King Arthur was a Gentleman is a sweet, little British comedy set during World War II. Arthur King, played by English radio, film and television actor and comedian Arthur Askey, is stuck at Whitehall making maps and dreaming about King Arthur of legend when he would much rather be doing his part actively fighting the Nazis. Arthur’s girlfriend Susan and Susan’s friend Gwen are in the military and their unit is getting ready to ship out. They get 5 days leave and Susan goes to visit Arthur but has to borrow Gwen’s pass since she left hers back at the barracks. A night out with their boyfriends gets Susan and Gwen in hot water when Susan is discovered using Gwen’s pass. But Gwen’s father is a colonel and he offers to smooth everything over. Arthur uses a little blackmail on the colonel to get a post in a fighting unit. Arthur, no surprise, is not a very good soldier and nearly wrecks the base trying to drive a military vehicle. He also keeps his mates awake at night with endless stories about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. When some of his friends discover an old buried sword, they decide to pull a joke on Arthur and convince him the relic is actually King Arthur’s legendary sword, Excalibur.
Arthur Askey, who plays mapmaker turned soldier Arthur King, rose to stardom in the late 1930s on the BBC radio comedy show Band Waggon. During World War II, Arthur made several comedy films for Gainsborough Pictures. After the War, he easily made the transition to television and was a regular on variety shows and sitcoms into the 1970s. Arthur was a short, slight guy (He was only 5 foot 2 inches tall) and such a nice guy that he earned the nickname “Big Hearted Arthur”. He plays just such a nice little guy in King Arthur was a Gentleman.
Arthur King is sweet and very earnest and his King Arthur obsession is cute. The joke his mates pull on him is not mean spirited, it’s just that it makes perfect sense to them after they find the old sword. They even set up a microphone and speaker to make Arthur think he is hearing the Lady of the Lake. They try to come clean to Arthur several times but he can toss food into the air and magically hack it in half and he accidentally captures several German soldiers while cutting grass with the sword. Arthur is so convinced the sword is real that he does not listen to his friends’ explanations. Arthur’s obsession with the sword and the legends cause all kinds of trouble for his friends. He becomes convinced that his King Arthur needs a Guinevere and he must break up with Susan and marry Gwen (who coincidentally has a boyfriend named Lance – as in Lancelot). Then several of his friends go missing behind enemy lines and Arthur, along with Susan and Gwen, and, of course, the sword, head off to the rescue.
King Arthur was a Gentleman is a black and white film that runs a little over an hour and a half. It premiered at theaters in the United Kingdom on December 28, 1942 and features many scenes of real life British troops and combat. It was also really nice to see the UK female service members featured front and center. They are portrayed as dedicated and capable, no damsel in distress in sight. The film also has several musical numbers. Arthur, Susan (played by Evelyn Dall), and Gwen (played by vocalist Anne Shelton) all get a couple of numbers with support from a chorus. The songs are pleasant but completely forgettable and often feel very awkwardly inserted into the movie. The story itself is also simple and pleasant. Arthur, and everybody else, is nice and earnest about opposing the Nazis. The joke about the sword that Arthur so easily falls for is also simple (and really would not fool a five year old). But then, there is a little twist at the very end of the film that makes Arthur and Susan wonder if the sword really was a joke. King Arthur was a Gentleman is in the Public Domain and available FREE to download or watch online at the Internet Archive. The audio is nice and clear and the video is also very nice. King Arthur was a Gentleman is just an all round nice little film.