[[caption-width-right:300:Toward the close of the last century, when History still wore a Rose, and Politics had not yet outgrown the waltz...]]

''The Prisoner of Zenda'' is the 1937 David O. Selznick [[{{Swashbuckler}} Swashbuckling]] film adaptation of the classic {{Adventure}} [[ThePrisonerOfZenda novel]] by Anthony Hope. Of the numerous adaptations of the novel (1913, 1915, 1922, 1952, 1979, and, in a TV version, 1984), this version, directed by John Cromwell, is generally considered the best, and, indeed, one of the greatest swashbucklers ever made.

The film stars Creator/RonaldColman in the dual role of Rudolf Rassendyll, English gentleman, and Rudolph V, the ne'er-do-well king (the name is spelled both ways in the film); and co-stars Madeleine Carroll, as the lovely and lively Princess Flavia, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., as the [[AffablyEvil wicked but engaging]] Count Rupert of Hentzau. Raymond Massey as the saturnine and ambitious Duke Michael, Mary Astor as his beautiful but hapless mistress Antoinette de Mauban, C. Aubrey Smith as the crusty, Macchiavellian Colonel Zapt [''sic''], and DavidNiven (in his first major role) as the faithful though feckless Fritz von Tarlenheim lend sterling support. The sweeping romantic score, supported by use of Wagnerian [[{{Leitmotif}} leitmotives]] is by Music/AlfredNewman.

MetroGoldwynMayer remade the film in 1952, directed by Richard Thorpe, with Stewart Granger, Creator/DeborahKerr, and James Mason in the Colman, Carroll, and Fairbanks roles. The film was more or less a Technicolor carbon copy of the 1937 film, reusing the same script, score, and even camera angles. It was not considered a great success, however. Creator/PeterSellers remade the movie as a comedy ([[SubvertedTrope subverting]] and [[InvertedTrope inverting]] many of the tropes associated with this film) in 1979, also less than successfully.


