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The Prisoner of Zenda

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Maricatrin
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The Prisoner of Zenda

Postby Maricatrin » May 4th, 2011, 11:03 am

Hello Kingme, you asked for my thoughts on Prisoner of Zenda (1937) I must have watched it half-a-dozen times, but not in the last few years (time to see it again.) I wasn’t prepared to do a full review, so for what they are worth, here are some ramblings instead. :wink: I thought, rather than post them on the Colman thread, it might be more fitting to start a Prisoner of Zenda thread. I deliberately didn’t put a date in, so any Zenda adaptions can be discussed.

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I prefer the 1937 version to the 1952 scene-for-scene remake (though I’m thankful that back in 1952, even remakes were good!). The casting and performances of Colman, Carroll, Fairbanks, Smith, and Niven couldn’t be improved on and weren’t. (The remake did have a more presentable looking Black Michael, making Antoinette de Mauban’s strange obsession a little easier to accept.)

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in particular stands out as a perfect casting choice (I really like James Mason, but he was miscast as Rupert.) Apparently Fairbanks was reluctant to accept the role, but when he asked his father’s opinion was told he’d be crazy not to… it was the best part in the picture, Fairbanks Sr. said, Donald Duck could play the part and steal the show (But I think D. Duck would have been miscast too.) Not to belittle Fairbank’s excellent portrayal; I think Rupert of Hentzau is one of those roles in which an actor can shine with minimal effort. Fairbanks couldn’t actually steal the film, because the success of the picture rests most heavily with the actor playing Rassendyll: Roland Colman.

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Rudolf Rassendyll, the dashing Englishman with a wry sense of humor, is both a heroic and tragic figure… which gives Colman ample opportunity to play the swashbuckling hero, but also depends on him to invest the character with that dignified sadness he frequently brings to a role. (As the King, Colman can’t divest himself of a certain dignity even when drunk, but I think he does a respectable job of differentiating the two characters.)

Rassendyll and Flavia’s bittersweet romance is played out wonderfully by Carroll and Colman, and their final scene together is both uplifting and heartbreaking.

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In some movies I prefer black and white to color, and this is one. The cinematography was beautiful … I regret to say that I have never bothered to check who was responsible till now; it was James Wong Howe.

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I have read the book, but not recently. I recall there were the usual inevitable changes, but one of the most notable differences comes about by the loss of the first person narration. When you are constantly inside a character’s head, outer confidence can’t fool you; Rudolf Rassendyll seems a bit of a head-case in the book (of course, he is under considerable stress), but even a conflicted Colman is reassuring and noble. (Also, in the movie it is hoped and presumed by the end that the King will change his ways. I believe it is shown in Anthony Hope’s depressing sequel Rupert of Hentzau, things don’t work out that way.)
https://www.youtube.com/c/MaricatrinsMusicVideos

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Rita Hayworth
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Re: The Prisoner of Zenda

Postby Rita Hayworth » May 4th, 2011, 11:44 am

maricatrin wrote:Hello Kingme, you asked for my thoughts on Prisoner of Zenda (1937) I must have watched it half-a-dozen times, but not in the last few years (time to see it again.) I wasn’t prepared to do a full review, so for what they are worth, here are some ramblings instead. :wink: I thought, rather than post them on the Colman thread, it might be more fitting to start a Prisoner of Zenda thread. I deliberately didn’t put a date in, so any Zenda adaptions can be discussed.

Image

I prefer the 1937 version to the 1952 scene-for-scene remake (though I’m thankful that back in 1952, even remakes were good!). The casting and performances of Colman, Carroll, Fairbanks, Smith, and Niven couldn’t be improved on and weren’t. (The remake did have a more presentable looking Black Michael, making Antoinette de Mauban’s strange obsession a little easier to accept.)


