Guest Movie Review: The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)

eliBy Eli Sanchez
Guest Contributor
Silver Screen Capture

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John Cromwell’s swashbuckling adventure story, The Prisoner of Zenda (A-) is a tale of royalty, intrigue and recessed genes taking place in the fictional Ruritania. Rudolph Rassendyl (Ronald Colman), distant cousin of King Rudolph V (also Colman) is found napping lakeside by the king and his retinue (wonderfully understated performances by David Niven and C. Aubrey Smith, respectively) while on vacation from England.  Of course, tales of “fishing in forbidden waters” linking the two genetically through an old scandal gives the newly acquainted cousins a chance to share drinks and old horror stories at the King’s Hunting Lodge in rural Zenda. A spiked bottle of wine, a complicit housekeeper and a malevolent half-brother Michael (Raymond Massey) attempt to halt the coronation proceedings the night before, while the unwary cousins are three sheets to the wind.  Michael plans to embarrass his brother and assume the throne in his stead and marry the princess while jilting his current girlfriend played by Mary Astor. It’s a classic tale of lookalikes and royal subterfuge with a keen eye on performance and overall loyalty to a code. The film has steady pacing and keeps the political intrigue at a minimum, focusing more on the torture of a man being put in an awkward position of an unwilling king who gets a taste of love and is forced to give it up due to familial obligation and duty.   The strong performances by all actors up and down the cast make this a fun adventure film as well as a solid overall piece of drama for its day.

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I've reviewed films for more than 20 years. Current movie reviews of new theatrical releases and direct-to-video or streaming films are added weekly to the Silver Screen Capture movie news site. Many capsule critiques originally appeared in expanded form in my syndicated Lights Camera Reaction column.

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Posted in 1937, Eli Sanchez Guest Review

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