The Beloved Rogue (1927)




Director:     Alan Crosland. 

Starring:     John Barrymore (François Villon),  Conrad Veidt (King Louis XI),  Marceline Day (Charlotte de Vauxcelles),  Lawson Butt (Duke of Burgundy),  Henry Victor (Thibault d'Aussigny),  Slim Summerville (Jehan),  Mack Swain (Nicholas),  Angelo Rossitto (Beppo - the Dwarf),  Nigel De Brulier (Astrologer),  Lucy Beaumont (Villon's mother),  Otto Matieson (Olivier),   Jane Winton (The Abbess),  Rose Dione (Margot),  Bertram Grassby (Duke of Orleans),  Dick Sutherland (Tristan l'Hermite). 

Silent film, black and white..

French poet-patriot Francois Villon battles wits with King Louis XI


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

1432. France, war-torn and weary, the banners of Burgundy and England over her fairest towns. Joan of Arc’s fight to save France has ended in failure and death. At Vauxcelles, near Paris, another patriot is about to become a martyr.

Francois de Montcorbier, French patriot, is being burned at the stake. He wife witnesses the execution. The next day she visits the site of the execution. She grabs a few of the small pieces of bone and some ashes from the site and puts them in a heart-shaped locket that she wears around her neck on a necklace. She prays that God grant that her husband’s spirit lives on in the heart of her child.

She names her child Francois Villon, who will become the first great poet of France. Mother places the locket around his neck. Francois won’t drink his milk, so his nursemaid mixes the milk with some liquor. Now Francois is more than willing to drink the milk.

Paris. Twenty-five years later. Again Burgundy seeks to enslave France, not by war but by craft. Charles, Duke of Burgundy, covets the French throne.

King Louis XI of France visits the court astrologer, as he does every night. Louis is superstitious, crafty, cruel and a slave of the stars. The king wants to know if the stars say war or submission. The astrologer warns the king that war would be fatal, so he should welcome Charles of Burgundy as a friend. Louis then asks if he always is going to have to submit to Charles.

At this moment a message arrives that the Duke of Burgundy is already within the walls of Paris.  Louis tells his aide to tell the court that they should welcome his beloved cousin.

Paris celebrates All Fools’ Day as usual. A King of the Revels has just been elected. It’s Francois Villon. But Francois is busy finishing up a piece of burglary. The man is a poet, pickpocket and patriot. He loves France earnestly, French women excessively and French win exclusively.

Villon’s two partners in crime are Little Jehan and Nicholas. He leaps from roof to roof down to them. They have stolen two large silver pitchers and now they want some wine. But they have no money. So Francois fills one of the pitchers with water. They go into a bar and they have the bartender fill up the empty pitcher. Francois then switches the wine pitcher with a water pitcher. In front of the bartender he tastes the "wine" and finds it unacceptable. He pours the water into the container from which the real wine came, telling him that it’s water, "you son of an ox."

The crowd comes for Villon. They hoist him up on their shoulders. He rules the streets for a night. Now he dresses as a clown.   Charles arrives and tells his men to disperse the rabble. Charles and an aide get caught amongst the people. Villon uses the opportunity to makes fun of Charles. He says that Little Beppo’s dwarf body is less deformed than Burgundy’s soul.

Louis on horseback comes out and Villon cries out: "The King!" and everyone bows down. With the king is Tristan l’Hermite who is the busiest man in France. He is the executioner. Charles wants Villon punished for his insults. Villon makes Charlotte, ward of the King, laugh. The King asks him his name and he tells him. Louis then says that Master Villon is the best writer of verse in all of Paris. He pauses and says: "and the most insolent rogue in France!." Louis sentences Villon to exile. If he is ever found in Paris again, he will be hanged.  Villon is crushed by the news. He takes his disguise off.

