Cast & Crew
At the royal palace in Karlsburg, King Ferdinand counsels his grandson, Prince Karl Franz, on the young man's imminent engagement to the wealthy Princess Johanna of Nordhausen. The king observes that although their country is poor, it has always survived because the men of the royal family marry well. The following evening, Johanna is feted with a ball, but she finds the prince's cold, formal manner off-putting. The king and Johanna's mother, Queen Mathilda, discuss the shaky prospects for an alliance between their heirs, and Mathilda says that Karl must learn to radiate warmth and charm. Karl's teacher, Prof. Juttner, is summoned to the palace in the middle of the night and ordered to instruct the prince in the graces of living. Juttner maintains that such an education comes from being with other people, and recommends that Karl be sent to his own alma mater, the University of Heidelberg. Karl is dispatched to Heidelberg the next day, along with Juttner and the punctilious royal valet, Lutz. They take rooms in an inn owned by Joseph Ruder, and Karl is immediately charmed by Ruder's pretty niece Kathie. When Karl impulsively kisses Kathie, however, she angrily rebuffs him. Classes begin, and the haughty prince bristles at being treated like all the other students. After chastening comments from Juttner and Kathie, however, Karl resolves to adapt to student life, and quickly finds that he enjoys it. On Kathie's recommendation, he joins the Westphalians, a student corps made up of good-natured commoners, and learns to consume prodigious amounts of beer. When Karl again attempts to kiss Kathie one evening, she knocks him down, as Lutz watches, aghast. Lutz orders Ruder to send Kathie away, threatening dire consequences if the incident is reported. The distraught Ruder goes to Kathie's room and finds her already packing, and tells her where to find a job in a nearby town. The following evening, the students protest Kathie's absence, and Ruder confides to Karl the name of the restaurant where Kathie now works. Karl goes to apologize, and when he causes Kathie to break some plates, she loses her job. Karl humbly beseeches Kathie to return to Heidelberg and declares his feelings for her. Now in love, Karl and Kathie return to Ruder's inn. One night, Karl is drinking and singing with the Westphalians when his true identity is accidentally revealed to the imperious Count Von Asterburg, head of the elitist Saxo-Borussian corps. Von Asterburg insists that the prince join their corps, and when Karl refuses to leave his Westphalian friends, challenges him to a duel. Karl defeats Von Asterburg in a sword fight, and the two men shake hands as friends, but Kathie is appalled. The lovers make up, and one night, at a carnival, Karl asks Kathie to go away with him. Before they can leave, however, Prime Minister Von Mark arrives from Karlsburg with the news that the king is ill and wishes to see Karl. After promising Kathie he will return, Karl returns to the palace. The king announces that Karl's marriage to Johanna will take place shortly, and when Karl protests that he is in love with Kathie, the king reminds him of his duty. Karl accuses Von Mark of having tricked him into returning, but the prime minister replies that the king is actually much sicker than he realizes. The king passes away, and preparations are made for Karl's marriage. While traveling to Nordhausen for the wedding, Karl suddenly orders the train to stop in Heidelberg. Karl goes to Ruder's inn, where he and Kathie lovingly say goodbye.
S. Z. "cuddles" Sakall
Betta St. John
Marie Marsha Masa
Harry Stradling Jr.
Baron Otto Von Strahl
Paul C. Vogel
Paul Francis Webster
Edwin B. Willis
The Student Prince (1954)
With the great triumph of this property on stage, it was inevitable that Hollywood should eventually mount a musical film version, and in the summer of 1952 MGM was all set to roll the cameras. Curtis Bernhardt was to direct, and none other than tenor superstar Mario Lanza, whose voice was believed by many to be one of the greatest of the century, was to lead the cast as Prince Karl. Lanza, in fact, had already prerecorded all his songs. These included not just the Romberg/Donnelly classics like "Serenade," "Deep in My Heart, Dear," and "Golden Days," but three new ones by Nicholas Brodszky and Paul Francis Webster: "Beloved," "I'll Walk With God," and "Summertime in Heidelberg." (Webster also revised some of the lyrics of the old Romberg/Donnelly songs.)
On what was to be the first day of production, however, in late August 1952, things started to go downhill -- and fast. Lanza didn't show up to work and was suspended by the studio. Given another chance five days later, he again didn't show and was again suspended. Then it happened a third time, and now Lanza was discharged from MGM and the plug was pulled on The Student Prince. Some sources attribute the problem to a creative clash between Lanza and Bernhardt, but most agree that it had more to do with the temperamental star's larger-than-life ego and reckless overall temperament, not to mention recent weight problems. Lanza had risen to stardom in a very brief amount of time, and his financial expectations and sense of entitlement had risen even faster.
