The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)

100-101 mins | Adventure, Drama | 3 September 1937

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HISTORY

The title card for the film reads: "Selznick International presents Ronald Colman in a picturization of the celebrated novel by Anthony Hope...." A written foreword states that any resemblance of the story to the royal scandal of Europe at the end of the last century is unintended. According to news items in HR in May--Jul 1933, M-G-M had planned to make a musical version of The Prisoner of Zenda starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, with Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart writing the music, Herbert Fields writing the screen treatment, and Wells Root and Leo Birinski collaborating on the screenplay. Although Root wrote the adaptation for the Selznick version, it is unclear whether he actually wrote a screenplay for the unproduced M-G-M musical, or whether any of his earlier work was used in this film. A HR news item dated 11 May 1935 stated that Ernest Vajda was working on a screenplay for the film for Irving Thalberg at M-G-M. On 12 Aug 1935, HR reported that Gerard Fairlie had joined Marian Ainslee, who was already working on the script. By 4 Sep 1935, according to HR , the project was postponed. A 23 Dec 1935 HR news item stated that Coningsby Dawson had been assigned by M-G-M to work with Jules Furthman on the screenplay for The Prisoner of Zenda . The proposed M-G-M production was to have been supervised by Al Lewin for Thalberg and was to have starred William Powell and Myrna Loy, but was never made.
       According to HR , Madeleine Carroll was borrowed from Walter ... More Less

