Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Timeless Pleasure of Zenda

The Prisoner of Zenda. That is, honestly, one of my favorite novels (including the sequel Rupert of Hentzau)! Not only was it a stage play in the 1890s, but it's been filmed over and over again in the attempt to bring an imaginary Ruritanian world to life. Opinions differ as to which version is best, but if you ever read the book, then you'll realize that, try as they might, Hollywood never captured the beauty and excitement of the book. Take a look at how Rudolf and Flavia have changed (or not) over the years.

In 1922, Rex Ingram made a spectacular silent film production of the novel. Lewis Stone starred as Rudolf Rassendyll/King Rudolf V with Alice Terry as Princess Flavia and Ramon Novarro as Rupert of Hentzau. I've never seen this version, but it sounds as if they held to the novel better than the later "talkie" versions. Lewis Stone appeared again, in the 1952 film, as the Cardinal.

In 1937, Selznick Pictures built Ruritania in a back lot and tried again. This is considered by most people to be the best of all the Zenda films. I would totally disagree, but it's all a matter of taste. Ronald Colman is Rudolf, and though Madeleine Carroll makes a pretty princess, she doesn't quite capture the beauty and regality of the written Flavia.

Then, in 1952 MGM came back to make an almost scene-for-scene remake of Selznick's version. This time Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr portrayed the royal pair with James Mason as "young" Hentzau. Well, the ages were a bit off, but it's my favorite of all the films. Rudolf's personality is perfectly portrayed, though I would Mel Ferrer looking more like the book's description. It is a true shame that Granger never brought the sequel to the screen. He would have been amazing!

Elizabeth and I have read quite a few books over the years that mention The Prisoner of Zenda. In fact, even Agatha Christie had a special place in her heart for the novel as seen in her mystery Postern of Fate (Tuppence fondly recalling her youth):
"She sighed with enormous pleasure at the remembrance. 'The Prisoner of Zenda'. One's first introduction , really, to the romantic novel. The romance of Princess Flavia. The King of Ruritania. Rudolf Rassendyll, some name like that, whom one dreamt of at night."

If you've read this, then I hope that you enjoyed the book as much as I did. If you haven't read it, well . . . read it.
Qui in hac civitate nuper regnavit
In corde ipsius in aeternum regnat
Flavia Regina

No comments:

Post a Comment