MGM production chief Dore Schary later recounted the episode in his memoir, Heyday: "Mario checked in overweight. He was told he needed to reduce... [He] became meaner. His language was pure gutter speech and lacked the saving grace of even a spot of humor. He was also eating cauldrons of pasta and drinking flagons of beer and wine...He skipped starting dates, reported in late for wardrobe fittings, and made an utter nuisance of himself. When speaking to [MGM executive Eddie] Mannix and me, he called us and other executives a stream of obscenities... We warned Mario and pleaded for him to reorganize his life. He was flirting with oblivion for himself and we told him so. He was too far gone to listen. He left after telling us we could go f*ck ourselves."
Schary wrote that he wanted to fire Lanza and sue for damages, but Nick Schenk, the New York head of MGM parent company Loews, Inc., wanted to talk to the volatile star first. It didn't help. By Schary's account, Lanza unleashed an expletive-laden barrage at Schenk, telling him he was an "idiot" and that MGM should defer to Lanza and his "God-given pipes." That did it. Lanza was expelled from MGM, and the studio soon thereafter settled a lawsuit with him, winning the rights to Lanza's recordings.
Those recordings were a potential gold mine, MGM realized, and in the months ahead the studio decided to re-mount the film with another actor playing Prince Karl, and lip-synching to Lanza's singing voice. By the summer of 1953, the film was again set to go. Mervyn LeRoy had in the interim replaced Bernhardt as director, but delays eventually made him unavailable as well, and Richard Thorpe took the reins. Cast as Prince Karl was Edmund Purdom, a relatively unknown British actor. Ann Blyth, who had starred opposite Mario Lanza in his signature title role of The Great Caruso (1951), was borrowed from Universal to play the barmaid, Kathie, and she sang here for the first time on screen. Also in the cast are the fine character actors S. Z. "Cuddles" Sakall, in his final screen appearance, and Edmund Gwenn as the prince's tutor. Gwenn had another major film, Them! (1954), open the same week as this one.
When The Student Prince opened in June 1954, Lanza's production troubles were well-known to the public, having played out in the gossip columns. Everyone was curious to see how this Purdom/Lanza lip-synching extravaganza would turn out. Critics and public were satisfied, with all seeming to agree that Purdom did a very good job under the circumstances.
Variety described the picture as "classy" and "a fresh, beguiling musical, beautiful to hear and behold." It also called the film "an important career break" for Purdom. The dubbing was a bit off-putting at first, Variety said, making "a warm Italian tenor out of a clipped-speech Britisher," but Purdom's acting and Lanza's singing were both so good that it ultimately didn't matter.
The New York Times' Bosley Crowther also praised Purdom but said the best thing about the film was the "very good" music. Crowther wrote: "This bright-colored widescreen production of the old Romberg musical romance -- the first that has been done with music on the screen -- is a cheerful and thoroughly uninhibited outpouring of synthetic German schmaltz, as bubbly as boiling maple syrup and as tuneful as a crowded Yorkville stube."
After all the production troubles, MGM turned a profit on The Student Prince. As for Mario Lanza, he made just three more pictures over the next few years, including Serenade (1956) for Warner Brothers and director Anthony Mann, and two European productions. He died in 1959 at the age of 38 -- from a heart attack, though there was speculation at the time about Italian mafia involvement. Lanza made only eight feature films in his career, but they along with his recordings have allowed his powerful voice to endure.
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Director: Richard Thorpe; Curtis Bernhardt (uncredited; fired, replaced by Richard Thorpe)
Screenplay: Sonya Levien, William Ludwig (writer); Dorothy Donnelly (play); Wilhelm Meyer-Förster (novel, play)
Cinematography: Paul Vogel
Art Direction: Randall Duell, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Albert Sendrey, George Stoll, Robert Van Eps (uncredited)
Film Editing: Gene Ruggiero
Cast: Ann Blyth (Kathie Ruder), Edmund Purdom (Prince Karl Franz), John Ericson (Count Von Asterburg), Louis Calhern (King Ferdinand of Karlsberg), Edmund Gwenn (Prof. Juttner), S. Z. "Cuddles" Sakall (Joseph Ruder), Betta St. John (Princess Johanna), John Williams (Lutz), Evelyn Varden (Queen Mathilda), John Hoyt (Prime Minister Von Mark).
