- Movie Rating -

The Prisoner of Zenda (1979)

| May 24, 1979

The Prisoner of Zenda is just not funny.  What more can I say?  I didn’t laugh.  Not once.  Didn’t even crack a smile.  I don’t think it says anything about my sense of humor, just the fact that the movie is so dry and the comedy so slow that the energy seems to have been drained out.  Maybe everyone was tired, or perhaps they weren’t confident in the material.  Perhaps, it was overconfidence, seeing this material as dull and lifeless there may have been the thought that Peter Sellers’ comic genius alone could save it.

Sellers, by this point, had experienced a rebirth in popularity thanks to the Pink Panther movies, but even at their worst those movies at least had some comic zeal, some energy.  Blake Edwards lit a fire under the material so that you felt that at least it was going for broke.  That’s not here.  Director Richard Quine, a television director whose best-known feature was Bell, Book and Candle, keeps the comic zeal at a pace so slow that the actors seem to be going through dress rehearsals.

The idea was probably a good one.  Based on the 1894 adventure novel, which in itself was a twist on the old Prince and the Pauper routine; King Rudolf V (Sellers) is the 19th century ruler of a Ruritania and while travelling, finds himself the target of assassins.  So, to preserve his majesty’s sovereign derriere, his underlings recruit a commoner, a cab driver named Syd (Sellers, again) to be the king’s double in case there is a problem.  And, of course, Syd doesn’t know that there’s a target on the king’s back and that goings on in the court lead to expected misunderstanding.

With energy and comic fire, this premise could work.  It takes a steady hand and good timing – which Sellers has – but the approach isn’t clever, and falls into the easier realms of bedroom humor and easy slapstick.  The supporting players are all second-rate comedians who are no match for what Sellers is trying to do.  The pace is too slow.  The movie is not funny.  I’m sad.  Let’s move on.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized