58 user 13 critic

The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)

Approved | | Adventure, Drama, Romance | 3 September 1937 (USA)
An Englishman on a Ruritarian holiday must impersonate the king when the rightful monarch, a distant cousin, is drugged and kidnapped.


John Cromwell, W.S. Van Dyke (uncredited)


Anthony Hope (celebrated novel), John L. Balderston (screen play) | 3 more credits »
Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 1 win & 1 nomination. See more awards »




Complete credited cast:
Ronald Colman ... Major Rudolf Rassendyll / The Prisoner of Zenda
Madeleine Carroll ... Princess Flavia
C. Aubrey Smith ... Colonel Zapt
Raymond Massey ... Black Michael
Mary Astor ... Antoinette de Mauban
David Niven ... Fritz von Tarlenheim
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. ... Rupert of Hentzau
Montagu Love ... Detchard
Philip Sleeman ... Albert von Lauengram
Eleanor Wesselhoeft 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 older half-brother. Complications ensue when Princess Flavia, the king's cousin and betrothed, begins to notice a "personality change" in her fiancé. Written by Albert Sanchez Moreno <a.moreno@mindspring.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


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


Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


Mary Astor (Antoinette de Mauban) and Madeleine Carroll (Princess Flavia) died only a week apart: Astor on September 25, 1987 and Carroll on October 2, 1987. See more »


While the King and Rassendyll toast their ancestors in the King's hunting lodge, the inebriated Fritz von Tarlenheim is so drunk that he is almost asleep. Every so often, he pops in with the word, "Toast!" The fourth time he says it, his mouth doesn't move. See more »


Rudolph Rassendyll: But I've reformed.
Princess Flavia: Almost beyond recognition. You seem to be an entirely different person.
See more »


Remade as The Prisoner of Zenda (1952) See more »


Hail the Conquering Hero
By George Frideric Handel
[Played at the "king's" entry into the cathedral]
See more »

User Reviews

Rousing fun
6 December 2003 | by rmax304823See 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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Frequently Asked Questions

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Release Date:

3 September 1937 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Prisoner of Zenda See more »

Filming Locations:

California, USA


Box Office


$1,250,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

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