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Blu-Ray : Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: January 30th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1937

The Prince and the Pauper (1937) - Warner Archive Collection

Overview -

Blu-ray review by David Krauss
The 1937 film version of The Prince and the Pauper, Mark Twain's beloved novel of mistaken identity in Tudor England, comes to Blu-ray with a brand new HD master struck from a 4K scan of the original camera negative. Errol Flynn stars alongside Claude Rains and the Mauch Twins in this rousing, opulent adaptation that retains its universal appeal more than eight decades after its premiere. Solid audio and a few vintage supplements flesh out this family-friendly release. Recommended.

OVERALL:
Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
NEW 4K RESTORATION FROM THE ORIGINAL CAMERA NEGATIVE (2023)
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Length:
118
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.37:1
Audio Formats:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH
Special Features:
Classic WB Cartoons: ‘Plenty of Money and You,’ ‘Streamlined Greta Green,’ and ‘Sunbonnet Blue’, Original Theatrical Trailer
Release Date:
January 30th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper has captivated readers since its publication in 1881. The preposterous yet irresistible story of mistaken identity in King Henry VIII's court has also spawned countless movie and TV adaptations dating all the way back to a 1909 short, but arguably the most famous, beloved, and highly regarded take on Twain's tale is the version produced by Warner Bros in 1937. The studio's most profitable film of the year, The Prince and the Pauper combines the pomp and pageantry of merry old England with palace intrigue, spirited swordplay, and stinging social commentary, all of which add up to rousing entertainment that's fit for the whole family.

It's 1537 in London and two baby boys are born on the same day. One is Henry VIII's long-awaited male heir, Prince Edward (Bobby Mauch); the other is Tom Canty (Billy Mauch), a street urchin whose abusive father John (Barton MacLane) is just as tyrannical as the King of England. Edward is pampered and sheltered, while Tom must beg for crumbs and grab bits of education from Father Andrew (Fritz Lieber), a kindly clergyman who gives the downtrodden Tom the nurturing he so desperately needs.

One rainy night, 10-year-old Tom seeks shelter under a bench outside the palace. A string of circumstances brings him into contact with Prince Edward and the two boys instantly bond. After switching clothes during a game, they realize they look remarkably alike, and when the prince, dressed as the pauper, ventures out onto the palace grounds to fetch his dog, the guards mistake him for a trespasser and - against his vehement objections and promises of retribution - toss him into the street.

Both boys try their best to convince those around them who they really are, but no one takes them seriously...except the ambitious Earl of Hertford (Claude Rains), who sees an opportunity to use Tom to further his position at court after Henry's death. Hertford orders the Captain of the Guard (Alan Hale) to seek out and kill the real Edward, who has found an unlikely ally in Miles Hendon (Errol Flynn), a devil-may-care soldier of fortune. Miles comes to believe Edward's story and continually comes to his aid as he tries to help him reclaim his identity before Tom is crowned king and Hertford grabs the reins of power.

The Prince and the Pauper is a classic story and director William Keighley strikes just the right tone. Hints of whimsy and a smattering of humor pepper the film, lending it a jovial feel that's heightened by the rousing action scenes and colorful characters. Good and evil are firmly defined, so it's easy to root for the good guys and sneer at the villains. Top-notch production values, lavish costumes, and the majestic music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold enhance the mood and help thrust us into the opulence and squalor of 16th-century England. At 118 minutes, the film runs a little long and drags in the spots where Keighley favors atmosphere over action, but just when it seems poised to run out of gas the pace picks up.

Flynn receives top billing, but he's shamefully underused. The actor doesn't appear until the 53-minute mark and often seems more like a supporting player than the star. In his bycocket hat and tight-fitting pants and vest, Flynn is a virtual doppelgänger for Robin Hood (who he would portray the following year) and projects the same charm, vigor, and virility he would bring to the legendary Sherwood Forest hero. In many ways, The Prince and the Pauper feels like a warm-up for The Adventures of Robin Hood, and it wouldn't surprise me if its success spurred Robin Hood's production.

