Prisoner of Zenda (1952)

This adventure story, based on Anthony Hope’s classic novel, is the fourth Hollywood renditionl, far inferior to the 1937 version, which is admired by many critics and viewers.

Stewart Granger, a limited actor who looked good in period uniforms and thus got typecast in costumes dramas, plays Rudolph Rassendyll, a British tourist visiting the nation of Ruritania in the Balkans.

Plot is based on the old time notion of mistaken identity, and here it is Rassendyll’s remarkable physical resemblance to Prince Rudolph, who is about to be crowned the nation’s new king.

The prince’s staff even arranges a meeting between the two men. But Rudolph’s devious brother believes it is he who should be the king. To that extent, he arranges for Prince Rudolph to be poisoned the night before his coronation.

Desperate, Rudolph’s minders beg Rassendyll to participate in the ceremony in Rudolph’s place so that the  throne cannot be taken away. Rassendyll agrees, and the ceremony proceeds, but when the brother’s men discover this subterfuge, they imprison the real Prince as they threaten to reveal the secret of the new “king.”

Rassendyll’s dilemma is compounded when he falls in love with Princess Flavia (Deborah Kerr), intended for Rudolph.

This was the fourth screen adaptation of The Prisoner of Zenda.  A fifth, which focused on the tale’s comedic elements, starring Peter Sellers, was released in 1979.

Richard Thorpe is not a particular skillful director and so the whole production is too stiff, emphasizing the lavish costumes and décor and other trivial details rather the characterization or tale.

Under these circumstances, the stellar cast is nicer to look at than to listen to.  Even the usually brilliant James Mason and the always reliable Deborah Kerr are just passable.  As for Granger, he is not particularly compelling in either of his dual part.

Running time: 101 Minutes.

Directed by Richard Thorpe.


Stewart Granger as Rudolf Rassendyll and the King

Deborah Kerr as Princess Flavia

James Mason as Rupert of Hentzau

Louis Calhern as Colonel Zapt

Jane Greer as Antoinette de Mauban

Robert Douglas as Michael Duke of Strelsa…