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May 30, 1979 - Image 6

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Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1979-05-30

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Page 6-Wednesday, May-30, 1979-The Michigan Daily
'THE PRISONER OF ZENDA'
A movie suited f or incarceration

By ALISON DONAHUE other old material; all the worn out (but
If there were a field concerned with still usable) jokes and sight gags that
film ecology, it would certainly cite the we've seen so often in other movies and
latest version of The Prisoner of Zenda TV - usually in funnier fashion. So as
starring Peter Sellers, for it is the con- not to stray too far from the original
sumate recycled film. This production though, the film manages to retain the
is the fifth version of Anthony Hawkins' book's syrupy sentiment, which com-
i9th century tale of swashbuckling and plements the movie's brand of humor
romance, but the first to present the quite appropriately.
story in a comic light. Because of its Peter Sellers plays a dual role in this
different approach, the film doesn't fall story, which takes place in the mythical
into the trap of rehashing all the same land of Ruritania. It concerns a com-
old ideas found in the book and its other moner who stands in for the real heir to
film adaptations. Instead, it resurrects the throne (his double) and encounters

all the adventures meant for the king,
from defending the throne against his
rival, Black Michael, to courting the
lovely Princess Flavia.
ONE CAN'T complain about Seller's
acting. He is hilarious as the simpering
ineffectual heir to the throne, and is
quite likeable as his double, an
unassuming cabbie who solves most
problems with a combination of skill
and earthy common sense. Too bad the
writer's formula slapstick does not give
Sellers or any of the film's other actors
anything very funny to do.
Most of the gags deal with the
lecherous Lady Natalie's (Elke Som-
mer) attempts at romancing the man
she thinks is king. Her jealous lover, the
Count, (Greg Sierra) uses every stock
trick the writers can think of to
sabotage her efforts. When the Count
tries to planty a bomb disguised as a
croquet ball in the king's game, he gets
blown up by his own invention. Suspec-
ting a rendezvous between his woman
and the monarch, the count storms in-
to a fancy restaurant looking for them.
Here all predictable hell breaks
loose. He slashes a violinit's in-
strument with his sword, and of course
gets beaned with the fiddle, after which
he gets his arse burned with a flaming
dessert and ends up-where else-in
the public fountain cooling off.
GREG SIERRE has a wonderfully
expressive face as the raging count, but
we've seen all these routines done much
more creatively elsewhere. The Three
Stooges always had a preoccupation
with bumping and honking each other
in various ways. What made them funy
was the outrageously over-done sound
effects that accompanied each act of
violence, e.g., the clank of steel hitting
steel when Moe clubs Curly on the.head
with a sledge hammer. Zenda's gim-
mick is that it takes classic cartoon
situations and makes them come to life.
The special effects, however, don't
quite work in such fantasy scenes
because they're neither tacky enough to
be camp, nor sufficiently slick to look
real.
In the film's opening scene, the bum-
bling old king (also played by Sellers,
which makes his actually a triple role)
crashed the balloon he's riding in and
drops into a well. As he falls, the action
is slowed a bit and his movements are
jerky. It looks faked. That's tem-
porarily alright because comedy
doesn't have to look real to be funny.
When this tackiness carries over into
serious scenes, however, the effect is
rather embarrassing. When Sellers
knocks a gun out of the hand of a would-
be assassin with a quick flick of his hor-
sewhip, we see a similar slowing down
and jerky movement. Our attention is
immediately drawn to the mechanics of
the special effect, destroying any
emotional involvement we may have in
the scene.
TO ITS CREDIT, (Zenda) goes
almost all the way in turning upside
down the simple-minded romantic
conventions in Hawkin's book. Royalty
is not revered but made to look

ridiculous. Swashbuckling does not in-
volve dexterity with the sword here so
much as ingenuity in a pinch; i.e.
pulling the darts out of the bullkeye and
throwing them at enemies when
without sword. So with all this
desecration of tradition going on, who
can figure out why Zenda's writers
refused to tamper with the original
author's sentimental presentation of
the romance betWeen Princess Flavia
and the king's stand-in? Lynn
Fredrick's Flavia carries the myth of
the good and beautiful princess to the
hilt. Seller's cabbie falls into a similar
rut as the "noble commoner," but even
he is not immune to falling sandbags
and slippery banana peels, as is the un-
sulliable Flaiva.
The film's treatment of the couple's
love affair is frustrating as well as puz-
zling because in portraying their
relationship as The Serious element in
the film, the actors are given lines that
are so corny they are just begging to be
satirized. A couple of days after they
meet, the two lovers are, of course,
committed to each other for life. But
alas, Flavia's obligation to marry the
real king makes a union with the com-
moner impossible (or we think so at fir-
st). In their parting scene, accom-
panied by the swelling of Henry Man-
cini's violins, the cabbie tells the prin-
cess that he will dream of her forever.
What a great time for Sellers to walk in-
to a closet or fall through a tray
door-anything to reassure us that the
filmmakers don't take us for fools-but
no, they refuse to let the movie make
fun of itself when it comes to this
relationship.
It's interesting that filmmakers and
even some critics find the Prisoner of
Zenda so attractive (three film versions
have been reviewed favorably in the
New York Times) and yet audiences
don't seen to think much of it. I had to
dig the book out of North Campus
storage, and all four previous movie
versions of the tale have fallen into ob-
scurity since being produced. Judging
from the way the seats were emptying
out during the screening I attended, it
looks as if this latest version of Zenda is
headed for the same fate.
SPRING
ARTS STAFF
ARTSEDITOR
Joshua Peck
ARTS STAFF: Sondra Bobroff, Sarah Cassill, Mark
Coleman, Sara Goldberg, Eric Graig, Jock Hender-
son, Katie Herzfeld, Anna Nissen, Christopher
Potter, Nancy Rucker, R.J. Smith, Nina Shishkoff,
Tom Stephens, Keith Tosolt
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