- The Prisoner of Zenda (1937 film)
name = The Prisoner of Zenda
caption = Original film poster
imdb_id = 0029442
amg_id = 1:39281
writer = Screenplay:
Edward E. Rose Wells Root John L. Balderston
Donald Ogden Stewart
Ben Hecht Sidney Howard
Ronald Colman Madeleine Carroll C. Aubrey Smith Raymond Massey Mary Astor David Niven Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
director = John Cromwell
W. S. Van Dyke
David O. Selznick
September 2, fy|1937
runtime = 101 minutes
language = English
James Wong Howe
editing = James E. Newcom
"The Prisoner of Zenda" is a 1937
black-and-white adventure filmbased on the Anthony Hope's, this is considered by many to be the definitive version. ["VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever 2008", Visible Ink Press 978-0787689810]
Ronald Colman, Madeleine Carrolland Douglas Fairbanks Jr., with a supporting cast including C. Aubrey Smith, Raymond Massey, Mary Astorand David Niven. It was directed by John Cromwell, produced by David O. Selznickfor Selznick International Pictures, and distributed by United Artists. The screenplaywas written by John L. Balderston, adapted by Wells Rootfrom the novel, with dramatisation by Edward E. Rose; Donald Ogden Stewartwas responsible for additional dialogue, and Ben Hechtand Sidney Howardmade uncredited contributions.
It was nominated for
Academy Awardsfor Best Art Direction and Original Music Score. In 1991, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congressand selected for preservation in its National Film Registry.
English gentleman Rudolf Rassendyll (Ronald Colman) takes a fishing vacation in a small,
middle European country (never named in the film, but identified as Ruritaniain the novel). While there, he is annoyed by the odd way he is treated by the natives. He eventually finds out why: he looks exactly like the soon-to-be-crowned king, Rudolf V (Colman again), who happens to be his distant relative.
Rassendyll soon meets the irresponsible Rudolf and his loyal underlings, Colonel Zapt (C. Aubrey Smith) and Captain Fritz von Tarlenheim (David Niven) while fishing. The royal is astounded by the resemblance and takes a great liking to the Englishman. They celebrate their acquaintance by drinking late into the night. The next morning brings dire news. Rudolf has been drugged into unconsciousness at the order of his half-brother, Duke Michael (Raymond Massey). If Rudolf cannot appear at his coronation, Michael can try to claim the throne for himself.
Zapt convinces Rassendyll to impersonate Rudolf and go through with the ceremony. There he meets Rudolf's betrothed, Princess Flavia (Madeleine Carroll). She had always detested Rudolf, but now finds him greatly changed, for the better in her opinion. As they spend time together, they begin to fall in love.
With the coronation successfully accomplished, Rassendyll, Zapt and von Tarlenheim return to where they had left Rudolf, only to find he has been kidnapped by Rupert of Hentzau (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), Michael's charmingly amoral henchman. The Englishman is forced to continue the impersonation while Zapt tries to locate Rudolf.
Help arrives from an unexpected source. Antoinette de Mauban (Mary Astor), Michael's jealous French mistress, does not want him to become king, because to do so, he would have to marry his cousin Flavia. She reveals that the king is being held captive in Michael's castle near Zenda and promises to help rescue him. Since Rudolf would be killed at the first sign of an attack, she proposes that one man swim the moat, find the king and hold off his would-be assassins while loyal troops storm the castle. Rassendyll decides that he must be that man, over the strenuous objections of Zapt.
Their carefully-laid plans go awry however. Michael finds Rupert trying to seduce de Mauban that very night and is killed for his trouble. His heartbroken mistress blurts out enough to alert Rupert to the danger. He and Rassendyll engage in a prolonged duel, until Zapt and his men break in. Rupert then decides that discretion is indeed the better part of valor and flees.
Rudolf is restored to his throne. Rassendyll tries to persuade Flavia to leave with him, but her devotion to duty is too great and their parting is bittersweet.
