THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER
Review by Michael Jacobson
Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch, Mark Lester, Ernest Borgnine, Charlton Heston,
George C. Scott, Rex Harrison
Director: Richard Fleischer
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer, Standard 1:33:1
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: Theatrical Trailer, TV Spot
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: August 15, 2000
The Prince and the
Pauper (a.k.a. Crossed Swords) is
a light, fun, and swashbuckling retelling of the classic Mark Twain story—a
tale, as he put it, “may not have happened.
But it COULD have happened.”
The story is an old and familiar one that has been told
many times (even Mickey Mouse made a comeback of sorts playing the dual roles),
and this version is probably no better nor no worse than any other that comes to
mind. What it has going for it is a
tremendous cast, terrific set and costume design, and an approach to the story
that allows time for much swordplay, staff fighting, and other action set
When Tom Canty (Lester), a pauper and clumsy thief
accidentally stumbles into the chamber of young Prince Edward (Lester also)
while trying to escape the palace guards, the two make a remarkable discovery:
they look alike! Edward is
about to attend a stuffy costume ball, and is inspired by an idea he would soon
regret: switching clothes with poor
Tom and attending the ball as a lowly pauper.
It might have gotten a good laugh, but as fate would have it, the
unknowing guards seize the prince and forcibly eject him from the castle, while
the frightened and bewildered Tom is paraded out in front of the royal guests,
including the King, Henry VIII (Heston), and proclaimed by all to be the true
Prince of Wales!
Both men find themselves way over their heads in their new
identities, and neither can convince those around him of the truth.
Not even the royal seal Edward wears impresses the poor in the street of
whom he is now a part of. His only
friend comes in the form of a soldier of fortune, Miles Hendon (Reed), who
doesn’t believe him, but defends and looks after him anyway.
Matters grow even more complicated when the sickly King
Henry dies, leaving the throne to the imposter he believes is his son.
Tom now finds himself faced with the prospect of marriage (“I can’t
marry the queen of Scotland! She’s
only six years old!”) and possibly waging a war against England’s long time
foe of France. He’s not equipped
to do much of either.
Edward learns of the news of his father’s death, but
he’s facing his own problems, as Tom’s abusive ogre of a father (Borgnine)
has taken his “son” to join up with a legendary band of thieves, led by The
Ruffler (Scott), where he begins to learn of the plight of the poor who have
suffered under Henry’s indifference. Somehow,
he must escape and make it back in palace in time to convince everyone of the
truth and make things right again, before the coronation that irrevocably places
the crown on Tom’s head!
The script, while not fall-down funny, is still
delightfully tongue-in-cheek and had me smiling most of the way. Of course, most of the humor flows naturally from Twain’s
scenario of two out-of-place chaps trying to make a go in their new roles.
Edward continues to make his princely proclamations from the streets,
much to the delight of his now-fellow paupers, whilst Tom can’t get used to
the royal lifestyle. “If you think it’s poisoned,” he incredulously asks the
royal food taster, “why not give it to a dog?
Or a plumber?”
Mark Lester, though a bit older than the original story
calls for, makes an impressive go in both of his title roles, bringing a sense
of full character realization to both Tom and Edward. Oliver Reed is perfect as the swashbuckling, cynical Miles,
who manages to protect and help Edward along the way, and later finds Edward
returning the favor. Both Reed and
Lester had worked together before, in the Oscar winning musical Oliver!.
For the rest of the cast, Charlton Heston is particularly memorable
as King Henry, who brings regality to the role despite the lack of proper
accent. And Rex Harrison has a few
of my favorite moments as the Duke of Norfolk, who maintains a droll sense of
humor even when he learns he’s to be executed for treason.
“Interesting,” he mulls. “I
thought that kind of treatment was usually reserved for the king’s unfortunate
Plus, as mentioned, those costumes and sets are a real plus, bringing a sense of color, style, and authenticity to the period, while most importantly, adding to the fun. Fun would my singular word to describe The Prince and the Pauper, a well made, frolicking comic adventure for the whole family.
Anchor Bay has delivered a remarkable anamorphic transfer
to this DVD (full frame also available) that fully supports the vibrancy of the
film’s imagery. There is no
evidence of grain or compression noticeable, and, perhaps even better, very
little in the way of tell-tale nicks or dirt on the print.
The film seemed to be mostly photographed in natural light settings, so
the colors don’t come across as artificially bright as say, a Technicolor
production, but colors are always vivid, natural, and well contained.
The detail is remarkable, from the distinct definition of leaves on trees
to the way light and shadow play against one another in darker scenes lit by
firelight. I took a few brief looks
at the pan & scan presentation as well, and its purpose, as far as I can
make out, is to convince the viewer to go back to the widescreen version.
With the scope of action, massive sets, and meticulously constructed
scenes, you don’t want to experience this film any other way.
Though the box indicates Dolby Mono, after careful
listening, I am convinced this is actually a stereo mix, with a good use of
range across the front left and right speakers. It is a very well rendered soundtrack, particularly in
regards to Maurice Jarre’s lively score, which is so well maintained on this
disc that you can selectively identify each instrument’s part in the
orchestration. There is also a fair
amount of dynamic range, not only from the music, but from the progression of
the story from dialogue to action and back again.
Overall, the audio is also clean and clear, and free from any noticeable
noise or hiss. A pleasant,
serviceable soundtrack all around.
The disc contains both a trailer and a TV spot for the
film, both billing the movie under its original title of Crossed Swords. Nothing
The Prince and the Pauper boasts a top notch cast, a classic and beloved story of mistaken identity, and a rollicking sense of fun and adventure as only the movies could showcase. Fans of the story, any of the actors, or just plain good old fashioned swashbuckling fun would do well by themselves to give this quality DVD a spin in their players.