* ActingForTwo: Ronald Colman in the lead role. This was one of Ron's specialties; he'd been playing dual roles of one sort or another since his silent film days.
* AdaptationDistillation: The film is generally considered faithful to the spirit of the original novel, if not always to the letter. Much of the dialogue from the novel was retained.
* AdaptationDyeJob: Flavia is a redhead in the novel, but she is played by the "golden-haired goddess," Madeleine Carroll who is a classic pale-skinned beauty. Deborah Kerr, a redhead, played Flavia in the 1952 version, and Lynne Frederick (Creator/PeterSellers' last wife) was given a literal dye job for the 1979 remake.
* AffablyEvil: Rupert of Hentzau.
* AntiVillain: Michael
* AwesomeMomentOfCrowning: The coronation scene, including the use of a Händel anthem (''See'' PublicDomainSoundtrack,'' ''below''), was probably inspired by the coronation of [[UsefulNotes/TheHouseOfWindsor George VI]] of England.
* BecomingTheMask: Rassendyll becomes the role of king much more than the King does.
* BittersweetEnding "Heaven does not always make the right men kings." [[SubvertedTrope Subverted]] in the 1979 version, where [[spoiler:Rudolf replaces Rudolph as king of Ruritania and marries Flavia, and Rudolph goes off to London to play in the casinos and restaurants with his mistress.]]
* BladeLock: Allows Rudolf and Rupert to exchange some choice taunts.
* DeadpanSnarker. Rassendyll, Zapt, even Princess Flavia -- but above all, Rupert of Hentzau.
* DefrostingIceQueen: Princess Flavia, though she knows she must marry the King, is not pleased about it -- until she gets to know him better, ''after'' his coronation. Alas!
* DidNotGetTheGirl: As noted above in the BittersweetEnding entry, [[SubvertedTrope subverted thoroughly]] in the 1979 version, where [[spoiler:both Rudolf and Rudolph get their girls in the end]].
* TheDragon: Count Rupert fills this role with gusto... up to a point. His patience with Michael only goes so far.
* EnigmaticMinion
* TheEvilPrince: Or, rather, the Evil ''Duke''.
* EvilVersusEvil: Boozing indolent bully versus politically competent but personally unpleasant usurper.
* FakeKing: Rassendyl, in a gambit which boxes in Black Michael since he can hardly admit he kidnapped the real king.
* {{Fanfare}}: Newman composed several for this film, notably one on representing the Ruritanian monarchy itself -- which, in the minor, becomes associated with Black Michael.
* {{Flynning}}: Very nicely done in this film -- for the most part. (''See'' {{Narm}} ''under YMMV''.)
* GettingCrapPastTheRadar: Some highly entertaining verbal gymnastics were needed to convey the fact that a previous King of Ruritania had an affair with a married woman and got her pregnant in a manner acceptable to film censorship boards of the era.
* GorgeousPeriodDress / PimpedOutDress: Rudolf's coronation and the grand-ball scene, in particular, are crammed with these in every film version.
* GratuitousFrench: At the ball, the master of ceremonies announces, « ''Avec la permission de Sa Majesté, le bal commence ! Valse générale !'' » ("With the permission of His Majesty, the ball begins! General waltz!") and later « ''La valse dernière !'' » ("The last waltz!"). This is in accordance with the ceremonial of the royal courts of the 19th century.
* HeroAntagonist: Michael is an excellent example ― one sometimes wonders whether Ruritania wouldn't be better off with him on the throne.
* HeroicBastard: Rassendyll, the hero, is illegitimately related to the royal family of Ruritania.
* HonorBeforeReason: Constant throughout. Lampshaded by Hentzau, of all people: "Ohoho, shoot with a lady present? In England, old boy, it simply ''isn't done.''"
* KarmaHoudini: Rupert, who kills several people over the course of the film, escapes.
* LampshadeHanging: Particularly associated with Rupert, who says of the main feature of the plot: "Not your type of fiction, I see, Your Highness -- too improbable. Still, these things ''do'' happen. I knew twin sisters once--" He also lampshades Rassendyll's HonorBeforeReason philosophy several times (''See previous entry''), as well as the unnecessary convolution of the Duke's plot to drug the King ("If only he'd drunk what ''I'' wanted to put in the bottle!").
* LostInImitation: The director of the 1952 version watched this film frame by frame and copied all the set-ups exactly. The score was also recycled. It didn't work.
* LoveMakesYouEvil: Rupert lusts after Black Michael's mistress, Antoinette de Mauban, [[spoiler: and ends up killing Michael because of it]].
* MenOfSherwood: Zapt's troops, whom he has waiting in reserve for the big final assault.
* NotableOriginalMusic: Alfred Newman's lush romantic score, which was mined for use in other films and repeated entire for the 1952 remake. Notable for its use of {{Leitmotif}}.
* OperaGloves: Logically enough, seeing that the films are set in [[TheEdwardianEra Edwardian Era]] Europe and include coronation and fancy-ball scenes with ''lots'' of GorgeousPeriodDress / PimpedOutDress in evidence, the major actresses in the theatrical film versions - Madeleine Carroll and Mary Astor (1937), Deborah Kerr and Jane Greer (1952), and Lynne Frederick, Elke Sommer and Catherine Schell (1979) - all wear long gloves in key scenes.
* OurLawyersAdvisedThisTrope: "Any resemblance in 'The Prisoner of Zenda' to Heroes, Villains, or Heroines, living or dead, is a coincidence not intended... "
* PlayingAgainstType: Douglas Fairbanks Jr., as a ''villain?'' That's playing against ''two generations'' of type.
* PragmaticAdaptation: This is generally considered the best of the cinematic versions, though it changes some details, as in introducing Hentzau near the beginning and making Flavia a blonde.
* PsychopathicManchild: Count Rupert, though he's not sadistic so much as completely [[TheUnfettered unfettered]], like a twelve year old boy with an endless supply of bullfrogs and firecrackers.
* PublicDomainSoundtrack: In the midst of the original score by Alfred Newman, the coronation scene is accompanied by an anthem to the tune of "[[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fF9jGNvbWbM See, the Conqu'ring Hero Comes]]" from Händel's ''Judas Maccabaeus''. This was probably inspired by the use of Händel anthems, such as ''[[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPkzt9vklAw Zadok the Priest]]" at British coronations.
** Also, at the ball, the orchestra plays the ''[[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_W8LX7Jorw Künstlerleben]]''" ("Artists' Life") Waltz by Johann Strauss the Younger. Later on in the film, Kraftstein whistles a few bars of Strauss's waltz, ''[[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTqlLKBKFhg An der schönen blauen Donau]]''" ("The Blue Danube").
* ReliableTraitor
* RemakeCameo: Lewis Stone, who starred as Rudolf/Rudolph in the 1922 silent version, appears as the cardinal in the 1952 version.
* RoyalBlood
* RoyallyScrewedUp
* {{Ruritania}}: Actually never mentioned by name in the entire 1937 film. It is mentioned in the 1952 film, however.
* ShotForShotRemake: The 1952 version. The director, Richard Thorpe, actually sat watching the earlier film in an 8mm viewer, and copying from that.
* ShoutOut: Rupert makes a ShoutOut to Sir Creator/WalterScott, by quoting his ''Marmion'':
-->'' "Oh! Woman in our Hours of Ease''\\
''Uncertain, coy, and hard to please--''\\
''When pain and anguish wring the brow,''\\
''A ministering Angel, thou!''"
* TheStarscream: Rupert
* SuccessionCrisis
* {{Swashbuckler}}: One of the most highly regarded in the genre.
* SwordFight: Several, of which the final duel is one of the best ever filmed.
* TheReasonYouSuckSpeech: Given, oddly enough, by Colonel Zapt to the King, when he is trying to get the feckless idiot to stop drinking and to prepare for his coronation. It earns him a slap across the face.
* VillainExitStageLeft: Hentzau's HighDiveEscape into the moat at the end of the climactic sword duel may just be the most famous exit in the history of cinema
* YouFightLikeACow: Rassendyll and Hentzau have a classic exchange of repartee, both verbal and metallic, in the final SwordFight.
* TheWrongfulHeirToTheThrone: A double dose as the legitimate ruler, Rudolf, is a drunken boor who is unpopular with the people and TheUsurper, Black Michael, while competent, isn't the most charming or popular guy either. The impostor, Rudolf Rassendyl, puts them both to shame and would make a better king then either of them, prompting young von Tarlenheim's "heaven doesn't always make the right men kings" quote.