For Reel

The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)
April 13, 2015, 1:54 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: John Cromwell
5 Stars
The Prisoner of ZendaWhat distinguishes The Prisoner of Zenda as being the best of the romantic swashbucklers is its insistence on focusing on just that–the romance. Director John Cromwell and cinematographer James Wong Howe beautifully articulate each character relationship before delving into the action sequences, meaning that the audience is truly invested in each conflict and aware of the high stakes. One of the great shot-reverse-shots in classic Hollywood cinema occurs at Rassendyll’s (Ronald Colman) coronation in which he is confronted by the princess (Madeleine Carroll). First, there’s a close-up of Colman staring directly at the camera, and next the princess slowly raises her head to match his eyeline. Beyond the sheer perfection of Carroll’s costuming and her lighting, that the moment is shot head-on with the characters looking directly at the camera both articulates their unbroken gaze at each other and similarly makes the audience fall in love with each performer. It’s a knockout moment, later reflected on by Carroll as the moment in which she fell in love with Rassendyll (unaware at the time that the body switch has occurred). The masterful direction and camerawork is met by one of the great casts of the era, of whom many praises have been sung. C. Aubrey Smith isn’t as discussed as much as his co-stars, but he gives one of his career-best performances as a man utterly devoted to his duty and honor.

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