AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
The Prisoner of Zenda
Director: Richard Thorpe (Dir)
Release Date:   14 Nov 1952
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 4 Nov 1952; Los Angeles opening: 13 Nov 1952
Production Date:   4 Apr--mid-May 1952
Duration (in mins):   100-101
Duration (in feet):   9,015
Duration (in reels):   10
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   Stewart Granger (Rudolf Rassendyll/King Rudolf V)  
    Deborah Kerr (Princess Flavia)  
    Louis Calhern (Col. Zapt)  
    Jane Greer (Antoinette de Mauban)  
    Lewis Stone (The cardinal)  
    Robert Douglas (Michael, Duke of Strelsau)  
    Robert Coote (Fritz von Tarlenheim)  
    Peter Brocco (Johann)  
    Francis Pierlot (Josef)  
  And James Mason (Rupert of Hentzau)  
    Stanley Logan (British ambassador)  
    Doris Lloyd (Ambassador's wife)  
    Tom Brown Henry (Detchard)  
    Eric Alden (Krafstein)  
    Stephen Roberts (Lauengram)  
    Bud Wolfe (Bersonin)  
    Peter Mamakos (DeGautet)  
    Joe Mell (Railroad guard)  
    Frank Kreig (Railroad guard)  
    Peter Votrian (Newsboy)  
    Alex Pope (Husband)  
    Mary Carroll (German wife)  
    Jay Adler (Passport official)  
    Michael Vallon (Asst. passport official)  
    George Slocum (Sandwich vendor)  
    Charles Watts (Porter)  
    Kathleen Freeman (Gertrude)  
    Bruce Payne (Court chamberlain)  
    John Goldworthy (Archbishop)  
    Forbes Murray (Nobleman with cardinal)  
    Alphonse Martell (Nobleman)  
    Manuel Paris (Nobleman)  
    Frank Elliott (Dignitary)  
    Gordon Richards (Dignitary)  
    Guy Bellis (Lord Chamberlain)  
    Norman Rainey (Commissaire)  
    Maurice Marsac (Ball master)  
    Max Willenz (Orchestra leader)  
    Emilie Cabanne (Lady with cardinal)  
    Hugh Prosser (Uhlan guard)  
    George Lewis (Uhlan guard)  
    Paul Marion (Guard)  
    William Hamel (Aide)  
    Victor Romito (Aide)  
    Elizabeth Slifer    