Charles comes to Louis to ask a favor for his henchman, Count Thibault. Thibault then asks Louis for the hand of his ward, Charlotte of Vauxcelles, in marriage. Charlotte is shocked. Louis looks at his astrologer who nods in agreement. Charlotte gets down on her knees to plead her case that she doesn’t want to marry Thibault, but Louis only says it will please Charles and he will hear no more of it! Count Thibault is to escort her at once to Vauxcelles where she will prepare for the wedding ceremony.

Villon stays in the hostel of the Lame Flea just outside the walls of Paris. He works on his poetry. A cart arrives at the hostel full of delicacies from Charles to Louis. Villon tells his two henchmen that he will take the food and give it to the starving people of Paris.

Charlotte and Thibault, still within the walls of Paris, battle their way through the snow storm to Vauxcelles. They are forced to take shelter in an inn.

Meanwhile, Villon and his men prepare to catapult bread, beef and brandy over the wall of Paris to the people. They load the huge catapult basket with the food and drink. They release the catapult and it rains food on the people of Paris. The people praise Villon to the skies.

The guards see them. Villon jumps into the basket. The catapult launches Villon right through a window into the inn room of Charlotte. When he can get his wits back, he can see a very frightened Charlotte. When he talks with her, he sees that she has a book of his poetry. She says that Villon is a great poet, an immortal. But, she says: "And one must sorrow that man of such genius should be a drunken clown."   Villon tells her that is exactly what he has been telling the poet. Charlottes gasps: "You know him?" Villon says he’s known him from birth and expects to be with him when he dies. Thibault knocks on the room door. Charlotte explains to Villon it’s Thibault, the man the King is forcing her to marry, but she would rather die.

Thibault lets himself into the room and discovers Villon there. Villon leaves and Thibault chases after him. He jumps into an empty barrrel and hides. The men take the barrel into the inn with Villon still in it. Inside, they are going to put a bear into the barrel. Villon gets a surprise when he raises his head up. He jumps out of the barrel, Thibault sees him and the chase is on again.  To get away from Thibault, Villon keeps dodging him and his sword. His foot gets caught in the rope attached to the chandelier. When he releases the rope it pulls him up while the chandelier is lowered. Thibault thinks he’s got him now, but Villon frees his foot, thereby releasing the chandelier. It falls onto Thibault knocking him out.

Villon appears to a hero’s welcome by the staff of the inn. Charlotte sees him. They give Villon a beer and he says by order of the King Villon will not be charged for the drink. Charlotte is shocked to learn that the man that came through her window is the great poet she so admires.

The barber to the King pulls Villon to the side to tell him he’s got to escape or he will be hanged. Villon tells the man to tell the King that his wits are getting duller than his razors. This marriage will give Vauxcelles, the gateway to Paris, into the hands of Charles of Burgundy.

Thibault recovers and finds Villon still in the inn. He starts the chase again. Villon starts to rush past Charlotte when she grabs him and tells him to take her with him. So he does. They escape, helped by his knowledge of all the rooftops in Paris.

He finds the roof to his mother’s house. Villon slides right through an open window, followed by Charlotte. His mother shows up and he hugs and kisses her. This pleases Charlotte. His mother agrees to let Charlotte stay with her. Mom jumps to the conclusion that the woman is her son’s fiancée and she is ecstatic about it. Charlotte says nothing. Mom sits Charlotte by the fire and leaves the room. Villon thanks Charlotte for not disillusioning his mother. He tells her that she has kindled a fire in his heart. He is about to kiss her when his mother comes in. Villon tells Charlotte she will be safe here, but he’ll be safer at the Court of Miracles.

The barber accidentally cuts the King when they are disturbed by the astrologer. He says he was shocked that even the stars are false, for Burgundy in Vauxcelles will have one foot in Paris. The King glances at his wall map and sees Vauxcelles just to the southeast of Paris. Now the King is happy with his barber. The barber uses a pointer to show that Burgundy is just a little southeast of Vauxcelles. The King looks scared. He says it’s too late for him to stop the marriage. The barber tells him that the marriage is already stopped. Now the barber starts bragging about how he held back Thibault and his soldiers while Villon made off with Charlotte.