by Jeremy Arnold
The Student Prince (1954)
In August 1952 Mario Lanza recorded the soundtrack. The whole recording was done in single takes. Every phrase in it was Lanza magic at its best. But on the film set things were not to go well at all. The first scene to be shot was the song "Beloved" on the terrace. The director, Curtis Bernhardt, did not like the way the song was sung, and corrected Lanza, telling him that he was putting too much emotion in his singing, instead of sounding more stuffy and rigid like a Prussian prince. Lanza told Bernhardt that he was to direct only his acting, and that the singing was strictly Mario's department. The director would not accept this, and Mario would not be told how to sing by a movie director. The end result was that Lanza walked off the set and vowed not to return as long as Bernhardt was the director. The studio took an injunction against Lanza for damages and losses. He could not perform in public, on radio, or in the recording studio for the remaining time of his contract with MGM (which was then 15 months). A solution was reached in May 1953: the studio would remove the embargo on Lanza if he would allow his voice to be used while another actor played the part of the prince. This was agreed to and the filming got under way with Edmund Purdom lip-synching Lanza, which he did marvellously. The irony is that when the film was finally made, the director was no longer Curtis Bernhardt, but Richard Thorpe (I), who had worked harmoniously with Lanza on the movie Great Caruso, The (1951).
In 19 January 1951, Hollywood Reporter announced that Vic Damone would star in the film, and in July 1951 reported that Robert Z. Leonard would direct, and Jane Powell and Ricardo Montalban would have the leading roles. News items in the trade publications reveal the following additional information about the film's production history: The Student Prince first went into production in August 1952, with Curtis Bernhardt as director and singer Mario Lanza in the role of "Prince Karl Franz." However, Lanza, who had already recorded the prince's songs for the film, failed to show up for the first day of production. M-G-M suspended Lanza on 20 Aug, threatening legal action and, under the provisions of Lanza's studio contract, preventing the singer from performing on his weekly radio program on NBC. The suspension was lifted when Lanza came in for wardrobe tests on 22 Aug, and he was permitted to appear on his radio show that evening. Production was rescheduled for 25 Aug, but Lanza again failed to report for work and was immediately placed back on suspension. News items in Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Daily News and Variety suggested variously that Lanza was boycotting work because of financial difficulties stemming from bad investments, personal problems or a contractual dispute with the studio, although the singer's agent company, MCA, told Variety that money was not at issue.
On September 2, 1952, M-G-M announced that it would abandon the film, adding that it had already incurred more than $700,000 in pre-production costs. After meeting with Lanza, however, the studio decided to give him one more opportunity to appear in the film. When Lanza failed to report for work for the third time, M-G-M cancelled the production and sued Lanza for more than five million dollars for breach of contract. The suit was settled in May 1953, when Lanza gave the studio the right to use his pre-recorded songs and M-G-M withdrew its claim for damages. Modern sources allege that Lanza refused to appear because he disagreed with Bernhardt over the interpretation of the role and had tried unsuccessfully to have the director fired.
Lanza's billing in the film's opening credits reads: "And The Singing Voice of Mario Lanza as The Student Prince." According to biographical sources, Lanza, who began his film career in the 1949 M-G-M film That Midnight Kiss (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50), suffered from violent mood swings, depression and alcoholism. The Student Prince was the last film Lanza made under his M-G-M contract, although his independently produced 1958 film The Seven Hills of Rome (see entry above) was released by M-G-M. He died of a heart attack in 1959, at age 38.
According to July and August 1952 Hollywood Reporter news items, the aborted production of The Student Prince included the following cast members: Leo G. Carroll (as "Lutz"), Janice Rule, John Abbott, Florence Bates, Gig Young, Robert Burton and Steve Forrest. These actors were replaced when the film finally went into production more than a year later. A September 2, 1952 item in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column claimed that M-G-M was considering replacing Lanza with Farley Granger and a dubbed voice, and a April 24, 1953 item in that column reported that singing actor Jack Washburn was testing for a role in the film. A April 10, 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item again mentions Vic Damone as a candidate for the title role, and a April 15, 1953 memo in the Joe Pasternak Collection at the USC Cinema Television Library refers to Damone's employment. In August 1953, Mervyn LeRoy was announced as the film's director, but he withdrew from the project in November when the production schedule was moved up to accommodate star Ann Blyth's pregnancy.
According to a July 12, 1954 article in Hollywood Citizen-News, Baron Otto von Strahl, who served as the film's technical advisor, was an authority on dueling etiquette and the veteran of eleven duels. In addition to overseeing the dueling sequence with Edmund Purdom and John Ericson, von Strahl consulted with the wardrobe and prop departments to ensure authenticity. The Student Prince marked the last screen appearance of Hungarian-born character actor S. Z. "Cuddles" Sakall, who died in February 1955. The story of the student prince was made by M-G-M as a silent film titled The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg in 1927, directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Ramon Novarro and Norma Shearer (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30).
Released in United States Spring May 1954
Released in United States Spring May 1954