Summary: In 1897, while visiting a small European country, Englishman Rudolf "Rudy" Rassendyll stops for a nap in the forest and is seen by Col. Zapt and Fritz von Tarlenheim, who are startled by his remarkable similarity to their king, Rudolf V. When the king arrives moments later, he and Rudy laugh at their resemblance, which Zapt speculates is due to a “royal scandal” several generations past. Rudolf, who is to be crowned the next day and will soon marry his cousin, Princess Flavia, invites Rudy to stay at his hunting lodge that night. True to his reputation as a wastrel and drunkard, Rudolf drinks too much at dinner, prompting Zapt to remind him of his duty. Rudolf slaps Zapt, but as soon as the colonel withdraws, Rudolf regrets his action. Before another bottle of wine is brought, Rudy falls asleep, and the king drinks alone. The next morning, when Zapt goes into the dining room, he finds Rudy asleep and the king unconscious. Zapt deduces that a drugging was arranged by Rudolf’s illegitimate half-brother Michael, Duke of Strelsau, and tells Rudy that if the coronation does not take place that day, Michael will proclaim Rudolf unfit to rule and seize the throne. Convinced that fate has brought Rudy to his country, Zapt urges him to take the king’s place at the coronation. After shaving his moustache, darkening his graying temples and donning Rudolf’s monocle, Rudy is an exact double for the king. He then accompanies Zapt and Fritz to the coronation while the comatose Rudolf is safely locked in his bedroom. Meanwhile, Michael signs a proclamation that will make him king after Rudolf fails to appear for his coronation. Although his devoted mistress, Antoinette de Mauban, begs him not to seize power, Michael refuses to be dissuaded. Unknown to Michael, Antoinette is desired by his ambitious ally, Rupert of Hentzau, who warns her that Michael can only secure his crown by marrying Flavia. Later, at the cathedral, Rupert and Michael patiently wait, sure that the coronation will not take place, then are shocked when Zapt arrives with Rudy, whom they assume is Rudolf. After Rudy is crowned, Flavia, who has not seen her cousin since childhood, is presented to him. Following the coronation, as their carriage passes cheering crowds, Flavia reminds “Rudolf” of his slights and neglect over the years, but Rudy charms her. She tells him that he has become “an entirely different person” and lets him know that she likes the change. When Rudy later speaks with Michael, he leads him to believe that he has recovered from the drugged wine and knows of his treachery. Later that night, Rudy accompanies Zapt and Fritz to the hunting lodge to change places with the king. However, when they arrive, the lodge is deserted, except for the dead body of a loyal servant, who lies next to a note reading “One king is enough for any kingdom.” Zapt surmises that Rupert, who has not been seen since the coronation, must have kidnapped Rudolf. Knowing that exposing Rupert would also expose themselves, Zapt urges Rudy to continue posing as the king. The next day, at the coronation ball, Rudy takes Flavia onto the terrace and tells her that he loves her. She also confesses her love, but wonders out loud why she fell in love him at the coronation when she did not even like him before. After Flavia responds lovingly when Rudy asks if she would care for him if he were just an ordinary man, their tryst is interrupted by Zapt, who has secretly observed them. When Rudy is alone with Zapt, he admits that his love is impossible and pleads with the colonel to find the king. Meanwhile, Rupert meets with Michael to tell him that the real king is imprisoned in the castle at Zenda. After offering Rupert money and power, Michael explains that if the imposter were killed and buried as the king, Rudolf could secretly be assassinated and Michael would legitimately assume the throne. The next morning, Rudy receives a card, addressed to his real name, asking for a secret meeting that evening and threatening Flavia if he tells anyone. Late at night, Rudy and Fritz go to the meeting place, a house that Fritz knows is owned by Annette. Rudy finds her alone in a garden cottage, where she admits that it is a trap, but tells him that she sent the note so that Michael would not be a party to murder. She also promises to arrange an escape for the king, and says that details of her plan will be revealed by a trusted servant. Just then, Rupert and his men arrive, but Rudy eludes them. The next day, Flavia is furious to learn that the king and Zapt have decided to go to the hunting lodge and assumes that Rudy has become bored with her. Rudy assures her that he is only leaving her because of duty and she senses that he is in danger. Some time later, Rupert comes to the lodge and asks to be admitted. He first offers Rudy £100,000 to leave the country, then suggests a plan whereby Rudolf will be killed, thus enabling Rudy to remain king and give Rupert all of Michael’s estates, and Annette. Zapt laughs at the suggestion, after which Rupert throws a knife at Rudy and quickly escapes. When Rupert arrives at Zenda, Annette is tending the badly wounded king, who is imprisoned in the dungeon. There Michael shows Rudolf an abdication proclamation, but the king will not sign it. Meanwhile, at the hunting lodge, Annette’s servant arrives with details of the rescue plan. Rudy and Zapt then go to the castle in the middle of the night, and Rudy swims the moat, after being given a signal from Annette. Once inside, Rudy meets Annette, who reminds him of his promise that no harm will come to Michael. As Rudy leaves Annette, Rupert hears a noise and sees light coming from Annette’s room. Thinking that her opened door is an invitation, he enters. Moments later, when her servant rattles the chain of the drawbridge, Michael awakens and hears Rupert’s laugh coming from Annette’s room. Michael opens the door just as Rupert kisses Annette. He then lunges at Rupert, but Rupert mortally wounds him with his knife and he dies in Annette’s arms, as she cries that she only did it to save him. Rupert then discovers the servant lowering the drawbridge, kills him and alerts his men. In the commotion, Rudy goes to the dungeon, but guards soon discover him. During a fight, Rudy is able to throw one of the guards into the moat through a trap door in the king’s cell, and when Rupert arrives, Rudy tells him that he has thrown the king to his death. Rupert knows Rudy is lying and draws his sword. After fighting throughout the castle, Rudy is wounded in the arm, but eventually corners Rupert, who jumps into the moat just as Zapt and his soldiers cross the drawbridge. The next day, the rescued king apologizes to Zapt for his past behavior and asks for guidance. When Rudy comes to say goodbye, Rudolf calls him his best friend and expresses sorrow that what has happened must remain secret. Zapt then tells Rudy that Flavia knows everything and wants to see him. At first Flavia is cold, but when she realizes that Rudy was not just pretending to love her, she softens. He begs her to come with him, but she refuses, saying that her duty is with the king, even though her heart will be with Rudy. A short time later, as Rudy crosses the frontier, Zapt tells Fritz that he was the finest of them all.  

