The Prisoner of Zenda
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Of all tales of gallantry and romance, few are as durable as Andrew Hope's beloved swashbuckler. There are at least seven screen versions, including this 1922 adaptation featuring some of the era's most luminous players. Lewis Stone, no stranger to leading-man roles in the 1920s, plays the dual role of a kidnapped king and the look-alike Englishman recruited to fill in for him. The cast includes Barbara La Marr, the exotic and ill-fated looker hailed as "The Girl Who Is Too Beautiful." And Ramon Novarro, then named Ramon Samaniegos, gives his breakthrough performance as villainous Rupert. Because of his rising stardom, Novarro was top-billed in rereleases of the film, as is the case in this print.
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I agree completely with the other reviewer's comments on the acting and the cinematic qualities of the 1922 film. I'll be returning the Grapvine DVD, and I'm willing to try the Warner Brothers release, but in the meantime I'll stick with the 1937 Ronald Coleman version.
Rex Ingram's direction is somewhat hit and miss. He never disgraces himself but he seems hampered by the talkative nature of the plot and in the first half of the film it's only in sporadic scenes like the coronation that he really seems to show what he can do. As if realising this the second half peps up quite substantially with assassination attempts, swordfights and the rescue of the real king from Zenda, all of which may not be as elaborately executed as later versions but are still undeniably enjoyable. In the process the growing love story between Rassendyll and the King's betrothed tends to get short shrift and has to be taken largely on faith, which takes some of the pathos away from the inevitable ending when honour trumps desire. Nonetheless, it's one of those stories it's almost impossible to not make an entertaining film out of (though Peter Sellers and company certainly did their best, or worst) and it's certainly one of the better adaptations even if it doesn't measure up to Colman and Stewart Granger's times trying out the crown of Ruritania for size.
Warner Archive's DVD-R is taken from a reissue print that capitalised on Novarro's stardom by giving him top billing (he was originally billed as Ramon Samaniego) and which is apparently twelve minutes shorter than the original release.