Edward Sedgwick's "Fit for a King" doesn't qualify as comedian Joe E. Brown's most hilarious comedy. In other words, "Fit for a King" cannot compare with "Earthworm Tractors." Nevertheless, this lightweight romance between an inexperienced newspaper journalist, Virgil Jones, who redeems himself when he intervenes on behalf of a princess and prevents an assassination attempt on her life in a European country on the eve of World War II is amusing enough to make the grade. Future "Blondie" scenarist Richard Flournoy penned this original screenplay and provides some lively repartee between Brown and his foils that keeps this snappy little laugh fest rollicking along under a full head of steam. Incidentally, Sedgwick directed all of Buster Keaton's comedies at MGM, among them "The Cameraman," so he knows something about comedy and the amiable "Fit for a King" will keep you grinning throughout its 73-minute running time.
"Fit for a King" opens with a montage about the New York Daily Blade and how its reporters cover virtually every news story imaginable during the early 1930s. The fist time that we see natty Virgil Ambrose Jeremiah Christopher 'Scoop' Jones (Joe E. Brown of "Earthworm Tractors") he is exiting a chauffeur-driven limo to deliver a hamburger-on-rye to the managing editor of the New York City Blade, Mr. Hardwick (Russell Hicks of "Devil Dogs of the Air"), who refuses to assign him to any stories. Jones harbors lofty ambitions of becoming a scoop reporter and pleads with Hardwick to give him a chance to prove himself. "Mr. Hardwick, I only want to do what the other reporters do. I wanna got to fires, floods and murders. I wanna got far!" Hardwick replies, "That suits me, providing you leave now." The catch here is that Virgil's Uncle Horace owns the New York Daily Blade, and nitwit Virgil is simply trying to learn the business from the bottom up. Hardwick is intent, however, on keeping Virgil at the bottom. Indeed, Hardwick hates poor Virgil and makes no secret about his antipathy toward him. "You're more than ripe, you're rotten." Hardwick bristles every time that Virgil mentions his uncle and assigns him to cover the Archduke Julio who has survived several assassination attempts on his life. Hardwick's interest in the Archduke rises when he learns that the competing newspaper is covering the story, so he assigns Virgil against the wishes of Spears (veteran character actor Charles Lane) grips that the opposition has their ace reporter on the job while they have a deuce. After a third assassination attempt at the pier where the Archduke was boarding an ocean liner for Europe, Hardwick orders Virgil to get on the ship and get an interview. While on board, our hapless hero runs afoul of his competing newspaper's reporter Briggs (Paul Kelly of "San Antonio") and Briggs gets Virgil thrown in the brig for breaking into the Archduke's room. The brig scene evokes chuckles. Joe gets jammed in the bring during a night of rough seas and the entire set sways back and forth like the turbulent seas in which the ship wallows. Our hero is thrown back and forth in the brig, water breaks through portals and thoroughly drenches him.
In Paris, the gendarmes release him into Marshall's custody. Marshall (Charles Trowbridge of "They Were Expendable"), informs Virgil: "New York says you're to keep after the Archduke until you find why they're trying to kill him. When you find that out, you'll have a story." Virgil learns that the Archduke, who had been in exile since 1918, came to visit his sister at a sanitarium. Briggs is heads off to Vichy, France, and the sanitarium, but Virgil beats him there, flying instead of taking the train. Masquerading as an old man in a wheelchair, Virgil sends Briggs on a wild goose chase and in the process runs into Jane Hamilton (Helen Mack of "Son of Kong") who is from Kansas. Virgil and she are initially attracted to each other before Virgil learn that Jane is really the Queen of a fictional European country. Count Strunsky (Halliwell Hobbes of "Dracula's Daughter") hatches a scheme to stage the Princess' death at the hands of the military so that they can depose the government. Our industrious hero Virgil thwarts the plan after he discovers that the Princess' future husband, Prince Michael, is killed when he refuses to travel in vehicles that are not bullet-proof. Sedgwick stages a funny chase after our hero informs the current government about the plan. Jane doesn't really want to be royalty, she wants to marry Virgil.
Most of Joe E. Brown's scenes will keep you grinning. You'll smile at his antics, especially when he dresses up in drag to pose as a maid at a castle where Jane is living. Paul Kelly makes a good adversary for Brown. The romance is feather weight. During a night in a swing, our hero and heroine kiss only when the moon goes behind the clouds. The final race with Virgil on a hay wagon that gradually comes apart and dumps the killers in the road is funny. "Fit for a King" isn't royal fun, but it has its share of moments and the dialogue is clever. Joe E. Brown is at the top of his game as the slightly muddled but forthright hero and Helen Mack makes a cute heroine. The European conspirators are sinister enough to make suitable adversaries. John Qualen is comical as a bicycle repairman who has the unhappy job of having to repair a phone. He constantly laments that he knows nothing about telephones. Joe E. Brown fans definitely should castch "Fit for a King."