The Prisoner of Zenda (1952 film)

The Prisoner of Zenda is a 1952 film version of the classic novel of the same name by Anthony Hope and a remake of the famous 1937 film version. This version was made by Loew's and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, directed by Richard Thorpe and produced by Pandro S. Berman.

The Prisoner of Zenda
Directed byRichard Thorpe
Produced byPandro S. Berman
Written byWells Root
Donald Ogden Stewart
Screenplay byNoel Langley
John L. Balderston
Based onThe Prisoner of Zenda
1894 novel
by Edward Rose
Anthony Hope
StarringStewart Granger
Deborah Kerr
James Mason
Louis Calhern
Robert Douglas
Jane Greer
Robert Coote
Music byAlfred Newman
CinematographyJoseph Ruttenberg
Edited byGeorge Boemler
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
November 4, 1952 (1952-11-04)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$5,628,967[1]

The screenplay, attributed to Noel Langley, was nearly word-for-word identical to the one used in the 1937 Ronald Colman version, which was by John L. Balderston, adapted by Wells Root, from the Hope novel and the stage play by Edward Rose, with additional dialogue by Donald Ogden Stewart.

The film stars Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr, and James Mason (with Louis Calhern, Robert Douglas, Jane Greer and Robert Coote).

Alfred Newman's 1937 music score was adapted by Conrad Salinger, since Newman was unavailable to work on the film; and the cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg. The art direction was by Cedric Gibbons and Hans Peters and the costume design by Walter Plunkett.[2]

The silent film versions, The Prisoner of Zenda (1913) starred James K. Hackett and Beatrice Beckly and The Prisoner of Zenda (1922) starred Lewis Stone and Alice Terry. A comedy version The Prisoner of Zenda (1979) starred Peter Sellers and Lynne Frederick.


In June 1897, English gentleman Rudolf Rassendyll (Granger) takes a fishing vacation in Ruritania, a small kingdom in the Balkans. While there, he is puzzled by the odd reactions of the natives to him. Rassendyll discovers why when he meets Colonel Zapt and Captain Fritz von Tarlenheim. Zapt introduces him to the soon-to-be-crowned king, Rudolf V, who turns out to be not only his distant relative, but also looks just like him (except for the Englishman's mustache). The king, surprised at first, takes a great liking to the Englishman, and invites him to stay at the royal hunting lodge.

They celebrate their acquaintance by drinking late into the night. Rudolf is particularly delighted with a bottle of wine given to him by his scheming half-brother, Duke Michael (Douglas), so he drinks it all himself, and he soon passes out. The next morning brings a disastrous discovery: the wine was drugged. Rudolf cannot be awakened, and if he cannot attend his coronation that day, Michael will try to assume the throne as Regent. It is revealed that Michael is bitter that, because his mother was not of royal blood, the younger Rudolf is the heir to the kingdom. Zapt is able to convince a reluctant Rassendyll to impersonate Rudolf for the ceremony.

Rassendyll meets Rudolf's betrothed, Princess Flavia (Kerr). She had always disliked her cousin Rudolf, but now finds him greatly changed, very much for the better. As they spend time together, they begin to fall in love.

With the coronation accomplished, Rassendyll returns to resume his real identity, only to find the king has been kidnapped by Rupert of Hentzau (Mason), Michael's charmingly amoral henchman. Rassendyll is forced to continue the impersonation while Zapt searches for Rudolf. Michael cannot denounce the masquerade without incriminating himself.

Help comes from an unexpected quarter. To be king, Michael must marry his cousin Flavia. Rupert sets a trap for Rassendyll and arrives with 2 other men to kill him. But before Rupert arrives, Antoinette de Mauban (Greer), Michael's jealous French mistress, slips in and reveals to Rassendyle that (1) it is a trap to kill him, and (2) that the king is being held in Michael's castle near Zenda and promises to help rescue him. Since Rudolf would be executed at the first sign of a rescue attempt, she proposes that one man swim the moat and hold off his would-be assassins, while loyal troops storm the castle. With the help of Antoinette and Captain Fritz von Tarlenheim, Rassendyll escapes

After meeting with Rupert where he offers Rassendyll 100,000 pounds to leave (and having Fritz and Col Zapt killed), Rassendyll, Fritz, and Col Zapt plan a rescue. Rassendyll decides that he is that man to swim the moat, over Zapt's strenuous objections.

Their carefully laid plans go awry when Michael finds Rupert trying to seduce his mistress. After Rupert kills him, a heartbroken Antoinette blurts out just enough to alert Rupert to danger. Rassendyll fights and kills the guards, but must engage in a prolonged duel with Rupert while at the same time trying to lower the drawbridge to let Zapt and his men inside. When he finally succeeds, Rupert flees.

Rudolf is restored to his throne. Rassendyll tries to persuade Flavia to leave with him, but her devotion to duty is too great, and their parting, while loving, is bittersweet.


Background and production notes

In May 1951 MGM announced they had bought the rights to remake the 1937 film from David O. Selznick as a vehicle for Stewart Granger. (Granger had just enjoyed enormous success in another remake for MGM, King Solomon's Mines.) Pandro S Berman would produce.[3] MGM were remaking a large number of old movies in color around this time, such as Showboat.[4]

According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, MGM was to pay Selznick USD $225,000 for the remake rights to the novel and the play by Edward Rose.

This version of The Prisoner of Zenda used the same shooting script as the 1937 David O. Selznick film. Slight variations in the screenplay were added by Noel Langley. In addition to the dialogue, the same film score, composed by Alfred Newman for the 1937 version, was also used for this version. A comparison of the two films reveals that settings and camera angles, in most cases, are the same.

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.

Director Richard Thorpe and producer Pandro S. Berman had previously collaborated on Ivanhoe (1952) and, in addition to The Prisoner of Zenda, would go on to team up again in All the Brothers Were Valiant (1953), Knights of the Round Table (1953), The Adventures of Quentin Durward, (1955) and Jailhouse Rock (1957)

The cast included Lewis Stone, who had appeared in the 1922 film version of the novel.[5]


Box Office

According to MGM records the film earned $2,078,000 in North America and $3,550,000 elsewhere, making an overall profit of $1,759,000.[1]

The film was a hit in France, with admissions of 2,415,938.[6]


  1. 'The Eddie Mannix Ledger’, Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study, Los Angeles
  3. METRO IS PLANNING REMAKE OF 'ZENDA': Stewart Granger Would Have Leading Role in New Version of Anthony Hope's Novel Of Local Origin By THOMAS F. BRADY New York Times 30 May 1951: 13.
  4. LATEST HOLLYWOOD TREND--NEW VERSIONS OF OLD HITSScheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 26 Aug 1951: D1.
  6. Box office information for Stewart Granger films in France at Box Office Story
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