The King has a weird thought process. He concludes that maybe now that Villon has done him a good deed maybe he should execute him before he can do him a bad deed. He orders Villon’s arrest.  Villon returns to his mother’s house to see if Charlotte is alright. But Charlotte is gone and the window is open. He wakes his mother and she tells him that she had a dream in which she saw him sitting by the King as the savior of France. Villon says he is not worthy of such a vision. She tells him that his father died for France, but he will live for France.

Villon hears footsteps of the soldiers coming to arrest him. The soldiers enter the room and give Villon the arrest warrant. The charge is that he broke the Decree of Banishment and he is to be sentenced to death by hanging. Villon tells his mother that the King has invited him to a special function. The soldiers are silenced from saying anything by Villon who gives them a knowing glance. He says goodbye to his mother and goes with the soldiers.

King Louis tells Charlotte: "Be thankful for your own escape, and plead no more for this rogue." The executioner brings Villon into the court. The King seems to enjoy rubbing the death sentence in the condemned man’s face. He asks Villon if he knows when death will take him? Yes, he does, says Villon. Twenty-four hours before your death. This shocks the hell out of Louis. Louis looks at his astrologer, who looks concerned himself. So, Louis declares that there is a great prophet among them and no harm is to come to Villon. Francois Villon is now friend to the King.

The executioner watches over Villon in his princely room. Villon's two henchmen show up to see their buddy. They are happy to see each other. Villon notices that Charlotte is in the garden below his room. The henchmen help him get the executioner out of the room, Villon jumps from the window to a tree and climbs down to the garden. There he speaks with Charlotte saying that she begged for his life, but now she refuses to speak to him? She replies: "Perhaps I prefer listening to the poet Villon, rather than the courtier Villon." To that he says: "And perhaps Mademoiselle prefers listening to her pride, rather than to her heart!"

Charlotte says he does not have a reputation for fidelity. He swears that she is his only love. They kiss. Then she runs away, but Villon follows her. He kisses her, hugs her. He mentions marriage and Charlotte's mood quickly changes. Now she is all smiles. But she says she is not permitted to marry a man without land and without a great name. Villon protests that he has a great name: Francois Villon. "My songs will keep your beauty alive when the pride of your class is forgotten in dust!" Charlotte is a little insulted by the remark. The executioner arrives and tells Villon that the King is waiting for him. Charlotte is unhappy to see him leave her.

Villon goes to see the King. News arrives that Charlotte has been abducted by Burgundy’s men. The astrologer tells Louis that the time is not right to break with Burgundy. Vallon and his men leave.

Vallon says to the beggars: "Charles of Burgundy sponsors a marriage at Vauxcelles. By our ancient right we, the Guild of Beggars, go thither to the Free Feast!" Everyone is excited. The executioner tells Louis that he followed Villon but lost him. The King throws his glass of wine in his face. But, says the executioner, it is rumored that Villon has stirred up the beggars to rescue Charlotte.

Vauxcelles. The wedding preparations are all set. Charlotte is safely guarded in the tower chamber. The beggars all arrive. Villon tells his men he will go look for Charlotte. It doesn’t take long before he finds her. He climbs up the tower wall to get to her. The guards discover him and try to shoot him down with arrows. He is hit in the left forearm. He pulls the arrow out, but slips down a body length or so. Then he falls the rest of the way.

Villon is captured and put in a big loin cloth. He looks more like Tarzan than a poet. Villon as stubborn as always is whipped for an insolent remark. They torture him by putting him close to the fire and then drawing him back again. He passes out from the pain. The soldiers place him in a wooden cage and hoist it into the air. In fact, they hoist it all the way up to Charlotte’s window for "a last rendezvous".

Charlotte yells to awaken Villon. He awakens. She and he reach out to touch each other’s hand. Villon passes out and Charlotte faints.

Charles tells the crowd that this happy marriage ". . . plants the banners of Burgundy where Louis may see them every morning!" But before the ceremony, Charles wants to torture Villon a bit more. The cage comes down and they pull Villon out. They put him at the feet of Chares and Charlotte. Charlotte jumps to his side. Thibault has to force her back up next to him.

