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The Vagabond King

The Vagabond King(1956)

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In 1461, with the military forces of the noble leader Charles, the Duke of Burgundy, gathering outside the gates of Paris, King Louis XI is warned that the city's defenses are weak at best, as the unpaid mercenaries who make up the majority of his army are deserting en masse. Louis is then told his only chance for survival is to forge an allegiance with the notorious poet-thief, Fran├žois Villon, also known as "king of the vagabonds," but this idea is quickly rejected, for Villon has ridiculed the king in numerous poems. With his chancellor, Tristan, Louis goes to the Fir Cone Tavern, and witnesses Thibault d'Aussigny, his provost marshal, meet with Rene de Montigny, a rebel spy, and receive a list of Parisians loyal to Burgundy. After the boastful Villon tells the disguised Louis that "he and destiny" will overthrow the despot king, the poet and Thibault duel. The nobleman is saved from Villon's sword by the arrival of Parisian troops, and while Thibault and Rene slip away to join Burgundy's forces, Villon is arrested by Louis, despite the pleas of Huguette, a beautiful tavern wench. Learning from Thibault that Louis plans to stay in Paris and fight, Burgundy orders his troops to burn the farms surrounding the city, hoping to starve the king out of his stronghold and turn the people of Paris against Louis. After hearing the incarcerated Villon sing another insulting song about his reign, Louis orders the poet brought to his orchard, where many a dead traitor hangs from the fruit trees. Villon is offered a stay of execution, however, if he agrees to become provost marshal and lead the people of Paris against Burgundy. Under the name of Count de Montcorbier, Villon frees his friends from prison and begins to court Lady Catherine de Vaucelles, one of Louis' ladies-in-waiting with whom he had long before fallen in love from afar. Though she had promised Louis to marry any man of his choosing, Catherine becomes incensed when she learns she is to be betrothed to Villon, whom she recognizes as the traitorous poet. Later, she changes her mind about Villon when Thibault arrives in Louis' court to demand the king's surrender, only to be rebuffed by the new provost marshal and returned to Burgundy on a donkey. As the insulted Charles marches his troops toward Paris, Villon orders a royal ball be held, in order to reassure the people of Paris of the king's confidence in victory, as well as force into action General Antoine de Chabannes, the commander-in-chief of Louis' forces, who Villon suspects is a traitor. Back at the Fir Cone Tavern, Rene invokes Villon's name in hopes of turning the vagabonds against Louis, but Huguette rejects the spy's claims. Meanwhile, Villon barely escapes death at de Chabannes' hands when he is rescued by Ferrebouc, the captain of Louis' guard. Villon then returns with Huguette to the Fir Cone, where he raises a vagabond army to fight Burgundy. Thus, when the rebel duke and his forces sneak into Paris at midnight, they ride into Villon's trap and are soundly defeated by the Parisians. Huguette, however, makes the ultimate sacrifice for love when she steps between a crossbow's arrow and Villon. With Burgundy dead and his reign secured, Louis reminds Villon of his stay of execution, so as his final act as provost marshal, Villon pronounces his own death sentence. When the Parisians question their king's treatment of the man who led them to victory, Louis offers to pardon Villon if anyone will take his place before the hangman's noose. Though none of the vagabonds offers his or her life in exchange for Villon's, Catherine does. Louis then quickly changes his judgment, instead ordering Villon and Catherine to marry, while quickly adding the provision that the noblewoman's lands be forfeited as payment for the war against Burgundy.