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It's impossible to look at swashbucklers without at least one version of The Prisoner of Zenda, one of the all-time greats. Anthony Hope's novel is a minor classic and had been filmed three times in the silent era and once in a sound version in 1937. But for MGM's 1952 version the studio decided they could improve the 1937 version in small details with the unusual result that the 1952 film is nearly shot-for-shot identical to the 1937 version, decades before the similar exact remake of Psycho (1960). But this time Technicolor and improved fight scenes made all the difference.
An English tourist (Stewart Granger) is vacationing in the Balkan country of Ruritania where he meets his distant relative and look-alike, the King Rudolf (naturally Granger as well). The king is soon to be crowned and married to Princess Flavia (Deborah Kerr) but nasty nobles led by Rupert (James Mason) have different ideas. They succeed in drugging the real king but the tourist impersonates him to keep the coronation active while he and the king's supporters try to prevent the conspiracy from taking over the country.
The Prisoner of Zenda was Granger's follow up to Scaramouche (1952) (oddly enough also another version of a famous novel that had been a silent film). MGM didn't want to tamper with success so they followed the 1937 version so closely that they even re-used the same music. One result is that filming took much less time than the 1937 version, one month instead of six. It also certainly helped that director Richard Thorpe didn't believe in shooting and re-shooting; if the actor didn't stumble over the lines that was generally good enough for him. (Naturally he got the nickname "One-Shot" Thorpe.) Still, the cast and fight instructors put more effort into the swordfights this time with sterling results and also unfortunately a wound that required stitches to Granger's mouth. The star of the 1922 version, Lewis Stone, appears here as the Cardinal.
Novelist Hope wrote a sequel to The Prisoner of Zenda that followed the further adventures of the characters. It was filmed twice during the silent era but not since then.
Director: Richard Thorpe
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay: John L. Balderston, Noel Langley, based on the novel by Anthony Hope
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Editor: George Boemler
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters
Music: Conrad Salinger (adapted from Alfred Newman 1937 score)
Cast: Stewart Granger (King Rudolph V), Deborah Kerr (Princess Flavia), Louis Calhern (Col. Zapt), Jane Greer), Antoinette de Mauban, Lewis Stone (The Cardinal).
C-101m. Close captioning. Descriptive video.
by Lang Thompson