THE PRISONER OF ZENDA
UK, 1979, 108 minutes, Colour.
Peter Sellers, Gregory Sierra, Lynne Frederick. Lionel Jeffries, Elke Somer.
Directed by Richard Quine.
The Prisoner of Zenda is a light-hearted spoof that avoids the hamming of so many parodies, indeed at times it might pass for the real thing. Peter Sellers has a chance to show his marvellous versatility, exaggerated as Wudolph of Wuwitania, but straightforward Londoner, with strength and nice sentiment, as the hero, Sidney Frewin. Austrian locations and castles, a Henry Mancini score and a blend of swordplay and horseplay make it an entertaining pastime (though the originals were much more exciting and had more flair). Lionel Jeffries is a good stand by Colonel and English stars provide good cameos. Gregory Sierra as a jealous Count steals many scenes with gusto. Ronald Colman and Stewart Granger had the central roles in the previous serious versions. Malcolm Mc Dowall was George Flashman in George Macdonald Fraser/Richard Lester's parody, Royal Flash.
1. The popularity of the story? Audience liking for 19th. century action melodrama? The intricacies of the plot, coincidences, history and politics?
2. The background of the serious cinema versions and their popularity? Royal Flash and its parody? The plot and the incidents as able to be spoofed? The parody of the conventions and their treatment?
3. The popularity of Peter Sellers and his particular brand of goonery? His work as a comedian, the variety of his comic styles? Straightforward comedy, parody, slapstick? The balancing of his variety of performances? The film's homage to other comedies e.g. the leaping from the castle scene and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?
4. Peter Sellers' skill and his ability to carry the film? The exaggeration and goonery of the old king and his speech and death, the straightforward feeling for Sid as a Londoner, the exaggeration of King Wudolph? The skill in the contrasts of performances?
5. The comedy with the old king: an appropriate pre-credits and credits sequence? The build-up to the breaking of the balloon, the inevitability of his death? The satire on 19th. century monarchies? The different sons: Michael and his serious ambition, Rudolph and his affected way of life and irresponsibility, Rupert as the soldier of fortune? The comment on power struggles in the 19th. century?
6. The background of continental Europe, Austrian locations and beauty, the atmosphere of the 19th. century? Sets, decor, special effects?
7. The portrait of Rudolph as a twit? Seeing him gambling, his flirtation with the Countess, his being accident-prone? The conflicts and fights with the Count? His return to Ruritania? The encounter with Sid, the dinner, his being abducted and becoming the Prisoner of Zenda? The conversations with Sid? The fortuitous nature of his escape and assuming Sid's identity and his own gambling way of life? The satire on monarchy?
8. The contrast with Sidney and his background? The hints of his paternity. Rudolph's father and the actresses? Sid as strong, middle aged, serious? His initial chase, his kneeing of the Count? His participation in the escape, his challenging the cavalry and his skill in warding them off? His being told the story? and his ordinary Londoner remarks and observations? His willingness to go through with the coronation? The infatuation with Flavia and his conduct with her at the ball, the dancing (and the humorous parody of his learning to dance with Fritz?), the challenge to Michael and Rupert? His being present and looking at the slides during the abduction? His attempts to escape with the sheets,' the entanglement with the Countess, his rescue? The set-up and meeting with Antoinette? His skill in escaping but his being imprisoned? The humorous fight with Michael, his final escape? His right to become the real king and marry Flavia?
9. The quality of the humour, the ordinary and the exaggerated, the blend of credibility and farfetchedness? The sentiment and genuine feeling?
10. The portrait of the Colonel, his concern for the King, his machinations, his continual guidance, comic touches? Fritz and his contribution to the plot, comedy?
11. Michael as the conventional villain, the presentation of his villainy? Rupert as the debonair soldier of fortune, his artificial laughter? His duel? Switching sides? The climaxes in the Castle of Zenda and the way Sidney rose to the occasion?
12. The portrait of Flavia, strength of character, love for Sidney? Antoinette and her love for Michael and her ability to double cross all?
13. The comedy with the Countess and her husband? In London, at the restaurant, the incident with the sheets and Sidney under the blanket? The Count and his challenges. exaggerated fighting? The humour of his bomb-throwing? The final pursuit?
14. The use of the conventional plot and its own momentum? Audience interest in the coincidences and deceptions?
15. The blend of the slapstick with the subtle? A satisfying comedy-drama?