Maricatrin - I enjoyed reading your post (although you did ramble here and there) ... but, you've done an excellent job sharing your thoughts on Prisoner of Zenda quite masterfully; and I'm going to do some thinking to share some more thoughts on this. I love both versions ... the 1937 and the 1952 versions ... but the 1937 is the head on favorite here. So you and I both think alike. I will come back and add more to this thread and I wanted to say thanks for starting it up ... you made many good points ... and I for one, need some time to think about you said ... and I love the photos that you posted too. Nice Going Maricatrin :!:

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moira finnie
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Re: The Prisoner of Zenda

Postby moira finnie » May 4th, 2011, 12:04 pm

Oh, what beautiful images you paint in words and images of this memorable movie. You have made me want to go back and read Anthony Hope again. I think that Doug Jr. was a perfect fit as Rupert. Too bad he didn't have the opportunity to play villains more often. Thank you very much for posting about this glorious adventure film.
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Re: The Prisoner of Zenda

Postby movieman1957 » May 4th, 2011, 12:17 pm

We love "ramblings" here.
Chris

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JackFavell
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Re: The Prisoner of Zenda

Postby JackFavell » May 5th, 2011, 9:28 am

Absolutely. We're ramblers from way back. :D

I loved your description of Colman (his sadness, and dignity), and the movie, and agree most emphatically about Doug Jr. He's such a live wire, you never quite know what side he will come down on, nor do you really want him on the right side, he is too mercurial. There is something wrong with him.. a screw loose somewhere, maybe in-breeding? I love Mary Astor's forlorn Antoinette, with her thrilling low voice... she was made for scenes in which she has to whisper. I love the way she chooses to help Michael by betraying their plans. Another role in which she is not nice, but terribly sympathetic.

I have always been a HUGE fan of movies with more than one villain - this film and The Adventures of Robin Hood are the pinnacle of Hollywood's ability to create great duplicitous and very different villains for the same movie. One of my favorite unsung actors in the movie is Byron Foulger, as the thin voiced servant who dies valiantly trying to open the gate.

Madeleine Carroll is superb in a role that could be terribly vapid and simple. She has such grace, and her humor and intelligence are a great match for Colman's - did they ever work together again? And of course Colman is just splendid - I LOVE his rascally wit, debonair swashbuckling, and most of all, his sweater. Really he is a fine looking man but when he dons that sweater....WHOOSH! He's got that wistful thing going on and I just get all misty eyed thinking of how he says goodbye...

David Niven is great - he and C Aubrey play off one another so well, they are foils for each other as well as for their opposites - Michael and Rupert. Niven at this point was barely known but on the verge of stardom with Dodsworth under his belt and Bachelor Mother looming in the distance. He tosses off his little throwaway lines with a certain aplomb - and he looks great in a uniform. Another masterful performance in a role that could have been mush.

I think possibly that the score has something to do with how I feel about this movie... I can't remember it specifically, but when I think of the movie, certain scenes come to mind, and they are almost all accompanied by music... Colman slipping into the moat, the camera peering through the door at Antoinette and Rupert, The King, wasting away in his dungeon room, the sword fight...Rupert's leap out the window....

maricatrin

Re: The Prisoner of Zenda

Postby maricatrin » May 8th, 2011, 3:14 pm

Thank you all for your comments. :)

Some good ramblings here; thanks for posting them...

You’re right, this might be the bravest I’ve ever seen Byron Foulger - the undertaking took nerve, particularly with someone like Rupert around - too bad Johann was a bit of a clutz.
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I also find villain interaction terribly entertaining, as long as it doesn’t overshadow/diminish the protagonists’ parts. Adventures of Robin Hood and Prisoner of Zenda achieve an excellent balance.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the only time Madeleine Carroll and Ronald Colman appeared in the same film – but they are such a perfect match, one does wish they had worked together more than once. Anyone certain on this point?

C. Aubrey Smith is inimitable – my father jokes that he wasn’t born, but made in a box labeled the quintessential Colonel. Which brings to mind – has anyone ever seen a picture of a young C. Aubrey? I cannot imagine him as ever having been a child. Though perhaps if he had a moustache like Mary Ann and Louie’s Grandpa did as a child:

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David Niven is a very likeable actor – he has that genteel strength I find very appealing in (frequently British) actors. I need to see more of his movies.

P.S. For those who like to see a good and bad Douglas Jr. simultaneously, watch The Corsican Brothers (1941). It’s a little … well, different, but I found it quite entertaining.

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Re: The Prisoner of Zenda

Postby JackFavell » May 8th, 2011, 4:33 pm

I love The Corsican Brothers! They used to play it a lot on one TV station when I was a kid. A terrible print, as I recall. I haven't seen it in years.

maricatrin

Re: The Prisoner of Zenda

Postby maricatrin » May 11th, 2011, 10:37 am

JackFavell wrote:I love The Corsican Brothers!

