Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)

In director John Cromwell's and David O. Selznick's escapist, historical costume drama - a classic production and adaptation of Anthony Hope's 1894 swashbuckling adventure novel and a masquerade-type story (with a dual role) -- with superb production values, a fantastic supporting cast, a richly-textured script, and lavish budget:

  • the film's scrolling prologue: "Toward the close of the last century, when History still wore a Rose, and Politics had not yet outgrown the Waltz, a Great Royal Scandal was whispered about in the Anterooms of Europe. However true it was, any resemblance in 'The Prisoner of Zenda' to Heroes, Villains, Heroines, living or dead, is a coincidence not intended..."
  • in mid 1897, British commoner Major Rudolf Rassendyll (Ronald Colman) was on holiday in the Central European Balkan country of Ruritania (mythical); he happened to meet his exact double - there was a remarkable resemblance between Rudolf and his distant half-brother, look-alike King Rudolph V (also Ronald Colman) who was about to be coronated; Rudolf arrived by the Orient Express in Strelsau to fish - not to attend the coronation: ("And that's what I came for, fishing, not coronations. I don't like coronations and I do like fishing")
  • when the King's entourage happened to come upon Rudolf while he was fishing in the Province of Zenda, it was recognized by the King's loyal advisors: Capt. Fritz von Tarlenheim (David Niven) and Colonel Zapt (C. Aubrey Smith), that Rudolf closely resembled the monarch: (Zapt: "Shave him, and he'd be the king"); the King and Rudolf met and realized that they were related distant cousins - "I would say that the blame might lie equally between your great-great-great-grandfather Rudolph and my great-great-great-grandmother Amelia"; the King remarked: "One doesn't expect to see doubles so early in the day"
  • the dissolute King invited Rudolf to his hunting lodge for drinks and toasts - where it was revealed that there was enmity between the King and his half-brother Duke Michael (Raymond Massey), known as "Black Michael," and a band of rebels: "Michael thinks the world's all wrong. He thinks he ought to be me, and I ought to be he"; toasts were made to the King's soon-to-be-bride cousin Princess Flavia (Madeleine Carroll): "Let's drink a toast to cousin Flavia. Soon to be my bride and queen....They say she's much too good for me. She probably is. You know what they say about me, don't you? I drink too much"; while everyone else was already passed out, the King took sips from the last bottle of wine sent by Michael and delivered personally to him - and he collapsed to the floor
  • by morning, the King was found to have been drugged and was incapable of being coronated: ("He won't move for seven or eight hours yet"); it was feared by von Tarlenheim that Michael was plotting to usurp the throne in a revolutionary assassination plot: "He wants the throne to be offered to him by the people. He wants to pose as their savior from the excesses of an incompetent king"; Zapt added: "If he's not crowned today, he'll never be crowned"
  • it was proposed by the King's loyal aides that Rudolf would impersonate the King for the day's coronation - a King for a day, while the real King would be hidden away: "Fate sent you here. Fate sends you now to Strelsau....Sounds mad, doesn't it, but without your beard, I'll wager you could deceive your own brother"
  • Michael was plotting behind-the-scenes - bitter because his mother was not of royal blood and the younger Rudolph was the heir to the kingdom; he complained to his French mistress Antoinette de Mauban (Mary Astor): "All my life, I've played second fiddle to that weakling and why? Because his mother was a princess and mine was not. I'm the eldest son, but he was the crown prince. He lived in the royal palace. He dined with kings. Well, today the table is set for Rudolph. But it's Michael who's going to the feast"
  • there was a very surprised look on Michael's face when he heard bugles heralding the arrival of the King (Rudolf in disguise) at the cathedral for the coronation: ("His Majesty has arrived, Your Highness") - he was planning on hearing an announcement that the King would not be coming and had abdicated in his favor; he worried that his plan of usurpation had failed and sent his dashing and villainous chief henchman Rupert of Hentzau (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) to discover the cause: "Something went wrong...Find out what went wrong!"

