Guest Review: The Prince and the Pauper

In this guest post, Constance Metzinger shares her thoughts on the 1962 adaptation of The Prince and the Pauper.

Mark Twain had a knack for writing stories that appealed to the common people, especially to children. Most everyone has at one time imagined what it would be like to switch places with someone else. The grass is always greener on the other side. And, in this case, the grass just happens to be in the court of the King’s palace, so why wouldn’t it be greener?

Even in 1532, little pauper boys pondered this question. Tom Canty wants to catch a glimpse of the king in London. He doesn’t see the king but instead, he finds himself invited into the palace by none other than the young Prince Edward! Since the boys share an uncanny resemblance, they decide to switch places for a few hours…only those few hours turn into several days and they both find it difficult to convince anyone that they are not whom they seem to be.

Walt Disney made a number of great made-for-television movies in the 1960s for his series “The Wonderful World of Disney” and, like most of his feature film productions, the movies had generous budgets. The Prince and the Pauper has a top-notch cast, great costumes, and some really impressive sets. Artist Peter Ellenshaw created some beautiful matte shots to expand the sets and evoke the 16th-century setting.

Sean Scully is marvelous as our leading lad and gives a convincing portrayal of both the prince and the pauper. Scully, the son of Australian actress Margaret Christensen, caught the eye of Walt Disney Studios after he appeared in the CCF (Children’s Film Foundation) production Hunted in Holland (1961). Following his appearance in The Prince and the Pauper, he was cast in two more Disney productions: Almost Angels (1962) and The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1963).

Guy Williams (Zorro) also stars as Miles Henson, a nobleman who befriends the prince while he is in disguise as a beggar. Even though he does not believe the boy’s story to be true, he plays along addressing the prince as “your majesty” and helps rescue him on more than one occasion. Donald Houston has a meaty part as Tom’s abusive alcoholic father who, after he murders the local priest (Niall MacGinnis), joins up with “The Ruffler” (Nigel Green), a man who commands a band of thieves. Also in the cast is Laurence Naismith, Paul Rogers, Geoffrey Keen, and a young Jane Asher.

The Prince and the Pauper was not one of the Disney classics that I grew up with and it does not seem like it would be your typical childhood favorite even though it packs in its share of excitement. There’s swordplay, a good Twain story, and fine acting, yet there may be just a tad too much “talk” to capture a child’s interest.

Constance Metzinger runs the website Silver Scenes, “a blog for classic film lovers.” This article originally ran last year and is being reprinted as part of this week’s MovieFanFare Mega Monday celebrations.