The 1937 version of The Prisoner of Zenda is widely considered the best film adaptation of the Anthony Hope novel of the same name.
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In an unidentified Middle European country, Englishman Rudolf Rassendyll (Colman) meets by chance his distant relative and exact double, Rudolf V (also played by Colman), who is to be crowned king the following day. However, Rodolf V is drugged unconscious by an agent of his brother, "Black" Michael (Raymond Massey). If he does not appear for the coronation, he very likely will lose the throne. Colonel Zapt (C. Aubrey Smith) persuades Rassendyll to impersonate his relative. The ceremony goes off without a hitch, but then Rudolf V is kidnapped and taken to Michael's castle at Zenda. (Michael does not dare kill the real king, as it would leave the impostor on the throne.)
Rassendyll is forced to keep up the pretense, while Zapt discreetly organizes a search. During this time, however, Rassendyll falls in love with Princess Flavia (Carroll), who is to marry the king. Though she loathed Rudolf when they were children, Flavia finds him greatly improved, and she too falls in love.
Michael's charmingly amoral henchman, Rupert of Hentzau (Fairbanks Jr.), brings his master's offer of money in exchange for abdication. Rupert also proposes betraying Michael for a suitably large reward, but Rassendyll declines both offers. Instead, help comes from an unexpected source. Michael's mistress, Antoinette de Mauban (Mary Astor), reveals where the king is being held. (To be accepted as king, Michael would have to marry Flavia.) Someone will have to sneak into the castle and protect the king until Zapt's men storm the place. Rassendyll insists it be him. Inside, Michael catches Rupert making advances on Antoinette and is killed for his trouble. Then, Rupert finds out about the rescue. He and Rassendyll cross swords, until Zapt's troops get too close. Rupert flees.
Afterward, Flavia learns the truth. Rassendyll begs her to leave with him, but she chooses her duty to her people.
Best part of story, including ending:
This is one of the finest romantic swashbucklers ever made.
Best scene in story:
Any scene with Fairbanks Jr. is great. His character's utter lack of scruples is cloaked in spellbinding charisma.
Opinion about the main character:
He speaks with Ronald Colman's inimitable and unmistakable voice.