Ronald Colmanas Major Rudolf Rassendyll and King Rudolf V
Madeleine Carrollas Princess Flavia
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.as Rupert of Hentzau. Fairbanks Jr. initially wanted to play Rudolf, but when the role went to Colman, his father, Douglas Fairbanks Sr.persuaded him that it would be more challenging to play the villain. Aubrey Smith also encouraged him by declaring, "I have played every part in this drama except Lady Flavia, and I can tell you that nobody ever damaged their career by playing Rupert of Hentzau."
Raymond Masseyas Duke Michael. When Massey approached Aubrey Smith for advice, he confessed that he had never found a satisfactory way of playing the character. [ "The Brits in Hollywood" Sheridan Morley p. 162]
C. Aubrey Smithas Colonel Zapt. When the play opened in Londonin January, 1896, Smith played the dual lead roles.
David Nivenas Captain Fritz von Tarlenheim. Massey and Niven died on the same day: July 29, 1983.
Mary Astoras Antoinette de Mauban
This production was "one of the last great gatherings of the Hollywood English" before
World War II. "The Brits in Hollywood" Sheridan Morley, Robson Books 2006, p. 161, ISBN978-1861058072] Selznick was partly inspired to take on the project because of the abdication of Edward VIII, and exploited this angle in his marketing of the film.
It was considered a difficult shoot. Director John Cromwell was unhappy with his male leads, as he suspected that Colman did not know his lines, and was concerned with Fairbanks' and Niven's late nights on the town.
George Cukordirected a few scenes of the film when Cromwell grew frustrated with his actors. W. S. Van Dykewas brought in to re-shoot some of the fencing scenes, which are one of the highlights of the film, along with the costume design. ["robust sword play" is singled out for praise in "VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever 2008", Visible Ink Press 978-0787689810]
The script's roots in the 1896 stage version are readily apparent; there is little attempt to open up the story. The emphasis is very much on romance and adventure, rather than on the
political thrilleraspects of the novel.
A prologue and an epilogue were shot, but never used. The prologue has Rassendyll recounting his adventures in his club. In the epilogue, he receives a letter from von Tarlenheim and a rose, informing him that Flavia has died.
Leslie Halliwellputs it at #590 of all the films ever made, saying that the "splendid schoolboy adventure story" of the late Victorian novel is "perfectly transferred to the screen", ["Halliwell's Top 1000", John Walker, HarperCollins Entertainment ISBN978-0007260805] and quotes a 1971 comment by John Cutts that the film becomes more "fascinating and beguiling" as time goes by. "Halliwell's Film Guide 2008" calls it "one of the most entertaining films to come out of Hollywood". "Halliwell's Film Guide 2008", David Gritten, HarperCollins Entertainment ISBN978-0007260805]
Many other adaptations of the novel have been produced on stage and (especially) screen. This 1937 version is the most highly regarded, and has influenced other works, including
science fictionand television. What follows is a short list of those homages with a clear debt to this film, which sits within a long tradition of using political decoys in fiction.
Colman, Smith and Fairbanks reprised their roles for a 1939 episode of "
Lux Radio Theatre", with Colman's wife Benita Humeplaying Princess Flavia.
The 1952 film is virtually a shot-by-shot remake, reusing the same shooting script, dialogue, and film score. A comparison of the two films reveals that settings and camera angles, in most cases, are the same.
Halliwelljudges it "no match for the happy inspiration of the original".
Two episodes of the spoof spy
television series" Get Smart", "The King Lives?" and "To Sire With Love, Parts 1 and 2", parodied the 1937 movie version, with Don Adamsimitating Colman's distinctive voice.
References in popular culture
In an episode of the television series "
Northern Exposure", a character dubbed the film into Tlingit, a Native American language.
*tcmdb title|id=87182|title=The Prisoner of Zenda
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