Unexpected Arrival of the 'King" for the Coronation

Incensed Michael

The Coronation March Into the Cathedral
  • during the impressive coronation ceremony (to the stirring chorus of George Frideric Handel's 'See the Conquering Hero Comes' from Judas Maccabaeus' Oratorio), as the 'King' marched into the cathedral, Michael sternly glowered at him, but then led him to the altar where the Bishop conducted the crowning
  • afterwards, Rudolf/'King' made the acquaintance with his intended betrothed - his cousin Princess Flavia, as they rode along in a private carriage; he told her: "Well, I think it all went off very well, don't you, for a coronation? Of course, I mean, that is, a coronation should go well, if the king puts in an appearance properly dressed and looks his part" - she was mostly impressed that the King was actually sober
  • later that evening, he unexpectedly complimented her on her beauty: "I'm crowned king, I meet the loveliest, most beautiful woman" - she was shocked after so many years of disrespect, and was amazed when he said he had "reformed" - she responded: "You seem an entirely different person"; but she did recall how he had treated her on her 14th birthday when he called her a "beastly infant" and "gawky" - even shortly later, von Tarlenheim realized that Rudolf was a much better person than the real King: "I only hope that His Majesty will not disappoint her after you"
  • although there were plans to return Rudolf to his former position (he mused: "I'll be just plain Rudolf Rassendyll again"), complications arose when the real King was kidnapped by Michael's henchman Rupert of Hentzau; however, the evil plotters could not divulge what they had done: (Zapt: "Yes, they know everything, but they can't speak. They can't denounce us without denouncing themselves"); Rudolf was forced to carry on the masquerade, as a search commenced for the abducted King who was being held in a woodcutter's cabin

Love in the Garden
State Ball with Princess Flavia
  • during the state's coronation ball - and dance sequence, Rudolf and Flavia experienced romance: (Rudolf: "I was only thinking there may never be another night like this, another waltz." Flavia: "We shall always waltz together, Rudolph" Rudolf: "I'll dance with no one but you tonight, Flavia" Flavia: "And I dance only as my King commands")
  • on the terrace and then into the nearby garden, they professed their love for each other (Rudolf: "I love you more than truth or life or honor." They kissed. Flavia: "Tell me, Rudolph, why is it that I love you now when I-I never even liked you before?...You seem so different...I wanted you to be different from the Rudolph I knew, the Rudolph I didn't love - and you are. And yet you aren't" - Rudolf asked: "Could you still love me if I were not the king?" and Flavia replied: "In my heart there is no king, no crown. Only you. Dearest, does a woman who marries without love look on a man as I look on you?"); he was about to divulge his real identity when he was interrupted by Col. Zapt; thereafter, Rudolf felt an internal conflict and told Zapt his concerns late that night: "I'm a man in love with a woman who loves me....Then why should I ever leave the throne? Would you expose me?"
  • meanwhile, Rupert of Hentzau was scheming - he promised Michael (in exchange for a handsome fee) to root out the King's imposter: ("How can a King be in two places at the same time?"); Rudolf also met in secret with Michael's jealous mistress Antoinette (who was betraying Michael by having an affair with Rupert) - she divulged where the King was being imprisoned; he was in the midst of moving from a forest cabin to Michael's castle near Zenda ("The Prisoner of Zenda"), but she warned: "If the castle is attacked, the king will be killed and no trace of his body will be found"
  • there was a prolonged goodbye scene between Rudolf and Flavia before he left - purportedly on a boar hunting trip in Zenda: (Rudolf: "If I see your eyes, I might forget to be a king" Flavia: "Rudolph, come back to me soon" Rudolf: "Shan't a man come back to the loveliest lady in all the wide world? A thousand Michaels couldn't keep me from you....If I shouldn't, you'll never forgive me...You'll be a brave queen, and do your part?" Flavia: "Though my life be empty and my heart dead" Rudolf: "You would do your part")
  • Rudolf selflessly volunteered ("Leave that to me") to single-handedly rescue the imprisoned King in the castle's lower dungeon; at night, he swam across the moat and entered the castle (with help from Antoinette), he watched as Michael found Rupert seducing his own French mistress Antoinette, but was lethally stabbed in the abdomen by Rupert

