Film Score Monthly booklets never cease to intrigue. On this occasion we learn that Stewart Granger personally prompted and financially guaranteed a scene-by-scene Technicolor M-G-M remake of the 1937 David O Selznick production of The Prisoner of Zenda that had starred Ronald Colman and Madeleine Carroll with Douglas Fairbanks Jnr and David Niven. (This vintage black and white film is still the quintessential Zenda according to most aficionados.) In the acting stakes, the rather nasally Granger was no match for the suave Colman, but having said that Granger was perfectly satisfactory in the dual role of Rudolf Rassendyll and the King. The film was shot under budget and in just 28 days by Richard "One-Take" Thorpe.[The 1952 remake also starred Deborah Kerr, James Mason, Jane Greer and Robert Douglas].
The original score for the O'Selznick production had been written by Alfred Newman. Stewart Granger suggested reusing Newman's music for the 1952 remake. Johnny Green, M-G-M's music chief, agreed but decided that Conrad Salinger should reorchestrate and adapt the score for the remake. Newman had used the Wagnerian principal of leitmotifs, assigning specific themes to characters or action Salinger's contribution was to round out the music and add a dimension that recalled Richard Strauss. In fact Strauss's Don Juan is quoted quite openly in the exciting 'Main Title' that opens with fanfares and embraces music of nobility, heroism, and one of Newman's loveliest love themes that reaches a rapturous apotheosis in 'Colman and Flavia walk inside' - as the Princess finds herself falling for Rassendyll thinking it is the King reformed.
The pomp and circumstance of the coronation scenes is brilliantly caught with a mix of Newman's fanfares and his Ruritanian National Anthem, and source music: a Bach chorale and a Handel Chorus ('See the Conquering Hero') here reproduced in stereo. Then there is the a capella female chorus that greets the appearance of Princess Flavia (which is slightly Hollywood kitsch). Finally there is a snippet of a Donna Nobis Pacem by Mozart as Rassendyll and Flavia leave the Cathedral.
In addition, there is more source music for the ball scene, while Newman's original music includes hunt/chase material and arresting sequences of intrigue and suspense when the King is kidnapped and imprisoned in the castle of Zenda, and excitement as Rasendyll rescues the King after duelling with Rupert of Hentzau (Mason). A notable Ravel-like theme is given to Prince Michael's French lover, Antoinette.
A memorable, noble, heroic, swashbuckling score, full of romance and excitement.