but the film would have had more bite if it had dared to go with the original casting idea of Dorothy Dandridge. That would have been too touchy for half the theaters in the country, still riven by segregation (such foolishness was only yesterday…).***
Elmer Bernstein’s thumping main title march is an effective use of drumbeats. Some French location work was done in Nice on the Riviera and Villefranche-sur-Mer in the Alpes-Maritime. The hills around Carmel, California filled in the blanks, with Daniel L. Fapp’s crisp black & white camera meshing the footage with a polish. Daves directed two other films that year, both westerns; the excellent Cowboy and the entertaining The Badlanders.
With Leora Dana, Karl Swenson, Ann Codee, Eddie Ryder and Jacques Berthier. The movie in total finally amounts to twaddle, but ticket buyers brought it to position #27 among the years releases.
* The heatedly debated invasion of Southern France was eventually dubbed “The Champagne Campaign” by wiseacre GIs, and did afford some extra parley-vous breaks for lucky units. Notable contributions in the zone of operations came from the famed Nisei regiment of Japanese-Americans, the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team, featured in 1951’s Go For Broke! and overdue for a remake —if anyone in Hollywood is smart enough to consider the Asian-American audience. Hint.
** Frank, 43 here, in one of seven ‘serious’ serviceman roles he handled. Though medically 4-F from WW2 service due to a punctured eardrum, he donned studio khaki and went forth in From Here To Eternity, Some Came Running, Never So Few, The Manchurian Candidate, None But The Brave and Von Ryan’s Express. In lighter material, he was sailor or trooper in Anchors Aweigh, On The Town and Sergeants 3.
*** Joe David Brown’s 1956 novel was based on his WW2 experiences in the setting. Dandridge coveted the part of ‘Monique’. When her agent lobbied for the role, producer Frank Ross deferred with “it would be impossible to use a Negro in the role of Monique, because in the beginning of the picture we must not know that she is a Negro. I am a great admirer of Dorothy Dandridge. She is one of the finest natural actresses I have ever seen. Maybe someday I will have a picture for her. I would like to.” (…’and some of my best friends are…’) Skittishness rewarded Wood (dark hair her only feature close to anything resembling mulatto) and a dejected Dandridge signed on for the disaster of Porgy And Bess, with directorial torment supplied by Otto Preminger. Brown later authored “Addie Pray”, which became a movie as Paper Moon.