King of Hearts (1966): Cult Movie Starring Alan Bates and Genevieve Bujold


Philippe De Broca’s anti-war moral parable, King of Hearts, is not a very deep or even good movie, but it is charming, and in moments genuinely touching.

Broca has assembled a great European cast of both British and French thespians, including Alan Bates, Pierre Brasseur, Jean-Claude Brialy, and best of all, Genevieve Bujold.

A poetry-loving Scotsman named Private Charles Plumpick (Alan Bates) walks into French town in WWI that has been abandoned by anyone except those in the mental asylum.  The occupied German forces had left a time bomb, and Plumpick is assigned with finding the explosives. 

The film’s theme and message—who’s crazy and who’s sane–are familiar from other works.  ON one level, the movie illustrates the notion that the certified insane of this world are a lot saner, or less lunatic, than the madmen who persist in making lunatic war. Among other counter-mainstream ideas, the film depicts the revenge of patients on their stuffy and pretentious shrinks.

Stylish and offbeat, “King of Hearts” became a cult favorite on campuses across the United States, because it was released during the height of the Vietnam War and the Flower Children. The movie enjoyed a five-year run in a tiny house in Cambridge. The reason for that, as one critic suggested, is that Cambridge, home of Harvard and MIT, has more psychiatrists per capita than other cities in the U.S.

In later years, the movie became associated with a psychological interpretation of madness and creativity, which was popular in the late 1960s.

Most viewers remember fondly the film’s last scene, when Alan Bates, stark naked, stands at the gate of a madhouse holding a birdcage, seeking permanent asylum from the real world. It’s not particularly surprising when the sane and lucid Scott finally succumbs to the inmates’ logic.  This scene, like many others, is both funny and sad, humorous but also touching.

The whole cast is wonderful, beginning with the leads and all the way down to the supporting actors. Alan Bates plays the “sane” character with verve and comic intensity.

Jean Claude Brialy and Francoise Christophe have great moments as the mad duke and duchess, respectively.

Previously, De Broca has directed “The Man from Rio” and “The Five-Day Lover,” also witty, whimsical  and internationally commercial films.



Private Charles Plumpick (Alan Bates)

General Geranium (Pierre Brasseur)

The Duke, le Duc de Trefle (Jean-Claude Brialy)

Couelicot (Genevieve Bujold)

Colonel Alexander MacBibenbrook (Adolfo Celi)

Madame Eglantine (Micheline Presle)

The Duchess (Francoise Christophe)

Bishop Daisy-Monseigneur Maguerite (Julien Guiomar)

The Crazy Barber (Michel Serrault)

Lt. Hamburger (Marc Dudicourt)



Produced and directed by Philippe de Broca

Screenplay: Daniel Boulanger, based  on n idea by Maurice Bessy)

Camera: Pierre Lhomme)

Editor: Francoise Javet

Music: Georges Delerue

Art direction: Francois de Lamothe

Costumes: Jacques Fonteray


Running Time: 102 min

(Le Roi de Coeur)