Philippe de Broca is probably the least appreciated of all French New Wave filmmakers, and the bulk of his reputation today rests primarily on King of Hearts (1966), a work that might be viewed as the original cult movie. In some areas of the U.S., this multi-lingual fantasticated anti-war comedy played for more than a year. (The biggest claim is that it ran for five years at a theater in Cambridge, Mass.) The appeal was obvious: It was light and playful, yet heavy-handed in its anti-war statements, and it had just the right touch when it came to romanticizing mental illness (the old gag about how the insane are more sane than the sane—something that works better when the sane are engaged in war). Though not as well-remembered today as it might be, the film still has its adherents—and it is still a good, if not great, movie.
The setup has a British army private (Alan Bates) mistaken for an explosives expert during World War I, which causes him to be sent into a small French town to defuse a bomb left by the German army. The town’s real populace has fled, which has allowed the inmates of the local (and apparently thriving) insane asylum to take over their positions in the little burg’s hierarchy. Not surprisingly, their odd behavior perplexes the soldier, though, of course, he ultimately succumbs to the spell. To add to the mix, the town is also full of escaped circus animals. Depending on your taste and mood, this will all be charming or more than a little cloying. But can you really hate a movie with a white camel in it?