Monday, January 07, 2008

Tonight's Movie: The Prisoner of Zenda (1952)

THE PRISONER OF ZENDA is a humdinger of a good movie, just the pick-me-up if you have the post-Christmas January blahs. Action, romance, intrigue, and a spectacularly choreographed climactic sword fight -- it's all here, with a fabulous cast: Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr, James Mason, and Jane Greer.

I won't say too much about the plot other than it involves a king, his lookalike cousin, and a plot by the king's evil half-brother to take over the throne. The king's fiancee, his cousin Flavia, whom he hasn't seen in years, also figures prominently in the plot.

Louis Calhern and Robert Coote are excellent as the king's loyal servants who hatch a daring plan to save the throne for the rightful heir.

Lewis Stone, perhaps best-known for his longtime role as Judge Hardy in MGM's ANDY HARDY series, is effective in a two-scene role as the Cardinal who presides at the coronation. Rather remarkably, Stone himself had played the lead role in the 1922 silent version of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA. Including him in the cast three decades later was a wonderful touch.

THE PRISONER OF ZENDA was directed by Richard Thorpe. Thorpe was a longtime MGM director whose career credits include a couple other swashbucklers, Robert Taylor's IVANHOE and KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE. Thorpe also worked on the TARZAN series and many of MGM's lesser-known but delightful musicals, including TWO GIRLS AND A SAILOR, A DATE WITH JUDY, and THREE LITTLE WORDS.

The movie was filmed in Technicolor and runs 100 minutes.

The film adapts Alfred Newman's stirring score from the 1937 ZENDA starring Ronald Colman. Many historians believe the Colman film is superior to the Granger version; I intentionally saw the Granger movie first as I loved Granger and Kerr in KING SOLOMON'S MINES and wanted to enjoy their version without comparing it to another. I don't know how this edition could be improved upon, but I look forward to finding out at some point.

THE PRISONER OF ZENDA is available on DVD, in either a two-film, single-disc release with the original 1937 version on the flip side, or as part of the six-film Literary Classics Collection. The color in the DVD print is absolutely gorgeous.

It's also available on VHS.

THE PRISONER OF ZENDA can also be seen on TCM. The trailer can be seen here.


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