The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)

The Academy“s Science and Technology Council presents “The Prisoner of Zenda” (1937).

Featuring a 35mm print from the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Hosted by Academy governor Craig Barron. With special guest Ben Burtt.

In commemoration of what would have been Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.“s 100th birthday, Oscar®-winning visual effects supervisor Craig Barron and Oscar-winning sound designer Ben Burtt examined the innovative photographic and sound effects used in creating the classic 1937 film “The Prisoner of Zenda,” which featured Fairbanks along with Ronald Colman, Madeleine Carroll, Raymond Massey, C. Aubrey Smith and David Niven.

Based on the 1894 adventure novel by Anthony Hope, “Zenda” tells the story of the soon-to-be-crowned King of Ruritania (Colman), who is abducted by his rival Black Michael (Massey) on the eve of his coronation, and the distant cousin Rudolf Rassendyll (also played by Colman) who must impersonate him in order to save the monarchy.

From a technical perspective, “Zenda” stands out as being one of the first Hollywood sound films to successfully enable one actor (Colman) to appear as two different characters within the same shot, using in-camera split-screens and an audio playback system.

The evening featured rare behind-the-scenes color footage of “Zenda” from the Academy Film Archive“s Home Movie Collection, including footage of the film“s cinematographer James Wong Howe and his camera crew, along with Fairbanks practicing sword fighting for the film. The presentation also included never-before-seen camera tests from the personal collection of the film“s visual effects cameraman Clarence Slifer that show how many of the film“s illusions were created. In addition, Ben Burtt demonstrated how the sound effects from the film’s famous sword fighting scene were achieved.

Directed by John Cromwell. Produced by David O. Selznick. Screenplay John L. Balderston. Adaptation Wells Root. Based on the novel by Anthony Hope and the play by Edward E. Rose. Cinematography James Wong Howe. Special Effects Jack Cosgrove. Sound Oscar Lagerstrom. Selznick International Pictures; United Artists. 1937. 35mm. 101 mins.

Event Information

Wednesday, December 9, at 8 p.m.
Samuel Goldwyn Theater
8949 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Academy Awards Facts

Academy Award nominee

Art Direction (Lyle Wheeler)
Music – Scoring (Selznick International Pictures Music Department, Alfred Newman, musical director)

Barry Weiss

Barry Weiss, chairman of Public Programs and Education for the Science and Technology Council.

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