Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Prisoner of Zenda

The Madeleine Carroll Blogathon is an event in honor of the actress, presented by Tales of the Easily Distracted and Silver Screenings. For a list of participating bloggers, visit the links at either site.

The Prisoner of Zenda
seen on TV @ TCM

I've seen lots of movies about double identities, and I'm sure you have too... and maybe if I had seen The Prisoner of Zenda before most of them, I'd like it more. As it is, I thought it was just okay. The double identity movie that it reminded me the most of was Dave - regular guy substitutes for look-alike head of state in a time of crisis - only with more swordplay. This was a vehicle for Ronald Colman, and I liked him. I remembered him from the movie Random Harvest, and I liked him in that too. The sets and costumes looked good, the sword fight near the end between Colman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was great, and for 1937, the optical effect of having Colman shake hands with himself was pretty convincing. But I kinda knew where this story was going after the first ten minutes. 

Still, we're not here today to talk about Colman, but about his co-star, Madeleine Carroll. Unfortunately, she doesn't have a whole lot to do in Zenda other than stare lovingly into Colman's eyes and act regal, though she certainly gets her moments. I thought she had a more substantial role in The 39 Steps.

Carroll was a superstar in Britain during the 30s, and her popularity increased after the success of Steps, an Alfred Hitchcock film. She worked with Hitch again in Secret Agent. During her Hollywood years, she starred opposite the likes of Gary Cooper, Tyrone Power, Fred MacMurray, and even Bob Hope. During World War 2, her sister died in a London bombing raid, and as a result, Carroll became a nurse for the Red Cross and worked in the United Seamens Service as entertainment director. She wasn't able to regain her popularity after the war, however.

How does Carroll stack up against the other Hitchcock blondes? This top ten list ranks her sixth, for what it's worth. This article breaks down the whole obsession Hitch had with blondes and compares the most iconic ones. The writer credits Carroll as the first, though some believe the trend began as far back as Hitchcock's silent films with an actress named Anny Ondra.

That's about all I got on Carroll. I'm sure she was good in other movies. Maybe I'll watch one or two of them in the future.

Other Madeleine Carroll movies:
The 39 Steps


  1. I first saw "The Prisoner of Zenda" when I was an impressionable kid and it was always right up there with "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and "Gunga Din" in its derring-do and the princess broke my little heart.

    I was the only one of my contemporaries who knew that "Zenda" was being spoofed in "The Great Race". My friends didn't believe me. They always thought I was kinda weird anyway because I always called actors by their real names and not their characters.

    Maybe you'll get some Madeleine Carroll recommendations through the blogathon.

  2. Yeah, I can see how ZENDA fits in with movies like those, though I think ROBIN HOOD is in a class by itself.

  3. I didn't know that Madeleine Carroll's sister was killed in a bombing raid in WWII. Such a tragedy for all those people who lost their lives...

    Your post has prompted me to watch "Prisoner of Zenda" again. It's been so long since I've seen it that I've forgotten many of the details.

    Thanks for joining our blogathon! :)

  4. It's a long time since I've seen this, but I remember enjoying both Carroll and Colman's performances. Will have to revisit it.

  5. It's entertaining. Worth seeing again, especially if you haven't seen it in awhile, I imagine.

  6. Like a true Princess, she didn't need to do a lot - just "be." She was meant to be a vision, and by was she ever! While she didn't have much to do - hey, she was a princess!

  7. I suppose there are worse things one could be in life.

  8. I only watched The Prisoner of Zenda from 1979, with Peter Sellers. And, well, you can't go wrong with Peter Sellers! I still have to watch this original version!
    From Ronald Colman, I really recommned the film that gave him an Oscar: A Double Life. From Madeleine I recommend the film I've written about, The World Moves On (shameless propaganda, I know). Here's the link:

  9. Peter Sellers remade this movie? Well, he was no stranger to playing multiple roles in a movie. Might have to give that a look...

  10. One of my favorite movies. I also didn't know about her sister being killed. In my opinion, Carroll should be #1 on the Hitchcock blonde list. sorry Grace, Tippi and the rest but Maddie was the best!

  11. Perhaps one day I'll compare for myself.


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