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's Inc.)
Distribution Company: Loew's Inc.  
Director: Richard Thorpe (Dir)
  Sid Sidman (Asst dir)
Producer: Pandro S. Berman (Prod)
Writer: John L. Balderson (Scr)
  Noel Langley (Scr)
  Wells Root (Adpt)
  Donald Ogden Stewart (Addl dial)
Photography: Joseph Ruttenberg (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
  Hans Peters (Art dir)
Film Editor: George Boemler (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis (Set dec)
  Richard Pefferle (Set dec)
Costumes: Walter Plunkett (Cost)
Music: Alfred Newman (Mus)
  Conrad Salinger (Adpt)
Sound: Douglas Shearer (Rec supv)
  Robert Lee (Sd)
Special Effects: Warren Newcombe (Spec eff)
Make Up: Sydney Guilaroff (Hair styles)
  William Tuttle (Makeup created by)
Production Misc: Dave Friedman (Prod mgr)
  Hilda Grenier (Tech adv)
Stand In: Sol Gorss (Double for Stewart Granger)
  Robin Hughes (Double for Stewart Granger)
  Alan Pinson (Double for Stewart Granger)
Color Personnel: Henri Jaffa (Technicolor col consultant)
  Robert Brower (Technicolor col consultant)
Country: United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on the novel The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope (London, May 1894) and play The Prisoner of Zenda by Edward E. Rose (London, 7 Jan 1896).
Authors: Anthony Hope
  Edward E. Rose

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Loew's Inc. 13/10/1952 dd/mm/yyyy LP1959 Yes

PCA NO: 15979
Physical Properties: Sd: Western Electric Sound System
  col: Technicolor

Genre: Adventure
Sub-Genre: Historical
Subjects (Major): Doubles
  Impersonation and imposture
  Mythical lands
Subjects (Minor): Balls (Parties)
  Cardinals (Clergy)
  English in foreign countries
  Half brothers
  Officers (Military)
  Sword fights

Note: The following written prologue appears at the end of the opening credits: “Toward the close of the last century, when history still wore a rose, and politics had not yet outgrown the waltz, a great royal scandal was whispered in the anterooms of Europe. However true it was, any resemblance in The Prisoner of Zenda to heroes, villains or heroines, living or dead, is a coincidence not intended…” The 1952 production of The Prisoner of Zenda used the same shooting script as the 1937 David O. Selznick film directed by John Cromwell and starring Ronald Colman and Madeleine Carroll (See AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). Slight variations in the screenplay were added by Noel Langley. In addition to the dialogue, the film’s score, composed by Alfred Newman for the 1937 version, was also used for the 1952 production. A comparison of the two films reveals that settings and camera angles, in most cases, are the same.
       According to a 13 Aug 1951 HR news item, M-G-M was to pay Selznick $225,000 for the remake rights to Anthony Hope's novel and Edward E. Rose's play, upon which the film was based. Various 1952 pre-production HR news items noted that actresses Jean Simmons, who was married to Stewart Granger at the time of production, and Eleanor Parker were considered for the role of "Princess Flavia." A 23 Feb 1952 LAEx article noted that Richard Greene was to have portrayed "Rupert of Hentzau" but had a scheduling conflict with another film, The Black Castle (see above). Other HR news items include Ramsay Hill and Steve Lawrence in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
       In 1999, blacklisted writer Donald Ogden Stewart, who was credited with additional dialogue on the 1937 production, was given a restored credit for the 1952 film. Actor Lewis Stone, who had a small role in the 1952 production as “The Cardinal,” portrayed the dual-role lead in the 1922 Metro production directed by Rex Ingram and co-starring Alice Terry (See AFI catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ). Other screen adaptations of the story include a 1913 Famous Players Film Co. picture directed by Edwin S. Porter and starring James K. Hackett and Beatrice Beckley (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20 ) and a Universal-produced 1979 comic version of the story directed by Richard Quine and starring Peter Sellers and his wife, Lynne Frederick.

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   18 Oct 1952.   
Daily Variety   14 Oct 1952   p. 3.
Film Daily   14 Oct 1952   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Aug 1951   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Feb 1952   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Mar 1952   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   31 Mar 1952   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Apr 1952   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Apr 1952   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Apr 1952   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   12 May 1952   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   16 May 1952   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Oct 1952   p. 3.
Los Angeles Daily News   13 Nov 1952.   
Los Angeles Examiner   23 Feb 1952.   
Los Angeles Times   14 Nov 1952.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   18 Oct 1952   p. 1565.
New York Times   4 Nov 1952   p. 13.
New York Times   5 Nov 1952   p. 36.
Time   3 Nov 1952.   
Variety   15 Oct 1952   p. 6.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.