Anthony Hope's classic tale gets a decidedly 'un-classic' treatment at the hands of Peter Sellers. Following the story somewhat, friends of the new King Rudolph of Ruritania fear for his ... See full summary »
English trout fisher Rudolf Rassendyll is about the only tourist not coming for the coronation of Central-European King Rudolf V at Strelsau, but happens to be a distant relative and is approached on account of their canning resemblance to stand in for the drunken king, in order to prevent his envious half-brother Michael, who arranged spiking his wine to seize the throne when the reputedly less then dutiful Rudolf stays away. The ceremony goes well, and he gets acquainted with the charming royal bride, related princess Flavia, but afterward the king is found to be abducted; he must continue the charade and once the hiding place, the castle of Zenda, is found is involved in the fight between political parties for control over Rudolf V, his throne and his bride, for which a formidable third candidate, Michael's disloyal co-conspirator Rupert of Hentzau, was waiting in the curtains.Written by
The opening credits are listed on parchment or velum-looking pages. The top, blank page has a silver sword upon it, which is piercing the page. When lifted, the credits start on the page below. The pages are ornately done with colorful ink letters and designs. See more »
On the face of it, "The Prisoner of Zenda" has everything a swashbuckler could require to make it a glorious success: a star-studded cast with previous form, Technicolour pageantry, MGM production values, an Alfred Newman score, a classic story of self-sacrificing heroism... not to mention a setting that's not only generically but genuinely Ruritanian! But on viewing it again after a lapse of some years, I find that it still doesn't work for me; and there doesn't seem to be any obvious reason why.
There were in fact *two* films released in 1952 starring Stewart Granger in sword-fighting heroics: one of them -- enchanting, bittersweet, dancing of wit and of blade, and featuring what was to become one of the most famous fight sequences in screen history -- was, of course, "Scaramouche". The other was "The Prisoner of Zenda"... and somehow, in every aspect that melded together to produce the classic that was its counterpart, it never quite catches up. Swashbucklers should spring lightly; this one has gloss, but a certain stilted air.
Stewart Granger differentiates his dual roles admirably, to the extent that I caught myself becoming sceptical as to the actual resemblance between the two supposed doubles! His final duel is as athletic as any in his screen career, although the plot demands dogged defence rather than flashing brilliance; indeed, the outcome is refreshingly unconventional. However, I didn't find Rudolf Rassendyll to be one of his more memorable characters.
It was James Mason, sporting an incongruous Prussian bullet-head haircut, who was the real disappointment for me. No stranger to charismatic villainy in the likes of "The Man in Grey", "Fanny by Gaslight" or "The Wicked Lady", he is here oddly lacking in Rupert of Hentzau's essential perverse charm, in what should have been a scene-stealing part. The other male characters are little more than one-dimensional down to Duke Michael's villainous limp, although Louis Calhern makes an upright Colonel Zapt.
The women fare better. Deborah Kerr is sweet, fiery and entirely convincing as Princess Flavia, next in line to the throne, and Jane Greer is more than equal to the pivotal role of Antoinette de Mauban, whose complex motives prove the key to the whole plot.
Ultimately, I found this a decent film, but not as outstanding as it should have been, given its constituent parts. It isn't the best work of any of the actors involved. I am reminded of Zoltan Korda's re-make of his own "Four Feathers" as the widescreen "Storm of the Nile": the story (and indeed in that case the script) is the same, but the spark is missing.
Given the parallels, I must admit that I'm now very curious as to how the 1937 "Prisoner of Zenda" -- which I've never seen -- stands up in comparison! This one is a plush literary adaptation, but lacks the rollicking rapier-edge of laughter and daring that characterise the great classics of its genre.
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