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Nigel De Brulier
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"While you're unhung, Rentzau, hell lacks its master"
A retiring English country gentleman, Rassendyll, is mistaken for his distant cousin, King Rudolph of Ruritania. When the king is taken hostage by his jealous brother, Black Michael, Rassendyll agrees to act as the king in the coronation ceremony.
It takes a long time for this version of 'The Prisoner of Zenda' to get moving. The first hour or so is stodgy and less than riveting film-making, and then it gradually picks up momentum, and the last half hour packs a decent punch, especially action-wise. But all in all, a rather more lackluster, even crude entertainment than I had expected after the exhilarating 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse', also by Rex Ingram.
The script is largely at fault, with the scenes so disjointedly put together that it does not in long stretches make a lot of sense. It has the makings of some interesting psychological insights, but does not explore them. I would have made more - MUCH more - out of the fact that for a long while Black Michael seems a pretty decent fellow, genuinely in love with Antoinette and understandably preoccupied about leaving the fate of his country to his feeble-minded brother. But Ingram makes nothing of it and seems curiously uninspired.
The youngish Lewis Stone is an earnest Rassendyll/Rudolph, and sort of holds his own in the climactic sword-fight with, among others, Ramon Novarro. And now we are getting somewhere. This is Novarro's film. He was hardly a star when it was made, and his role does not take up a lot of screen time, but Novarro eats up the scenery with his monocled, slick diabolism. "While you're unhung, Rentzau, hell lacks its master!", Stone says, and right he is. Novarro is pure evil, and a delight to watch.
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