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Saturday, September 13, 2014

King Ralph

Admittedly, this post is being posted a little later than normal, but my hope is that this SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES post is worth the wait.

It seems like only yesterday that I kicked off the current 10-part miniseries based on this collection of family films that I purchased over the summer, and now that we're almost at the end, I'm trying to figure out what other movies I can do!  At least Halloween is coming up soon, so I'm sure that I can come up with four scary films designed to make you shake in your shoes.

For now, this is week #8 of a ten-week look back at some films that made you laugh, touched your heart - or in a couple of cases made you throw popcorn at your television screen.  I still won't forgive myself for allowing myself to sit through "Ed".

Anyway, one thing that I noticed about this compilation is that thirty per cent of these films all contain the same actor.  Now, when it comes to movie compilations on DVD, unless you're buying a particular series on a box set (like the "Lethal Weapon 4-film series, the "Spider-Man" trilogy, or however many "Police Academy" movies that have been made throughout the 1980s), the odds are that all of the films will have different actors in them.  It's very rare that more than one film will have the same lead actor in a compilation that has random films on it.

And, yet, on three of the ten movies in this family film package, John Goodman has a lead role. 

And, why not?  John Goodman is a fine actor.  I've liked him since the days he played Dan on the sitcom "Roseanne", and he's appeared in a lot of films and movies that I have really enjoyed.

We've already looked at "Matinee", and the finale of this 10-part-series will also feature John Goodman in a starring role as well.  And today's film also has Goodman in the lead role, although admittedly, this film is my least favourite of the three.  It's not really a horrible film, per se.  I remember watching it when I was around eleven or twelve and liking it back then.  I think this is just one of those instances in which I like a movie less the older I get.

Then again, when I was eleven or twelve, I was a little bit more apt to take everything at face value.  To me, it seemed absolutely logical to have an average Joe come in to serve as the ruler of an entire kingdom after a tragedy wipes out the entire royal family.  In fact, there's a wonderful book that depicts that exact situation entitled "Headlong" by Emlyn Williams, which has a twenty-four year old stage actor named Jack Green taking over the British monarchy after the royal family is killed in a dirigible accident.  It's a very good book, and one that I recommend.

In fact, the initial draft for this film was supposed to be a retelling of this story, only instead of the movie being set in the 1930s, it would be set in the 1990s.  But somehow, the book plot got left on the cutting room floor.  The personality traits of some characters were completely changed, the tone of the story became a lot more comical, and instead of the future King being a 24-year-old stage actor from England, it was changed to a 39-year-old lounge singer from Las Vegas.

Even the name was changed of the main character.  Instead of Goodman's character being referred to as King John II, he would come to be known as King Ralph.

Yes, King Ralph did become a minor success at the box office when it was released on February 15, 1991.  Making just over fifty-three million at the box office, the film's profits were double its budget.  That's always a good thing.  And for what it was worth, critics seemed to have no fault in Goodman's performance as Ralph, saying that he was likeable and charming.  It was really the rest of the film with its contrived plot and predictable jokes that really turned critics off.

Okay, granted, the way that the movie opens, it's a little bit questionable.  In the book that this film was based off of, the entire royal family gets incinerated in a Hindenburg like disaster.  Which made perfect sense, given that the book's setting was during the time period in which that tragedy took place. 

In "King Ralph", the whole House of Wyndham gets electrocuted because they took a family photo next to a dodgy electrical cord that had gotten wet.  Hardly believable, but you have to admit that it did provide a nice sight gag.

Of course, with the entire royal family seemingly deceased, the search is on for a new heir who can lead Britain into the next generation, and royal private secretary Sir Cedric Willingham (Peter O'Toole) is at the head of the investigation.

Unfortunately for Willingham, his search leads him to Las Vegas and struggling rock and roll musician Ralph Jones (Goodman).  And when I say that Ralph is struggling, I mean he get fired within the first few minutes of his introduction for watching television instead of playing piano.  To rub salt in the would, he's replaced by a monkey.

Again, I was eleven when I watched this movie on VHS.  I believed that anything could happen.

Oh, and how Ralph came to be the heir of the royal family of Wyndham?  Let's just say that Ralph's grandfather - the second Duke of Warren - engaged in a little hanky-panky with a chamber maid at an American hotel, and the product of that little dalliance was Ralph's old man.  Therefore, Ralph shares a connection to the royal family through his father's side.

And since Ralph's grandfather and father have since passed on, this makes Ralph the sole heir to the entire kingdom.  A fact that Ralph is reluctant to believe until he sees the Duke's ring, which looked exactly like the ring that his grandmother wore - claiming that she had received it from a prince.

And so begins the transition to make the boorish, uncouth Ralph into the next ruler of the British monarchy, and of course, Willingham is the one in charge of the whole thing.  Of course, trying to introduce Ralph to such British cuisine as "bangers and mash" and "spotted dick" would prove to be a challenge.  Having Ralph behaving in the proper way when introducing himself to important people is a challenge.  Understanding the rules and regulations in a standard game of cricket was a challenge.  Heck, trying to put an American in the British monarchy was a challenge in itself - especially to Lord Percival Graves (John Hurt), a nasty, cold, calculating man who secretly wants to get Ralph out of there so he can be king himself. 

But despite Ralph's struggles, he certainly does take the experience seriously after a few blunders.  He uses his blue-collar background to impress world leaders - most notably, the King of Zambizi (Rudolph Walker), and his genuine charm seems to impress Britain's common people immensely.  He even manages to fall in love while he is serving as King in the form of Miranda Greene, an exotic dancer (yes, I said exotic dancer).  And, of course, Graves tries to use Miranda in his quest to get the throne...but what happens when Miranda really starts to have feelings for Ralph?  What sorts of low tricks will Graves do to get what he wants?  And could there possibly be another heir to the throne that not even Ralph and Graves are aware of?

Those answers will be revealed in the film.  But not here.  But I can offer you some interesting pieces of trivia for this film. 

01 - It goes without saying if you watch the movie, but yes, that is John Goodman really singing.

02 - Interestingly enough, there's a scene in which Ralph and Miranda try unsuccessfully to get a Whopper from a Burger King restaurant.  One of John Goodman's first television roles was in a Burger King commercial!

03 - Princess Anna of Finland (Joely Richardson) was purposely styled to resemble Diana, Princess of Wales.

04 - John Goodman was the only American actor to be cast in the film.

05 - It appears as though the name of the royal family was actually supposed to be Windsor (the real name), but was changed to Wyndham at the last minute, based on some scenes which appear to be dubbed.

06 - There is no such nation as Zambezi in the world.  It was a country that was made up in order to serve the plot.

07 - This movie was filmed between April and July of 1990.

08 - Bill Murray was originally considered to play the role of Ralph.

09 - The chimpanzee that replaced Ralph in Vegas has a name.  Would you believe it's "Mitzi, the Psychic Chimp"?

10 - Camille Coduri, who played Miranda in the movie, was only paid fifteen thousand pounds for her part.

And, that wraps up a blog on "King Ralph".  Next week, the star of the film is Steve Martin.  But is this really a good thing or not?

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