The title card for the film reads: "Selznick International presents Ronald Colman in a picturization of the celebrated novel by Anthony Hope...." A written foreword states that any resemblance of the story to the royal scandal of Europe at the end of the last century is unintended. According to news items in HR in May--Jul 1933, M-G-M had planned to make a musical version of The Prisoner of Zenda starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, with Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart writing the music, Herbert Fields writing the screen treatment, and Wells Root and Leo Birinski collaborating on the screenplay. Although Root wrote the adaptation for the Selznick version, it is unclear whether he actually wrote a screenplay for the unproduced M-G-M musical, or whether any of his earlier work was used in this film. A HR news item dated 11 May 1935 stated that Ernest Vajda was working on a screenplay for the film for Irving Thalberg at M-G-M. On 12 Aug 1935, HR reported that Gerard Fairlie had joined Marian Ainslee, who was already working on the script. By 4 Sep 1935, according to HR , the project was postponed. A 23 Dec 1935 HR news item stated that Coningsby Dawson had been assigned by M-G-M to work with Jules Furthman on the screenplay for The Prisoner of Zenda . The proposed M-G-M production was to have been supervised by Al Lewin for Thalberg and was to have starred William Powell and Myrna Loy, but was never made.
       According to HR , Madeleine Carroll was borrowed from Walter Wanger Productions. Arthur Byron and Margaret Tallichet are listed in the cast in an early HR production chart for this film, but they were not in the released film. Modern sources add D'Arcy Corrigan, Charles K. French, Otto Fries, Alexander Pollard and Russ Powell to the cast. A HR production chart for day twelve lists Bert Glennon as photographer, although he is not credited on the film.
       According to a modern source, The Prisoner of Zenda was part of        David O. Selznick's expanded program of ten-to-twelve "class A" features to be made in 1937 with a combined budget of $12,000,000. Initially slated only as an "original for Ronald Colman," the title of this film was kept secret until negotiations with M-G-M for story rights had been completed. Modern sources also note that Selznick had wanted to make this film while he was at M-G-M and had several scripts prepared, but production never got underway. According to modern sources, Selznick negotiated with Frank Borzage to direct, but Jack Warner of Warner Bros. refused to loan him. Following the publicity surrounding the abdication of King Edward VIII in Dec 1936, Selznick decided to capitalize on the topical idea of a morganatic union, but had not wished to purchase the rights to the story until he had secured Colman in the lead.
       Modern sources indicate that this film's shooting began with the scene in which Colman appears to shake hands with himself. Cinematographer James Wong Howe created the scene by placing a 3 X 4 foot optical glass three feet in front of the camera. Colman shook hands with a double, whose head and shoulders were subsequently matted out with masking tape on the glass. The scene was photographed and the film was run backward so that the scene could be re-photographed with everything matted out except Colman's head and shoulders. The NYT reviewer remarked that the trick photography was so convincing he was sure a double had been used. He further stated that his only complaint about the film was that there also should have been two Madeleine Carrolls. According to a news item in HR on 27 May 1937, Selznick had scheduled additional scenes to be directed by George Cukor because John Cromwell was tied up with pre-production on The Adventures of Marco Polo . In a letter to Ronald Colman on 21 Jul 1937, reproduced in a modern source, Selznick explained his decision to have Cukor direct the renunciation scene featuring Carroll because he was adept at directing women. The scene had been rewritten that afternoon by Sidney Howard, Cukor and Selznick (reportedly during a break in their meetings on Gone with the Wind ). In excerpts from a speech Selznick gave on 1 Nov 1937 to a class at Columbia University also reproduced in a modern source, Selznick states that after the film was finished and the fencing scenes were recut, Selznick, still dissatisfied, brought in W. S. Van Dyke from M-G-M to re-stage the fencing sequences already shot by Cromwell.
       According to DV , Selznick publicity chief, Russell J. Birdwell, staged a "bury-the-hatchet" stunt in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre for the Hollywood premiere of this film. The stunt was a result of controversy over Culver City's desire to change its name to Hollywood. Representatives from the respective Chambers of Commerce literally buried in cement a hatchet donated by Birdwell to mark the end of their dispute. California governor Frank Merriam refereed the ceremony. Birdwell's publicity stunts also included him flying, along with twelve residents, into New York for the world premiere from the town of Zenda, Ontario, Canada, which was named after Hope's mythical kingdom. Birdwell also had Los Angeles Mayor Frank L. Shaw inaugurate a downtown fencing tournament to publicize the film. According to her 1948 article in SEP , "Flavia" was Madeleine Carroll's favorite role. In the article, Carroll recalls being addressed as "Princess Flavia" by a wounded soldier while on a hospital train in France during the Battle of the Bulge. Art director Lyle Wheeler and score composer Alfred Newman were nominated for Academy Awards for their work on the film.
       Among the many film versions of Hope's story is the 1913 Famous Players Film Co. picture directed by Edwin S. Porter and starring James K. Hackett and Beatrice Beckley (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20 ; F1.3571); and a 1922 M-G-M silent directed by Rex Ingram and starring Lewis Stone, Stuart Holmes and Alice Terry (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ; F2.4356). In 1952, M-G-M remade Selznick's version in Technicolor with Richard Thorpe as the director and Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr and James Mason in the cast. M-G-M's 1952 film used Alfred Newman's score and, according to a modern source, was a frame-by-frame copy of the Selnick version. In 1979, Richard Quine directed a comedic version of the story for Universal starring Peter Sellers and his wife, Lynne Frederick. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
5 Oct 37
p. 9.
Daily Variety
7 Oct 37
p. 2.
Daily Variety
16 Oct 37
p. 2.
Film Daily
2 Sep 37
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
11 May 35
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Aug 35
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Sep 35
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Dec 35
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Mar 37
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Mar 37
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
27 May 37
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Aug 37
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Aug 37
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Aug 37
p. 1.
Motion Picture Daily
30 Aug 37
p. 4.
Motion Picture Herald
3 Jul 37
p. 43.
Motion Picture Herald
4 Sep 37
p. 71.
New York Times
3 Sep 37
p. 12.
The Saturday Evening Post
24-Apr-48
---
Variety
1 Sep 37
p. 22.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir of added scenes
Dir of fencing seq
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Adpt
Contr wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Supv film ed
SET DECORATOR
Int dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus score
SOUND
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
PRODUCTION MISC
Asst to prod
Fencing instructor
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope (London, May 1894) and play The Prisoner of Zenda by Edward E. Rose (London, 7 Jan 1896).
DETAILS
Release Date:
3 September 1937
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New York, 2 September 1937
Los Angeles opening: 6 October 1937
Production Date:
began 9 March 1937
Copyright Claimant:
Selznick International Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
6 October 1937
Copyright Number:
LP7494
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Noiseless Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
100-101
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
PCA No:
3356
SYNOPSIS

