William Keighley’s The Prince and The Pauper (1937) is an enchanting cinematic revision of the much beloved Mark Twain classic – originally published in 1881 in Canada. The book, Twain’s first attempt at historical fiction, charts the intrigue of a palace coup with an even bigger bait and switch – the replacement of the King of England with a common and impoverished wretch from the streets.
In an inspired bit of casting, twins William and Robert J. Mauch make indelible impressions as Prince Edward and Tom Canty. In 1547, Edward is the spoiled heir to the Tudor English throne. He is opinionated, selfish and generally a nuisance.
Somewhere, on the streets of London, Tom Canty is a child of the streets. Although life has been bitter and cruel Tom has retained a noble integrity and street savvy wit that has sustained him during his many hardships. However, when Edward accidentally meets Tom, his petty larceny for adventure is put into high gear. Why not let this poor urchin occupy his throne for a spell while he – Edward – mingles with the commoners in search of new adventures away from the constant scrutiny of his court.
Meanwhile, Edward’s ‘trusted’ advisor, the Earl of Hertford (Claude Rains), with the complicity of the Duke of Norfolk (Henry Stephenson) is plotting to kill the prince and take over the throne. Only the King’s Captain of the Guard (Alan Hale) remains loyal. Mistaking Tom for the Edward, the Earl imprisons him, declaring a regency in the King’s ‘absence.’
Into this fray of royal intrigue enters fortune hunter, Miles Hendon (Errol Flynn) – a wily rogue who accidentally runs into Edward masquerading as a commoner on the streets. Learning of the immediacy of the situation, Edward commands Hendon to assist in restoring him to the throne.
At first, unconvinced that the boy is actually the future king of England, Hendon treats him with mild disdain – a sobering experience for the Edward who is used to getting his own way. Eventually, Hendon discovers the truth and decides that he must set everything right once more - for King, for country and for the healthy financial profit it will derive.It all ends pleasantly enough in a very un-Twain-like myriad of swordplay and swashbuckling, and, with a coronation sequence that is probably one of the most lavish bits of spectacle ever put on film.
The screenplay by Laird Doyle takes artistic liberties in this recanting that favor Errol Flynn’s rising star on the Warner backlot. Nevertheless, Keighley’s direction, along with some lavish sets and stunning photography make for an appealing package. The Mauch Twins never did much in Hollywood after this film – a genuine pity since they are the central reason this film has retained its original luster for so many years.
Warner Home Video delivers a solid looking transfer that is sure to please. The gray scale has been balanced with deep blacks and very clean whites. Fine detail is evident throughout. Certain sequences exhibit a hint of edge enhancement and pixelization, but nothing that will distract from this visually stunning adaptation.
The sound elements are somewhat more disappointing. The main title sequence exhibits a muffled characteristic. Dialogue - for the most part - is presented at an adequate listening level with only the slightest of pops, scratches and hiss. Apart from an essay on sword play and the film’s theatrical trailer there are NO EXTRAS!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)