I think we all could use some good old-fashioned malice in the palace and what genre was better suited than the Ruritanian Romance?
If you are unfamiliar with the genre, it was named for the fictional Central European kingdom in The Prisoner of Zenda. Ruritanian books and films were wildly popular and often featured British or American characters either accidentally inheriting the throne or discovering that that were exact duplicates of the rightful heir. Swashbuckling elements were strongly encouraged.
The genre’s popularity also made it ripe for parody and quite a few Ruritanians spoofs were made as well. In general, though, films in the genre were feather light to begin with, so the line between drama and comedy could blur.
I am a huge fan of the genre and, in my opinion, the best examples were made prior to the Second World War, so the silent era figures in prominently. To whet your appetite, here are some of the films in the genre I have already reviewed:
The Prisoner of Zenda (1922): This big budget adaptation of the OG Ruritanian story launched Ramon Novarro’s career. He played the villainous Rupert of Hentzau, a role that would also prove beneficial for Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in the sound remake.
Young April (1926): A playful take on the genre with Bessie Love finding out she is royalty and Joseph Schildkraut as an heir who doesn’t want to be king… and means it.
Hawthorne of the U.S.A. (1919): An odd duck of a genre mashup with Wallace Reid saving a kingdom from Red Scare baddies.
Under Royal Patronage (1914): This picture features a doubled doubles ruse with the prince and princess both swapping with their American friends. A rare chance to see Francis X. Bushman and Beverly Bayne in action.
And it’s not silent but The Great Race (1965) featured a lengthy Zenda spoof in the middle section. (Its sets were designed by Theda Bara’s old designer, which was why I reviewed it here.)
I hope you have a grand time!
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