Hollywood movies don't get much classier. The great Anthony Hope adventure is adapted for the screen with loving loyalty to the story, and Cromwell's helmsmanship is decisive and full of affection for the tale.
Colman plays the doppelganger roles of Rudolph Rassendyl and Prince Rudolf of the mythical European kingdom of Ruritania. Rassendyl is spotted by Col. Zapt (Smith) and Capt. von Tarlenheim (Niven), aides to the Prince, and he ends up dining with his royal double who is, as it turns out, a distant
cousin. The next morning, however, the Prince lies in a coma, having been drugged by a servant in the employ of the Prince's brother "Black" Michael (Massey) and his villainous cohort Rupert (Fairbanks). Zapt vows that Michael will never sit on the throne and presses Rudolph to substitute for the
Prince, through the coronation if need be, until the real Prince recovers. Of course this not only entails weathering additional attempts on the future King Rudolf V's life, but also standing in for His Majesty in the business of love, convincing Princess Flavia (Carroll) that he is indeed her
Director Cromwell does a marvelous job in extracting great performances from his leading players, as well as carefully developing the Colman-Carroll romance, which is touched with gentility and poetic grace. Selznick was repeatedly warned not to revive this Ruritanian adventure, his advisors
telling him that the production was doomed. Selznick, however, didn't listen, and he was proved right: the film was a smash, enhancing the careers of everyone involved.
Voted Hollywood's handsomest actor (at age 46) the same year that ZENDA appeared, Colman is the essence of gentlmanly dash. He is matched by a true Hollywood princess, Madeleine Carroll, in what she would later call her favorite role. In additon to their fine work, the film boasts flawless visual
elegance thanks to Cromwell and ace cameraman Howe, the script by Balderston, Root, and Stewart is witty, literate, and lyrical, and Newman's sweeping, memorable score is one of that composer's finest.
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