For, June 20, 2014

The Universal Vault Series, the studio's manufacture-on-demand label, tends to release titles without any fanfare, no publicity at all as far as I can discern. So I have to remember to check up on the label every now and then, and sometimes a real gem sneaks through.

One of the latest is "If I Were King" (1938, b/w), starring British actor Roland Colman, who is best remembered today as the star of "Random Harvest" (1942), "A Double Life" (1947) and Frank Capra's "Lost Horizon" (1937).

But in the 1930s, he was also known as quite the swashbuckler, with "A Tale of Two Cities" (1936), "The Prisoner of Zenda" (1937) and this one.

In "If I Were King," Colman stars as a dissolute poet whose criticisms about King Louis XI of France (Basil Rathbone) are overheard by the king himself who is in disguise at a local pub.


                Colman, left, and Rathbone in 'If I Were King'

This leads to Colman being brought to the court under false pretenses as a new constable, but he is really to be killed as a traitorous example.

A dashing leading man during the silent era, it was sound that really gave Colman's already high-rolling career a jolt, thanks to his mellifluous voice. As a result, he remained one of Hollywood's brightest stars for two more decades.


Colman's voice was so distinctive that a 1948 Donald Duck cartoon titled "Donald's Dream Voice" — in which the squawking, unintelligible quackster takes a magic pill to improve his speaking ability — has Donald talking with an impersonation of Colman.

At the time, everyone got the joke. In fact, people were asking if Colman himself had provided the cartoon voice. (He didn't; it was character actor Leslie Denison.)