The beggars start taking out their weapons. It turns out that Louis himself has come dressed as a beggar. Now he takes off his disguise. He is accompanied by the executioner and some of his men. Villon slaps Charles in the face. Charles raises his sword to smite Villon, but Louis speaks up. Louis and his men get up on the raised platform with Charles. Louis tells Charlotte to leave.

Louis leaves the fate of Charles in Villon’s hands. His henchmen tell him to stick Charles in the wooden cage and hoist him up. Villon says let Charles plead for mercy before his Court of Fools. The beggars grab Charles and bring him amongst them. They put him in the wooden cage along with Thibault.

Dressed in a simple outfit like those worn by Villon, Charlotte comes to Court. She tells Louis that she is leaving Vauxcelles to him and she is going to seek happiness with the man she loves. Louis says but he’s a commoner. Villon says he outwitted the greatest King France has ever had. Louis wants to know who. Villon says he outwitted Louis XI by saying Louis would die twenty-four hours after he died.  Louis tells Villon: "Master Villon, your pen has done more for France than any sword." He lets the couple go. As they walk out Villon kisses Charlotte.


Good movie.  I didn't expect much from it because it is a silent film done way back in 1927.  But the movie was even funny on several occasions, which was a pleasant surprise.  John Barrymore was very good in the main role.  Pretty athletic fellow too, who in loincloth, looked like a Tarzan actor.   Marceline Day as Charlotte was also good in her role.  And although the story is fictitious, I think there's quite enough correct historical references to be of some value historically speaking. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:

1423 – Louis born in Bourges, Cher, France. His father was Charles the Dauphin.  At this time the English held northern France. His father was restricted to the center and south of France.  Princess Yolande of Aragon, grandmother of Louis, was the driving force in saving France from the English.

1431 – Villon born in Paris in poverty. His father died in his youth. His mother, was still alive when he was 30 years of age.  Villon led a reckless life among the wilder youth of the University of Paris.  His uncle Guillaume de Villon was the chaplain in the collegiate church of Saint-Benoît-le-Bestourne. He was also a professor of canon law.  He took young Villon into his house.

1436 – Louis forced to marry Margaret of Scotland (daughter of James I of Scotland). This worsened the already bad relationship with his father, who he despised because Louis thought him a weakling.

1440 – Louis part of uprising known as the Praguerie. The goal of the uprising was to install Louis over Charles as Regent. The uprising failed. Luckily for Louis, his father forgave him.

1443 – the seven cantons of the Old Swiss Confederacy invade the canton of Zürich and besiege the city. Zürich had made an alliance with Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor. Frederick in turn appeals to Charles VII of France to send an army to relieve the siege

1444 – Louis leads an army against the Swiss at the Battle of St. Jakob an der Birs. The Swiss fight to the last men in a fierce hand-to-hand battle.

1445 – Louis’s wife dies.

1446 – Louis is ordered out of court and sent to his own province of Dauphiné to establish order there. (The two would never meet again.) Louis is a virtual king there and continues intriguing against his father.

1449 – Villon took the degree of bachelor.

1451 (Feb.) – at 27 years of age, Louis, marries without Charles' consent the eight-year-old Charlotte of Savoy.

1452 – Villon took the degree of master.

1452-1455 – nothing more is known of Villon’s activities in these years.

1453-1487 – England involved in the Wars of the Roses.

1455 (June 5) – Villon, in the company of a priest named Giles and a girl named Isabeau, met Jean le Hardi and got in a dagger fight priest, Philippe Chermoye accompanying Jean. The priest attacked Villon first and Villon stabbed him and hit him with a stone which killed the priest. Villon fled and was sentenced to banishment.

1456 (January) – Villon’s sentence of banishment was remitted by a pardon from King Charles VII. As a man who had killed another man, Villon could not continue as a teacher at the Collge de Navarre or get reputable employment. In order to survive, he became a singer in inns.

