The Student Prince When his bride-to-be finds him much too stiff, heir to the throne Prince Karl is sent off to the university in Heidelberg to learn how to socialize. He makes friends with the students there and falls for the down-to-earth Kathie, a barmaid. The two are soul mates, but when Karl’s grandfather the king falls ill, he must choose between his country and his own happiness…
The Student Prince Edmund Purdom does a fine job of lip-synching to Mario Lanza in this beautiful fairytale of a movie. The combination of Lanza’s glorious romanticism and Purdom’s very British demeanour is an odd combination, but it works – after a fashion. It helps that Purdom was actually singing along with Lanza’s pre-recorded vocals – a daunting task for any singer, let alone a non-professional like Purdom. (The actor spent three months practising with the recordings, and commented 20 years later: “It was enough to make you sweat – just listening to the voice.”)
It’s to Purdom’s credit that he persevered, for Lanza’s singing is at the very core of this movie. The Serenade, Drinking Song, Beloved, Golden Days and I’ll Walk With God are without peer, and represent the pinnacle of Lanza’s achievement in English language song. Lanza’s timbre was at its most ravishing by this time (1952) and he imbues these songs with such magic that every word sparkles – a feat not lost on Purdom, who later compared Mario’s poetic artistry to that of the great soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf.
The Student Prince is loosely based on Sigmund Romberg’s operetta, with three new songs (Beloved, I’ll Walk With God and Summertime in Heidelberg) by Nicholas Brodszky replacing some of the more dated Romberg numbers. The film is a decided improvement on the creaky original and boasts a witty script, replete with memorable one-liners from the screen-writing duo of Sonya Levien and William Ludwig, scenarists for Lanza’s The Great Caruso. As a previous reviewer has noted, the original lyrics have been changed in some instances, but the alterations are tastefully done.
Ann Blyth provides worthy support as Kathy, the barmaid with whom The Student Prince falls in love, and the hilarious supporting cast includes such seasoned pros as Edmund Gwenn, SZ (Cuddles) Sakall and John Williams.
Aside from Lanza’s absence, what ultimately makes this merely a good movie rather than a classic is Richard Thorpe’s uninspired direction. His stolid by-the-numbers approach (ie long shot, then medium shot, then close-up) is at its most obvious during the musical numbers, where he lacks the magical touch that the story – and the music – demands. Still, he was undoubtedly a better choice than Curtis Bernhardt, the “Prussian pickle” (to paraphrase one of the characters in this movie) originally slated to direct, and the real reason for Lanza walking out on The Student Prince.
But watch this movie for its irresistible fairytale appeal, and the magic of Mario Lanza at his extraordinary best.