King Ralph

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King Ralph is also a nickname for Canadian politician Ralph Klein.
King Ralph
A man sitting on a throne wearing a Las Vegas tshirt.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by David S. Ward
Produced by Jack Brodsky
Screenplay by David S. Ward
Based on the novel Headlong 
by Emlyn Williams
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Kenneth MacMillan
Edited by John Jympson
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • February 15, 1991 (1991-02-15) (United States)
Running time
97 minutes
Language English
Budget $23 million
Box office $52,487,045

King Ralph is a 1991 American comedy film starring John Goodman in the title role of Ralph Jones.[1] The movie also stars Peter O'Toole as the King's private secretary, Sir Cedric Willingham, Camille Coduri as Ralph's girlfriend Miranda Greene, and John Hurt as the British peer Percival Graves, who schemes to get Ralph removed in order to claim the throne himself.

The story is loosely based on the novel Headlong by Emlyn Williams. Very little of the story survived the transition to the screen; characters were changed and the story made into a comedy. The film was a minor box office hit.


The entire House of Wyndham (based on the House of Windsor), the ruling family of the United Kingdom in the film, is electrocuted in a freak accident while posing for a family photograph, after a cable becomes wet during a storm. The British government immediately begins a search led by courtier and royal private secretary Sir Cedric Willingham to look for any surviving heirs to whom to pass the crown. A researcher finally locates a living heir named Ralph Jones, an American rock and roll musician.

In Las Vegas, Ralph, an easygoing slob, works as a lounge singer/piano player in one of the main casinos. Duncan Phipps and Inspector Thomas McGuire watch the performance and applaud with enthusiasm, while Ralph discovers that he has been fired for watching American football on TV when he ought to be focusing on playing piano, then replaced by a chimpanzee. Ralph meets Phipps and McGuire, who inform him that he is now king, though at first Ralph thinks this is some prank. Phipps explains that Ralph's grandfather, the 2nd Duke of Warren, was engaged in a brief affair with a hotel maid while visiting the States, and this affair produced a child, Ralph's father. But since his father and grandfather have died, Ralph is the only surviving Wyndham heir. Ralph is finally convinced when seeing the Duke's ring, an exact copy of a ring his grandmother claimed to have been given "by a prince".

Ralph is flown to London, where he meets Willingham for the first time and begins the long period of adjustment instruction intended to turn him into a proper British monarch. He becomes King Ralph I and is schooled by Willingham in English history and culture. He then is shown a variety of traditional English dishes, including bangers and mash and spotted dick. Ralph also learns the hard way that the British monarch does not just "smile and wave".

Shortly after his arrival, Ralph heads for a local strip club, meeting the exotic dancer Miranda Greene. When she is unable to perform topless, Ralph decides to meet her backstage. She is skeptical of his claim to be king, but Ralph proposes that if he can prove he is, Miranda will go on at least one date with him, and his appearance on the news soon proves his claim.

Sir Cedric then gives Ralph pointers in cricket, explaining the differences between it and baseball. Ralph hits the ball a long way and pretends to will it fair (much like Carlton Fisk did in Game Six of the 1975 World Series). He then rounds imaginary bases and when he gets to "home plate" he does an imaginary "Bash Brothers" greeting (like Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire of the Oakland Athletics).

Meanwhile, Lord Percival Graves, Prime Minister Geoffrey Hale, and Willingham meet to discuss Ralph's selection as King. Graves is opposed to the idea of an American on the throne, and he proposes to declare the Wyndham line at an end and replace it with the House of Stuart, putting himself next in line for the throne. Hale states that Jones has royal blood ("no matter how badly diluted"), and that unless Jones commits a grievous error the country will have to live with him. Graves decides to use Miranda as a way to cause embarrassment to Ralph and provide the excuse needed to remove him from the throne. Being offered money to maneuver Ralph into a compromising position, Miranda initially accepts. She and Ralph continue their relationship, soon beginning to fall in love. Shortly afterward Miranda returns the money to Graves, telling him she wants no part of his scheme, not knowing Graves already has pictures of them. In order to protect Ralph, Miranda decides to break off the relationship.

Despite Ralph's initial reluctance to accept British culture, and his general ineptness in formal affairs, he does manage to make a strong positive impression on King Mulambon of Zambezi during the latter's state visit. The two monarchs share their concerns about both the role of leadership that they have assumed and the economic interests of their respective nations. Having turned his blue-collar background into an advantage, Ralph begins accumulating a small but loyal and compassionate following.

The Prime Minister and the King of Finland arrange for him to marry the King's daughter, Princess Anna of Finland. Ralph soon receives her and her parents on an official state visit. He then discovers that she has an unusually deep voice. Graves has photos of Miranda and Ralph passed around at the royal ball, which, along with Ralph's wild rendition of "Good Golly Miss Molly" on a harpsichord ruin any chances of a Royal marriage and causes a Finnish company to award a coveted contract to the Japanese. Having failed to realize that the role of King comes with formal expectations, and that he cannot rely entirely on his charm or blue-collar background, Ralph accepts a stern rebuke from Sir Cedric Willingham and endeavors to set things right. The palace staff begins an investigation and soon realizes that Ralph was set up through Gordon Halliwell, a royal page; Miranda confesses to Ralph her role in the scandal. Ralph starts developing his suspicions about the heir to the throne. His suspicions are confirmed when he gets Duncan to confess and learns that Willingham is another heir to the throne who had previously refused to accept the role, arguing that he had no children to continue the royal line and was unworthy of the title.

The next day Ralph addresses Parliament in the House of Lords, of which his nemesis, Lord Graves, is Lord Chancellor. Finally adopting the dignified manner and composure befitting a monarch, he publicly apologizes for his recent actions and then informs Parliament that he has helped work out a deal with the King of Zambezi that will create thousands of British jobs in the economically depressed northeast of England. He follows this announcement with the revelation that Graves has been working to sabotage his succession to the throne and has him arrested then and there by Scotland Yard detectives for violating the Treason Act of 1702, (which is an actual British law) that, among others things, prohibits anyone from interfering with the proper succession of a legitimate heir to the throne. Finally, he tells the British people that while he tried his best to be a good king, he admits that his best will never be good enough and that he believes the British people deserve a better monarch. Thus, he has decided to abdicate his throne, and reveals that Willingham is also a member of the Royal Family and will succeed him as King Cedric I.

Having abdicated, Ralph is free to pursue his romantic relationship with Miranda, along with his dreams of being a rock star. Ralph bids a tearful goodbye to his friends and his newly discovered relative. King Cedric creates Ralph the 3rd Duke of Warren, with a lucrative annual salary (ironically when Ralph first became king he was told the king "doesn't get a salary, as such"), a palace in the country, and a state-of-the-art recording studio. A few years later, Lady Miranda, Duchess of Warren is sitting with her and Ralph's young son (Baby Ralph II), watching her husband perform Duke of Earl with his musical group (Ralph and the Dukettes).


Bill Murray was considered for the titular role.[2]


Box office[edit]

The film earned $8.3 million in its opening weekend, to debut in the charts at No. 3.[3]

Critical response[edit]

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 20% based on reviews from 10 critics, with an average rating of 4.6/10.[4]

Owen Glieberman writing for Entertainment Weekly gave the film a C grade. Glieberman complains about the entirely predictable jokes, but praises Goodman for his likable performance.[5]


  1. ^ "No Leading Man, King Ralph Insists". Los Angeles Times. February 12, 1991. Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  2. ^ Evans, Bradford (16 February 2012). "The Lost Roles of Bill Murray, Part Two". Splitsider. Retrieved 10 August 2015. 
  3. ^ Broeske, Pat H. (February 20, 1991). "Oscar Bids Boost 'Dances With Wolves' Box Office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 11, 2011. 
  4. ^ Flixster Rotten Tomatoes
  5. ^,,313458,00.html Owen Gleiberman Mar 01, 1991

External links[edit]