Rupert Caught by Michael Seducing Antoinette

Michael's Stabbing Death
  • an exciting classic fencing duel was fought between the villainous Rupert and Rudolf (with cross-cut bantering and dialogue); before the fight began, Rupert bragged: "I left my knife in Michael"; Rudolf was continually taunted during the skirmish: "Your golden-haired goddess will look well in black, Rassendyll. I'll console her for you, kiss away her tears" - Rudolf was ultimately victorious when he cut the drawbridge rope, allowing Colonel Zapt's forces to cross over the moat; Rupert rapidly fled: "This is getting too hot for me. Au revoir, play-actor!" - he dove through a castle window into the moat to escape
  • in the aftermath - the real King was rescued, recovered and was restored to the throne, and he praised Rudolf for making him sober and clear-headed: ("You could never serve me better, cousin. You've taught me how to be a king")
  • the lengthy bittersweet departure scene between Flavia and Rudolf - he apologized and then invited her to leave the kingdom with him for love's sake: (Flavia: "I sent for you to thank you, for the service you've done this kingdom and its king. No one can know better than I how conscientiously you've played your role..." Rudolf: "My only hurt is the thought of the pain I've caused you. I love you. With my whole heart and soul, I love you. In all else, I've been an impostor, but not in that. From the first moment I saw you in the cathedral, you've been the only woman in the world for me. As I stand here now, I know there never can be any other" Flavia: "It would have made no difference if I'd known. It was always you and never the king..." Rudolf: "Come with me. I won't give you up. I won't let them stand in the way of our happiness!... There's a world outside. Our world. And a throne for you, a woman's throne in my heart" Flavia: "I want that. (They kissed) And you will always love me? Always, even as now?" Rudolf: "Always, always. Oh, my love, think. You'll be free. Free of all these cares and duties to live your own life, as freely and joyously as..."
Concluding Farewell Scene

Rudolf: "Come with me, I won't give you up"

Flavia: "I want that"

Rudolf: "You'll be free"

Flavia: "Help me to do what I was born to do"

Flavia: "I know that I must stay"

Flavia: "Your heart will always be in my heart"
  • after some thought about Rudolf's offer to leave with him, Flavia forfeited her love for Rudolf when she declined to leave the King's side: ("I was born for those cares and duties, Rudolf. Help me to do what I was born to do. Help me to do what I must... But is love the only thing? If love were all, I could follow you in rags to the end of the world. But if love were all, you would have left the king to die in his cell. Honor binds a woman too, Rudolf. My honor lies in keeping faith with my country and my house. I don't know why God has let me love you. But I know that I must stay"); Rudolf was heartbroken, but ultimately pledged his love: "Never to see you again? Never to hold you? Never - my darling" (he knelt down before her) Flavia: "Your heart will always be in my heart and the touch of your lips on mine"
  • Rudolf bid goodbye to Zapt and von Tarlenheim, as Zapt delivered the film's final line of dialogue before Rudolf rode off: "Goodbye, Englishman. You are the finest Elphberg of them all!"

Scrolling Prologue

"Shave him, and he'd be the king"

Ronald Colman's Dual Role: (l to r) King Rudolph V and Rudolf Rassendyll

The King's Many Drinking Toasts

The King - Drugged and Passed Out

Zapt to Rudolf: "Fate sent you here"

Rudolf To Impersonate the King

The King's Plotting and Jealous Half-Brother Michael with His French Mistress

The 'King's' First View of Princess Flavia

Flavia: "You seem an entirely different person"

Antoinette Secretly Informing Rudolf Where the King Was Being Held

First Farewell Scene: "If I see your eyes, I might forget to be a king"

Fencing Duel: Rudolf vs. Rupert

Rupert's Escape: "Au revoir, play actor!"

Rudolf's Confession of Love to Flavia in Concluding Farewell Scene: "With my whole heart and soul, I love you"


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