The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)

Approved  |   |  Adventure, Drama, Romance  |  3 September 1937 (USA)
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Reviews: 41 user | 7 critic

An Englishman on a Ruritarian holiday must impersonate the king when the rightful monarch, a distant cousin, is drugged and kidnapped.


, (uncredited)


(celebrated novel), (screen play), 5 more credits »
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Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 1 win & 1 nomination. See more awards »
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Complete credited cast:
Montagu Love ...
Philip Sleeman ...
Albert von Lauengram
Eleanor Wesselhoeft ...
Frau Holf - Cook
Florence Roberts ...
Duenna (scenes deleted)
Torben Meyer ...
Max - Butler
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Arthur Byron ...
(scenes deleted)
Francis Ford ...
(scenes deleted)
Margaret Tallichet ...
(scenes deleted)


This is a classic swashbuckler. Rudolph Rassendyll, Rudolf V's identical distant cousin, is asked to risk his life and impersonate the would-be king when his relative is kidnapped before his impending coronation. If Rudolf V isn't present at the ceremony, he will forfeit the crown to his younger brother. Complications ensue when Princess Flavia, the cousin's betrothed, begins to notice a "personality change" in her fiancé. Written by Albert Sanchez Moreno <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The most thrilling swordfight ever filmed... See more »


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Parents Guide:





Release Date:

3 September 1937 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Der Gefangene von Zenda  »

Filming Locations:

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Director John Cromwell was not happy with his cast. In memos to David O. Selznick he said that Fairbanks and Niven were "overindulged and lazy." Colman "never knows his lines. I don't know which one of them annoys me most. Also, both Colman and Carroll insist they have a 'bad side' to be avoided by the camera, but it's the same 'bad side.' Shooting them face-to-face is all but impossible." See more »


The sword fight in the castle of Zenda between Coleman and one of the king's guards appears to be with rapiers, however when the fight is picked up again in the outside room the rapiers have become sabers - necessary in order to cut the rope of the drawbridge. See more »


Rudolph Rassendyll: [to Flavia] I love you more than truth or life or honor!
See more »


Spoofed in The Prisoner of Zenda (1979) See more »


Artist's Life, Op.316
(1867) (uncredited)
Written by Johann Strauss
Played at the ball
Danced to by Ronald Colman and Madeleine Carroll
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Rousing fun
6 December 2003 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

Mixed identities, castles, swords, fancy uniforms, Ruritanian romance, royal intrigues -- it's all here. What a lot of fun.

I could never really figure out Ronald Coleman's appeal. He's likable enough but from what I gather women used to swoon over him. Is he really handsome? If so, the quality slips past my perceptive apparatus. I do like his voice, though, so theatrically nasal and so hard to take seriously. Raymond Massey is Black Michael, he of the monocle and the perpetual sneer. Mary Astor and Madeleine Carrol are decorative and provide the men with motives. Outstanding, though, is Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., as Rupert of Hentzau. It's often said that a movie is as good as its villain, and that's as true here as in any other film. He laughs, he oozes charm, he beats people over the head with iron pipes, he stabs unarmed noblemen, he seduces women, he drugs kings, seems to enjoy betrayal, smokes too much, lies as easily as the rest of us breathe, and instead of fighting to the end like a man he jumps out a window and runs away, or rather swims away. He quotes poetry: "Oh, woman, in our hour of ease/ uncertain, coy, and hard to please./ When pain and anguish wring the brow/ a ministering angel, thou." David Niven is a lighthearted friend of the hero. C. Aubrey Smith is -- well, C. Aubrey Smith.

Niven hadn't gotten very far in Hollywood until he landed this role, which he was able to do only through the influence of Hollywood's "British colony." He began the shoot by playing the part in the breezy manner we now see on screen. This displeased the director and the producer, who wanted it dramatic, but when they saw how it looked on film they were tickled pink. (Both Niven and Fairbanks were to go on to meritorious service in World War II.)

The movie is so undemanding and so rewarding that it was remade several times, twice as a spoof. The 1950s version with Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr is about as good as this one, only of course splashier.

The climax involves a nicely done fight with sabres between Coleman and Fairbanks. Coleman wasn't a physical actor and Fairbanks not a fencer, so doubles are used extensively, but without doing much damage. And it's curious to note that this was released in the same year as "The Adventures of Robin Hood," and both films use some of the same conventions, fighting with furniture, trading wisecracks during the fight, and the use of shadows swashbuckling away on the castle walls. This despite the fact that different directors were in charge. Hard to tell whether this is an instance of independent invention or some historical adhesion left over from one of Fairbanks' dad's early silents.

And enjoyable tale, not meant to be taken seriously.

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