Der Ruritanische Widerstand - The Ruritanian Resistance

Films of The Prisoner of Zenda 2: Talkies

1937 and 1952 (IMDb reviews)

Entertaining, exciting, but in many respects unsatisfying adaptations of the classic adventure novel, playing up the romance and swashbuckle at the expense of the darker, political thriller aspects. Using the same basic shooting script (based on the 1890s stage version) both films failed to take advantage of cinema's ability to open up and develop a book's first-person narrative, so some characters are underwritten and some of the most dramatic scenes unfilmed.

As usual, the male leads are generally too old in both versions, but the 1937 version has the advantage in having Ronald Colman, a far more charming actor than Stewart Granger, as the Rudolfs, and Douglas Fairbanks jr as a more Hays Code-friendly version of Rupert von Hentzau. (In the book, he's more vicious little psycho than loveable rogue!) In 1952, Deborah Kerr, Stewart Granger ( James Stewart), and Robert Douglas (R D Finlayson) make the Elphbergs distinctly Caledonian, without the contrast in colouring between the brothers (here both are dark). James Mason is a decidedly un-boyish Rupert. (He would have been an excellent Michael if Hollywood must depict him as older than his mid-20s!)

This script implies that Michael is the older of the Elphberg brothers, but illegitimate: Ray Massey was several years younger than Ronald Colman, but didn't look it, and Robert Douglas was about 4 years older than Stewart Granger. Both Antoinettes are too young: Mary Astor was about 30, Jane Greer 28, but at least they bring a noir edge to the role. The script implies that she and Michael are in a long-term relationship and that she wants him to marry her, unlike the novel, in which he is a very recent conquest. Unfortunately, the script also adds banter between Antoinette and Hentzau which gives the impression that she is leading him on: this is a distortion, as is the scene in which she lures him, leading to Michael's stabbing. In the book, her dislike of Hentzau is unequivocal. He attempts to rape her before the alarm is meant to be raised; Michael dies a hero, defending her in a swordfight in the dark; and she chases Hentzau with a pistol. But I suppose the Hays Code and the script's softening of Hentzau's character are to blame, plus it might have been considered confusing for audiences to find themselves suddenly cheering on the Duke...

I'd like to see more moral ambiguity about the ethics of the military propping up a dissolute autocrat in the teeth of popular opposition. Neither film showed the protest demonstration by the urban poor at the coronation. Ruritania's a repressive state ruled by an absolute monarch through the police and the army: to come properly to life on screen, it really needs Istvan Szabo!!!

1937 Gallery


Another poster

And another poster

Rassendyll (Ronald Colman)

Sapt (C Aubrey Smith) & Fritz (David Niven) train Rassendyll


Rassendyll & Michael (Raymond Massey)

Rassendyll & Flavia (Madeleine Carrol) in coronation dress


More coronation cheesecake...

Fritz, Sapt & Rassendyll

Michael & Rupert (Douglas Fairbanks jr)


Rupert close-up

Antoinette (Mary Astor) & Rupert

Rassendyll & Flavia at the ball

Rassendyll & Flavia in the garden

An embrace...

Fritz & Rassendyll

Rupert & 2 of the lads at the summer-house. (Rupert shouldn't really be in this scene!)

Rupert has a cunning plan...

Rupert throws a knife at Rassendyll

Rassendyll vs Bersonin
(instead of Detchard!)

Rassendyll vs Rupert

Rassendyll vs Rupert



Illustrated companion booklet to the 1937 film
with plot outline, cast & production notes, & author biography
(with alternate covers from Odeon edition)

Cover 1 Cover 2 Cover 3 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4
Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 Pages 8-9 Page10
Page 11 Page 12 Page 13 Page 14 Page 15 Back cover

Der Gefangene von Zenda
Illustrierte Film-Bühne no. 1486

(1950s German release)

1952 Gallery

1952 poster

Belgian poster

Another poster


Seeing double... The Rudolfs

Rudi toasts Flavia...

Sapt & Fritz sober up Rassendyll

Fritz & Sapt

They check Rassendyll's makeover

Michael & Antoinette


Michael & Rupert at the coronation

Enter... the King?!

Flavia pays homage


The Ball

Flavia & Rassendyll

Antoinette tends Rudolf

Rupert makes Rassendyll an offer

Michael goes to his doom...

Rupert v Rassendyll

Rassendyll in action

Rassendyll v Rupert

Rassendyll vs Rupert

And on they go...

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The first cut won't hurt at all,
The second only makes you wonder...
- Propaganda, Duel