Rains is at his diabolical best as the ruthless, power-hungry Hertford, while Hale brings both bluster and restraint to his pivotal role as the Captain of the Guard. MacLane bellows like a barbarian as Tom's despicable dad, the portly Montagu Love fills the huge shoes of Henry VIII with aplomb, and Henry Stephenson exudes his usual aristocratic air as the noble Duke of Norfolk. You may never have heard of The Mauch Twins, but they were a fairly big deal for a brief spell and both assert themselves well, though they lack the sparkle of more seasoned child actors of the day like Freddie Bartholomew, Jackie Cooper, and Mickey Rooney. Having twins play the parts of Edward and Tom instead of a single actor juggling both roles adds essential authenticity to the tale, which requires a healthy amount of suspension of disbelief to swallow.

The Prince and the Pauper exemplifies Warner's prestige moviemaking in the 1930s and still holds up more than 85 years after its premiere. It's not quite the Errol Flynn vehicle that's advertised in the promotional material, but it shows off the dashing star well enough and stands as solid family entertainment...if you can convince your kids to watch a black-and-white film.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The 1937 version of The Prince and the Pauper arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu without music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.

Video Review

Ranking:

A brand new HD master struck from a 4K scan of the original camera negative yields a top-flight 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that revitalizes this 87-year-old film and faithfully honors the cinematography of three-time Oscar nominee (and Warner workhorse) Sol Polito. The movie's natural grain structure remains intact, resulting in a lovely film-like image that features excellent clarity and contrast, healthy blacks, well-defined whites, and nicely varied grays. Costume textures and the details of royal finery are distinct and sharp close-ups showcase tears, sweat, and both scraggly beards and the smooth complexions of the young Flynn and the Mauch twins. Shadow delineation is quite good and no nicks, dirt, or scratches mar the pristine source. A few snippets here and there look a bit ragged and soft, but the overall presentation is quite pleasing and should thrill fans of this rousing tale. 4.5/5

Audio Review

Ranking:

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track supplies clear, well-modulated sound. A wide dynamic scale embraces all the soaring highs and weighty lows of the majestic music score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who would win an Oscar the following year for The Adventures of Robin Hood, and sonic accents like cannon fire, ringing church bells, and the clanking of swords are crisp. All the dialogue is easy to comprehend and any age-related surface noise has been minimized. Though the sound isn't quite as robust as other Warner Archive releases from the same period, it makes a statement when necessary and nicely complements the strong visuals. 4.5/5

Special Features

Ranking:

A trio of Warner Bros cartoons in glorious HD and the film's original trailer comprise the extras package.

  • Vintage Cartoon: Plenty of Money and You (HD, 7 minutes) - This 1937 Technicolor Merrie Melodies cartoon depicts what happens when a baby ostrich invades a henhouse and tries to become one of the flock. An amusing encounter with a garden hose, a stand-off with a hungry weasel, and an explosive firecracker finale highlight this musical short.

  • Vintage Cartoon: Streamlined Great Green (HD, 8 minutes) - Another Technicolor Merrie Melodies gem from 1937, this animated short pre-dates Pixar's Cars by seven decades as it humanizes a family of roadsters and chronicles a young car's first solo venture into the city and countryside.

  • Vintage Cartoon: Sunbonnet Blue (HD, 7 minutes) - Rounding out the trio of 1937 Technicolor Merrie Melodies cartoons is this colorful charmer about a couple of smitten mice who frolic in a hat shop and tangle with a dastardly rat.

  • Theatrical Trailer (SD, 4 minutes) - The film's original preview promises "powerful, exciting, fascinating entertainment" and calls the Mauch twins "the most unique star team of all time."

Final Thoughts

A lively adaptation of Mark Twain's novel, the 1937 version of The Prince and the Pauper mixes palace intrigue with mistaken identity and throws in a little swashbuckling for good measure. The result is an entertaining family film that's been given a spiffy makeover by Warner Archive. A new 4K scan of the original camera negative, strong audio, and a few vintage supplements make this release fit for a king. Recommended

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