Friday, December 28, 2012

Prince and the Pauper, The (1937)



Director: William Keighley

A common “A” picture from the major Hollywood studios in the 1930s would be adaptations of popular literary works including the classics. 1937’s The Prince and the Pauper would be First National Pictures’, a Warner Bros. owned studio, film that adapts the classic Mark Twain penned tale of switched places. Part comedy and part drama, while at the same time being a coming of age story, and children’s tale, the picture stays true to the heart of the novel by Samuel Clemens under his famous pen name. It allows audiences to see a visual telling of a story many Americans would have been familiar with.

The Prince and the Pauper is an adaptation of the Mark Twain classic about two children, one a prince, the other a poor peasant of the kingdom, who accidentally switch places due to their similar appearances. When Prince Edward (Bobby Mauch) changes cloths with a pauper named Tom Canty (Billy Mauch) while playing he is accidentally thrown out of the royal palace by his own guards. Tom, believed to be Edward, is set to be king at the passing of King Henry VIII (Montagu Love), while the real Edmund tries desperately to push is sovereignty on the poorer classes of the kingdom who believe him to be merely Tom Canty. Edmund finds a protector in Miles Hendon (Errol Flynn), a swordsman amused by the boy’s story. Meanwhile Tom begins to be manipulated by the Earl of Hetford (Claude Rains) as he attempts to use the boy’s new found dominion to empower his own dominance in the kingdom, until the two boys are able to reunite and prove who the true future King of England is.

The pictures keeps true to the heart of the story originally assembled by the famous Mark Twain, and provides an entertaining adaptation that amused audiences of the late 1930s as well as brought to life the story for those wishing to view it for years to follow. For the time of its release many would see the classic adaption in a routine visit to the local movie house, while decades later children would be introduced to the motion picture as a classroom style movie in order to bring literature to life for school children.

For the most part the film would be directed by William Keighley, maker of such pictures as the anti-gangster movie G Men, and the politically incorrect adaptation of Bible stories in Green Pastures. Keighley would only give up the reigns of the film m for a short period due to William Dieterle while fighting the flu. The larger budget and set decoration of this period piece would add to semi-epic size of the film. Though Keighley’s camerawork tended to be rather simple, following the simple rules of cinematography, like the “rule of 180,” his pace tends to stay just above too slow. The film has some action, but nothing that seems to draw one to the edge of their seats. But with the success of The Prince and the Pauper as a literary period piece Keighley would get a chance to direct a far larger endeavor the following year in 1938’s adventure picture The Adventures of Robin Hood, also to star Errol Flynn.

Billy and Bobby Mauch, twin brothers playing the title roles.
Flynn would be the featured star of The Prince and the Pauper, ever rising on the list of A-list stars in Warner Bros. cast of actors, especially in the genre of adventure films. For the role of the two boys of which the story would center around producers considered the largest child star of the time Freddie Bartholomew, famed from his work on David Copperfield and Anna Karenina. It was considered that Bartholomew would star in both roles, but he studio decided to go with Billy and Bobby Mauch, twin brothers with some acting in major films in the recent past. Billy was cast as the younger version of the title character in Anthony Adverse while Bobby sometimes stood in for him. With more acting to his record Billy would supply the meatier and multi-dimensional role of Tom Canty. The twins with their acting in such a major picture would land a cover story for Time Magazine in 1937.

Not to be overlooked is the performance of Claude Rain playing the Earl of Hertford, the primary antagonist of the picture. Rains had broken into the mainstream without even being seen in the horror classic by Universal, The Invisible Man. Since then he would move to Warner Bros. where he  would pushed towards being a regular villain with the aid of his overbearing English accent. He too would work with Flynn and Keighley again in the Technicolor film The Adventures of Robin Hood.

This version of The Prince and the Pauper would prove to be a classic adaptation of the characteristic piece of literature. That would be its legacy. Flynn and Rains would keep rising in star stature, while the Mauch boys would not see much in film that would even come close to this picture. But as one must measure this picture it must be said that this film creates a very good representation of the story from the famed American author of the 19th century, and stands well even years after its original release.


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