Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale were paired for this mildly entertaining western in what was probably an attempt to recreate the magic of Louis Malle’s VIVA MARIA! (1965), a rollicking action-comedy co-starring Bardot and Jeanne Moreau.
Maria (Cardinale) is a tough Corsican in 1860s Bougival, a Texas town settled by French immigrants. When she isn't raising horses, she's using her beauty to persuade clumsy Marshall Jeffers (Michael J. Pollard) to bail out her drunk and disorderly brothers. Maria stumbles upon a map revealing crude oil under Little P. Ranch, but when she attempts to purchase the land finds that mysterious Louise (Bardot) and her sisters have a claim. Louise is actually cigar-chomping Frenchie King, a notorious train robber posing as the title holder. Frenchie's just looking to settle down, but after Maria tries to buy her off she suspects that the land may be holding something valuable.
FRENCHIE KING doesn’t work as a comedy. The jokes are simple-minded and Michael Pollard's weird performance is repulsive rather than funny. The ladies are another matter. BB and CC had by this time passed the peak of their respective careers (Bardot would appear in two subsequent features and retire in her early 40s), which is something of a surprise considering how much they put into their roles. Cardinale in particular seems like she’s having a blast riding a horse or stripping to a cabaret outfit and singing “Prairie Girl,” a fine vocal performance and one of the highlights of Francis Lai’s excellent score. Though the climactic sequence needed more oomph, fans will have fun seeing these superstars punch and tear at each other, especially in the mud. Patty Shepard (WEREWOLF SHADOW) appears as one of Louise’s half-sisters.
The film was shot in both French and English. The French version (LES PÉTROLEUSES) is more confidently performed by its leads, and probably the better movie. THE LEGEND OF FRENCHIE KING was originally released on Paragon Video in a terrible full-screen presentation that has circulated on various cheapo labels. K-Tel, best known for music compilation LPs, distributed the film theatrically in the U.S. in 1973.