KING RALPH kids both the stuff’n’ puff of the British monarchy and the “average” slob American’s lack of refinement. Slight and obvious, but cheerful and inoffensive, the 1991 comedy gave 39-year-old John Goodman his first star-billed leading role after 8 years on screen, soldiering 16 vital supporting roles in feature films. In a cast larded with redoubtable Brit isles talent, the chief co-star was Peter O’Toole, 59, racking an easy paycheck with effortless expertise.
The entire Royal Family is accidentally electrocuted (such a thing would no doubt receive a mixed response from mere mortals) and the search for the nearest living heir to the Crown reveals him to be failing Vegas lounge singer ‘Ralph Jones’ (Goodman). Coached and shielded with varying degrees of vex and success by ‘Sir Cedric Charles Willingham’ (O’Toole, being a “willing ham”) and loyal secretary ‘Duncan’ (Richard Griffiths), King Ralph must face palace intrigue from ‘Lord Percival Graves’ (John Hurt), while finding rom-com common sense/can-not-be romance with sweet, va-voom commoner ‘Miranda’ (Camille Corduri). Will all turn out to satisfy formula and sustain the gag for 97 minutes?
“We’ll put the velour industry on full standby.”
Written & directed by David S. Ward (The Sting, Sleepless In Seattle, The Mask Of Zorro), it’s an expected mix of cutting English put-down asides and doofy slob physical gags from the hapless colonial. Since Goodman’s deft, the dumbo stuff squeaks by.
DUNCAN: “When in public, a royal personage must refrain from chewing gum, using profanity, picking his nose, scratching his p… p… p… p… private parts and staring down the bust lines of visiting female dignitaries.” RALPH: What the hell! That’s everything!
Critics dumped on it, but it did mildly well, grossing $52,487,000 against a layout of $23,000,000, landing on 39th place during its release year.
Originally written for Bill Murray (who could’ve knocked it out in similar style as Big John), bolstered by the enunciation skills of cast members like Leslie Phillips, James Villiers, Joely Richardson (‘Princess Anna of Finland’), Julian Glover, Rudolph Walker (‘King Mulambon of Zambezi’), Niall O’Brien and Judy Parfitt.
DUNCAN: Sir Cedric! Sir Cedric! Good news. We’ve finally found an heir! WILLINGHAM: That’s wonderful, Duncan. Who is he? DUNCAN: His name is Jones. Ralph Jones. WILLINGHAM: Is he everything we’ve hoped for? DUNCAN: —embarrassed—“Well. He has his strengths and his weaknesses. You see, he’s—uncomfortable pause- “American.” WILLINGHAM: Quickly, Duncan! The strengths!