King Rudolf V, of the small Balkan country of Ruritania, meets his exact double, Major Rudolf Rassendyll, a distant English cousin, who is on holiday, the night before his coronation. The king then takes his cousin to his lodge, where they toast their shared ancestors. The dissolute king unknowingly drinks wine that has been drugged by his villainous half-brother "Black Michael," Duke of Streslau and Lord of Zenda Castle, who wants the throne. The next day, Rudolf poses as the king while the real monarch lies unconscious in the lodge cellar. The coronation is a success, but Rudolf unwittingly falls in love with the king's intended, Princess Flavia, who, upon finding him a reformed man, loves him for the first time. Colonel Zapt, determined to make the real king an honorable man, returns to the lodge and finds Josef, a loyal servant, dead and the king missing. Rupert of Hentzau, a courtier, is seemingly in league with Michael, but is really after the king's mistress, Lady Antoinette. As part of Michael's scheme to murder Rudolf and bury him as the king, Rupert blackmails Rudolf into meeting him alone, demanding ransom money for the king's return. Rudolf goes to Antoinette's room at the castle and she offers to help him if the king's men let Michael live. She then gives Rudolf an earring and tells him to watch for a messenger bearing its match, and he escapes. Michael and Rupert then have the king moved to Zenda Castle, where they keep him in chains. After Rupert tries to bribe Rudolf into keeping the kingdom for the two of them, Michael tries to force the king ... +


King Rudolf V, of the small Balkan country of Ruritania, meets his exact double, Major Rudolf Rassendyll, a distant English cousin, who is on holiday, the night before his coronation. The king then takes his cousin to his lodge, where they toast their shared ancestors. The dissolute king unknowingly drinks wine that has been drugged by his villainous half-brother "Black Michael," Duke of Streslau and Lord of Zenda Castle, who wants the throne. The next day, Rudolf poses as the king while the real monarch lies unconscious in the lodge cellar. The coronation is a success, but Rudolf unwittingly falls in love with the king's intended, Princess Flavia, who, upon finding him a reformed man, loves him for the first time. Colonel Zapt, determined to make the real king an honorable man, returns to the lodge and finds Josef, a loyal servant, dead and the king missing. Rupert of Hentzau, a courtier, is seemingly in league with Michael, but is really after the king's mistress, Lady Antoinette. As part of Michael's scheme to murder Rudolf and bury him as the king, Rupert blackmails Rudolf into meeting him alone, demanding ransom money for the king's return. Rudolf goes to Antoinette's room at the castle and she offers to help him if the king's men let Michael live. She then gives Rudolf an earring and tells him to watch for a messenger bearing its match, and he escapes. Michael and Rupert then have the king moved to Zenda Castle, where they keep him in chains. After Rupert tries to bribe Rudolf into keeping the kingdom for the two of them, Michael tries to force the king to write an abdication, but he refuses. Antoinette's messenger arrives with plans for Rudolf to swim across the moat to Antoinette's room that night. Because the king will be killed at first alarm, Rudolf must fight the guards and rescue the king before the drawbridge is lowered for Colonel Zapt's approaching army. The plan works until Rupert, seeing Antoinette's door open, enters and kisses her. When Michael walks in on them, he and Rupert fight and Rupert stabs him. Antoinette then confesses her scheme to save the king and Rupert kills the messenger as he tries to lower the drawbridge. Rudolf then kills the guards who are about to kill the king and, following a sword fight with Rupert, slices the drawbridge rope. When the troops storm the castle, Rupert dives into the moat. The king lives and is now kind-hearted and sober. Crediting Rudolf with teaching him how to be a ruler, the king wants to exonerate his cousin, but Zapt insists on keeping the double identity a secret to all but Flavia. When she and Rudolf meet again, they swear their love and she nearly gives up the throne to be with him, but, with the words "honor binds a woman, too" chooses to forfeit her love for Rudolf and become Ruritania's queen. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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