Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Alternate Best Actor 1937: Ronald Colman in The Prisoner of Zenda

Ronald Colman did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Major Rudolf Rassendyll and King Rudolf V in The Prisoner of Zenda.

The Prisoner Of Zenda is a very entertaining film about an Englishman filling for a distant cousin, a foreign King, in order to thwart a potential coup.

Now having previously mentioned the underrated status of Robert Donat perhaps Ronald Colman deserves a similar mention. Colman is not even granted the notoriety of a controversial Oscar win since no one seems to even remember he won an Oscar at all. That's a shame though given that Colman's presence in a film was basically a guarantee that there would at least be something worthwhile in the film. Well thankfully The Prisoner of Zenda is already an enjoyable adventure film, but it gets amplified all the more through the services of Colman in dual roles. We aren't given that much time with the one of the two roles, that being the King Rudolf who we meet briefly as he's somewhat taken aback by his doppelganger, yet soon enough welcomes him into his good graces. Colman again only has a few scenes as the King, yet makes use of them well to craft a separate character. Colman keeps the differences relatively slight, fitting given that most people are suppose to believe the other Rudolf is the King, but Colman does finds another personality in these few scenes. Colman grants a shyness and unease in his body language, as he's more distant, implying much more of a natural fear innate in a man who is aware that there are those who do not wish for him to succeed.

Colman uses his scenes as the King well which amplify his work as just plain old Rudolph. This is a bit more traditional Colman, but I mean that in a good way. Colman again brings that ease to his performance that makes him such a likable screen presence. Colman though manages to indicate something further in this by carefully realizing a man who is not burdened by responsibility, which the King is. When the King is drugged, then later kidnapped by those who wish to take the power for themselves, the common Rudolph is called upon to act as an imposter in order for the King to keep his title. Colman actually carries this lack of burden into his portrayal of Rudolph's method of impersonation. Colman brings this sort of carefree quality, although he portrays the proper intention to succeed most directly, particularly when a challenge arises, Colman always alludes to the peculiar state in some very knowing glances though. Colman manages to bring just the right touches of humor in these, in such small moments such as almost forgetting his lines, or just showing the way he's more than a little taken aback by all the attention he is receiving.

Colman finds the right balance in his work as he shows Rudolf conveying both the severity of the situation and the strangeness of it, all of course with his trademark charm thrown in for good measure. Colman proceeds though to properly realize the changing situation as Rudolf continues the act. This includes the complication of being encouraged to romance the King's intended the Princess Flavia (Madeleine Caroll). Colman is always a great romantic lead as he just seems to be able to strike that spark with no time at all, and that is the case here as well. Colman though again does well not to play it completely straight. He brings just the right undercurrent awkwardness in moments indicating the impersonation even while portraying honest infatuation. Not everything though is quite as complex as with Rudolf dealing with the film's true villain the henchmen Rupert (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) who makes no excuses for his amorality. Colman is terrific in these scenes though by showing the way Rudolf is so keenly aware of almost the game he's playing against this man, as he and Fairbanks have a lot of fun as the two have a battle of wits along with the expected swordplay. Colman though is careful though to portray a genuine concern and passion for the King's safety as the situation becomes more severe. He's particularly good in the closing scenes of the film, including its thrilling climax, offering the right gravity to the situation. He's indeed effortless in the role, but Colman importantly provides the needed intensity showing the needed effort Rudolf must make to save the day as well as return to being just the common man. This is typically strong work from Ronald Colman that succeeds in making the film all the more enjoyable.


Calvin Law said...

Love a bit of Colman.

Also, Louis mentioning Prisoners on the last post reminded me how surprisingly good Terrence Howard was in that film.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Ratings for the rest of the cast.

Louis Morgan said...


Carroll - 3(She has a limited role yet again her chemistry with Colman works, while she maintains enough of a distance to convey her character's sense of duty.)

Astor - 3(Very limited role yet offers a real passion behind her character's straight froward motivation)

Smith - 3(Offers a great deal of gravitas as usual.)

Niven - 3(Doesn't get to do much but manages to make an impact with very very little.)

Massey - 3(More than fine as the red herring villain but overshadowed by.....)

Fairbanks - 4.5(I have to say this performance caught me completely off-guard given his fairly forgettable work in Little Caesar, perhaps he was always meant to be a heel. Fairbanks is great here in what really is a pioneering villain performance. This is one of the earliest examples I've seen of taking the cocky SOB approach to such villain, as Fairbanks shows a man who loves being an amoral jerk. He's so much fun to watch here as he plays it as a guy who really doesn't care about his boss, he only cares about his intentions. Fairbanks is particularly good in his scenes with Colman because he shows no frustrations instead just trades barbs right back and forth matching Colman's charisma every step of the way.)

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Did you ever watch professional wrestling when you were younger, because I totally get the heel term.

Louis Morgan said...


Just a little bit, and I've always enjoyed the term.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: You should probably watch The Mark Of Zorro, whenever the Pre-28 lineup comes around.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your 1937 supporting reviews and overall have vanished.

Charles Heiston said...

Looks like a vanishing act just happened. But great review nonetheless. I've always love the term 'heel'