..

THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  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

Film ***

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 pieces.

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 wives.”

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.

Video ***1/2

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.

Audio ***

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.

Features *1/2

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 more.

Summary:

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.