1456 (end of) – Villon got in a brawl. In a second brawl he fought over or for Catherine de Vaucelles. Villon was so severely beaten that, to escape ridicule, he fled to Angers, where he had an uncle who was a monk. (Before leaving Paris, he composed Petit Testament, Lais, or "Legacy".)

1456 (Aug) – Charles sends an army to Dauphiné. Louis has to flee to Burgundy where the Duke Philip the Good and his son Charles the Bold grant him refuge. The refugee settles in at the castle of Genappe.

1458 – Villon is accused of being the ring leader of a robbery of the chapel of the Collge de Navarre. Villon is sentenced to banishment from Paris.

1458-1462 – for four years Villon wandered from place to place. He may have been one of a member of a wandering gang of thieves.

1457 – Villon corresponded with Charles, duc d'Orléans, at least once. He also resided for some period at that prince's court at Château Blois.

1461 (summer) – Villon spends time in the bishop's prison at Meung-sur-Loire., purportedly for church-robbing.

1461 (October 2) – after the accession of King Louis XI Villon became a free man again.

1461 – only thirty years old, Villon wrote his best work, the Grand Testament.

1461 – King Louis is dying. Louis hurries to Reims to be crowned quickly. (He feared his brother, Charles, Duke of Berry, would beat him to it.)

Louis XI works to limit the powers of the Dukes and Barons of France. He even suppresses his former co-conspirators. In finance, he is extremely prudent.

The son of Philip the Good, Charles, joins the rebellion known the League of the Public Weal, led by Louis's brother Charles. The rebels are not very successful on the battlefield.  But Louis is forced to grant them certain concessions.

1467 – Charles becomes Duke but fails in his attempt to establish how own independent kingdom.

1462 (autumn) – Villon again living in the cloisters of Saint-Benoît.

1462 (November) – Villon imprisoned for theft in Paris. He got out on bail but almost immediately got into a street quarrel. He was arrested, tortured and condemned to be hanged.

1463 (January) – Villon’s death sentence is commuted to banishment by the parliament. From this time François Villon disappeared from history.

1468 – Louis and Charles meet in Peronne. While negotiating they learn that has been killed in a rebellion. A furious Charles has to be restrained for fear of his hitting King Louis.

King. Louis is forced into a humiliating treaty in which he had to give up many of the lands he had acquired. (But as soon as Louis is in a safe place away from Charles, he declares the treaty invalid.) 

In the Wars of the Roses. Charles the Bold allies himself with the House of York, which is against King Henry VI. The Earl of Warwick helps Edward IV become king. Later the Earl of Warwick and Edward IV have a falling out.

Louis XI grants the Earl of Warwick refuge. The French king then encourages Warwick to form an alliance with his bitter enemy Margaret of Anjou in order to restore her husband Henry VI to the throne. The plan works and Edward is forced into exile.

1471 – Edward makes a comeback and Warwick is killed at the Battle of Barnet. King Henry is murdered soon afterwards.

Louis plans to destroy Burgundy and Charles.

1472 – war breaks out between the brothers. Charles begins a siege of Beauvais and other towns but he is not successful. Charles has to sue for peace.

1475 – Edward of England invades France. In the Treaty of Picquigny the English army leaves France (in return for a large sum of money). The English give up Normandy and this ends the Hundred Years War.

Louis still wants to get rid of Charles the Duke of Burgundy. So he employs the Swiss military. Charles has to fight the Swiss.

1477 (January 5) – the Duke of Burgundy dies at the Battle of Nancy.

With Charles dead, Louis starts developing France. Louis manages to overcome France’s feudal lords. (He is now seen as one of the first modern Kings of France, taking it out of the Middle Ages.)

1483 – Louis XI dies in the Château de Plessis-lez-Tours. Few people mourn his death, probably because Louis was secretive, isolated and reclusive.

A few months later, his wife Charlotte dies.

His thirteen year old son Charles VIII succeeds him. (Louis’s eldest daughter Anne of France acts as Regent.).


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