It's a good picture, I really enjoyed it. The mystical/spiritual connection between the twins was quite an unusual plot device; which is what I meant by "different." (I wonder if it was featured even more prominently in the original story.) In addition to the doubled quota of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., there was excellent support from H.B. Warner as the brave and clever doctor who separates the twins, Akim Tamiroff as the partly comic, partly serious, and wholly disgusting villain, and J. Carrol Naish as a loyal family retainer.

It was produced by Edward Small, who also produced several Louis Hayward adventures (The Man in the Iron Mask, The Return of Monte Cristo, The Son of Monte Cristo) two of which I’ve seen, and though on a more modest scale than say, Ivanhoe or Adventures of Robin Hood, were very well done.

TCM showed it a while ago, and the print was very good. I hope they will show it again – it deserves to be seen.


Returning to The Prisoner of Zenda, here is the music video I mentioned earlier. (I've changed channels because my old account wasn't able to allow embedding.)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SvXz1sqDCY&feature=channel_video_title[/youtube]

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JackFavell
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Re: The Prisoner of Zenda

Postby JackFavell » May 13th, 2011, 11:34 am

Oh, now you made me tear up. A lovely video, Maricatrin.

It's funny that you mention The Louis Hayward movies, because our channel 32 used to show them all the time as well - they must have gotten them all as a package deal. I still have a fondness for these more budgeted royal romances and swashbucklers. However, if given the choice, I'd certainly take Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. over Louis Hayward...

maricatrin

Re: The Prisoner of Zenda

Postby maricatrin » May 16th, 2011, 10:16 am

JackFavell wrote:Oh, now you made me tear up. A lovely video, Maricatrin.

I can’t say that I’m sorry – but thanks so much for watching and commenting! :D

I have a preference for Fairbanks too, but I’ve never disliked Hayward – he’s a different type for a swashbuckler hero to be sure. (That smile of his can turn quite sinister, which made him very effective as the evil brother in Man in the Iron Mask.)

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Re: The Prisoner of Zenda

Postby JackFavell » May 16th, 2011, 10:46 am

I think Hayward is quite a good actor... I recently got a chance to see him in House by the River, he's totally creepy.

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Rita Hayworth
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Re: The Prisoner of Zenda

Postby Rita Hayworth » May 18th, 2011, 12:29 pm

Quick Notice

This movie will be showing today on Turner Classic Movies ... check your local cable and satellite systems ... 9:30 PM Eastern, 6:30 PM Pacific.

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Rita Hayworth
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Re: The Prisoner of Zenda

Postby Rita Hayworth » May 18th, 2011, 10:20 pm

It was great seeing it again today. I love it more today ... than I did in the past. Ronald Colman was magnificent!

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Ronald Colman ... one of my favorites
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JackFavell
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Re: The Prisoner of Zenda

Postby JackFavell » May 19th, 2011, 6:56 am

The thing that makes me love this movie is it's humor... with tongue firmly planted in cheek, Colman makes his Rassendyll a charming but reluctant hero. I forgot my favorite line in the film till last night. After being greeted by wide, dumbfounded, open-mouthed stares on his entry into the country, the somewhat bemused Rassendyll says, "Thank you.....Thank you for making me feel so much at home, so quickly."

This line sets the tone for a literate, quickly paced, and gently humorous movie, and it's what distinguishes the film - Colman's voice is what we want to hear, joking, pleading, and even self-loathing in his role as the king. In fact all the voices are wonderfully chosen to sound beautiful together. I truly miss this aspect of films nowadays. Anyway, this is the film above all others that makes me love Ronald Colman. We love his adventurous nature at the beginning, and I when I think of Colman the first image that leaps to my mind is Rassendyll, with a twinkle in his eye as he shuts the door on Black Michael's face, or kneels in front of Princess Flavia.

If you scroll down past the plot summary, you'll find some fascinating facts about the 1937 film from DoctorMacro:

http://www.doctormacro.com/Movie%20Summ ... 937%29.htm
Last edited by JackFavell on May 19th, 2011, 6:58 am, edited 1 time in total.

klondike

Re: The Prisoner of Zenda

Postby klondike » May 19th, 2011, 6:58 am

A great old film, one I'd almost forgotten just how much I liked!
I can still recall discovering the novel when I was 11 - I was within 15 or 16 pages of finishing it that first evening when I got the "bedtime!" reminder . . so of course you know it was countdown to flashlight time!
And a nice reminder of how powerful, yet subtle a presence the young David Niven could be; he certainly "paid his dues" as a supporting character before the camera started favoring him, didn't he?


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