Prince and the Pauper, The (1937): William Keighley’s Version of Mark Twain’s Classic, Starring Errol Flynn

The Prince and the Pauper, an adaptation of the 1881 novel by Mark Twain, starred Errol Flynn, twins Billy and Bobby Mauch in the title roles.

The film was originally intended to coincide with the planned coronation of Edward VIII in 1936. However, its release was delayed and it was released on May 8, 1937, four days before the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

The Prince and the Pauper
The Prince and the Pauper (1937 film).jpg

In Tudor England, two boys are born on the same day in the different circumstances imaginable. Tom Canty (Billy Mauch) is the son of vicious criminal John Canty (Barton MacLane), while Edward Tudor (Bobby Mauch) is the Prince of Wales and the son of King Henry VIII of England (Montagu Love). One grows up in poverty, the other in isolated luxury with strong curiosity about the outside world.

They meet and are astounded by their striking resemblance to each other. As a prank, they exchange clothes, but the Captain of the Guard (Alan Hale, Sr.) mistakes the prince for the pauper and throws him out of the palace grounds. Tom is unable to convince anybody except for the Earl of Hertford (Claude Rains) of his identity; others think he is mentally ill. When Henry VIII dies, Hertford threatens to expose Tom unless he obeys. Hertford also blackmails the Captain into searching for the real prince to eliminate dangerous loose end.

Meanwhile, Edward finds an amused protector in Miles Hendon (Errol Flynn), and with help, he manages to re-enter the palace just in time to interrupt the coronation ceremony and prove his identity.

In the end, Edward becomes King Edward VI while Tom is made a ward of the new king, Hertford is banished for life, and Hendon is rewarded for his services.

Errol Flynn as Miles Hendon
Billy Mauch as Tom Canty
Bobby Mauch as King Edward VI
Claude Rains as the Earl of Hertford
Henry Stephenson as the Duke of Norfolk
Barton MacLane as John Canty
Alan Hale, Sr. as The Captain of the Guard
Eric Portman as The First Lord
Lionel Pape as The Second Lord
Leonard Willey as The Third Lord
Murray Kinnell as Hugo Hendon
Halliwell Hobbes as The Archbishop
Phyllis Barry as The Barmaid
Ivan F. Simpson as Clemens
Montagu Love as Henry VIII of England
Fritz Leiber as Father Andrew

Warner had Billy and Bobby Mauch under contract, and had used them separately in Anthony Adverse, The White Angel and The Charge of the Light Brigade.

They bought the rights to the story from Twain’s estate for $75,000.

The film earned $1,026,000 domestically and $665,000 in foreign countries, making it the studio’s most popular film of the year.

Screen Versions

This fictional narrative has been adapted to film a number of times:

The Prince and the Pauper (1909), a two-reel short with the only known film footage of Mark Twain, shot by Thomas Edison at Twain’s Connecticut home

The Prince and the Pauper (1915), directed by Hugh Ford and Edwin Stanton Porter; the first feature-length adaptation

The Prince and the Pauper (1920 film) (German: Prinz und Bettelknabe), a 1920 Austrian film directed by Alexander Korda

The Prince and the Pauper (1937 film), featuring Errol Flynn as Miles Hendon and Billy and Bobby Mauch

The Prince and the Pauper (1962 film), part of Walt Disney anthology TV series, starring Guy Williams as Miles Hendon, and Sean Scully in the dual roles of Prince Edward and Tom Canty.

The Prince and the Pauper (1977 film), released in the US as Crossed Swords, starring Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch, Ernest Borgnine, George C. Scott, Rex Harrison, and Charlton Heston

The Prince and the Pauper (1990 film), an animated short starring Mickey Mouse

The Prince and the Pauper (2000 film), TV film with Aidan Quinn, Alan Bates

A Modern Twain Story: The Prince and the Pauper (2007 film) starring Dylan and Cole Sprouse


Directed by William Keighley
Produced by Jack L. Warner, Hal B. Wallis
Screenplay by Laird Doyle, Catherine Chisholm Cushing, based on The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Cinematography Sol Polito, George Barnes
Edited by Ralph Dawson

Production, distribution: Warner Bros.

Release date: May 8, 1937

Running time: 118 minutes
Budget $858,000
Box office $1,691,000