Producer: Philip Dunne. Copyright 1955 by 20th Century-Fox Film Corp. New York opening at the Rivoli: 11 January 1955. U.S. release: January 1955. U.K. release: April 1955. Australian release: 10 June 1955. 9,187 feet. 102 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: Booth, Edwin Thomas (1833—1893), American actor, manager of Winter Garden Theatre, New York, 1862-8. He built "Booth's Theatre" in 1869, with a repertory company playing Shakespeare. Booth excelled in Shakespearean parts, especially Hamlet. — The Modern World Encyclopaedia (sic).
NOTES: Directing debut of screenwriter Philip Dunne. Film debut of Broadway's Eva Le Gallienne. Negative cost: $3 million. Thanks to the local popularity of both CinemaScope and Richard Burton, "Prince of Players" took reasonable money in Australia, but it flopped badly everywhere else.
COMMENT: Expansively produced by Philip Dunne but directed in a somewhat leaden fashion by that same Dunne, "Prince of Players" in its present form is something of a chore to sit through. It would certainly be more entertaining with about 20 minutes of judicious trimming — not of the theatrical representations but of both Burton and the inadequate Derek off-stage. Miss McNamara is also somewhat out of her depth. The resulting film would undoubtedly be top-heavy with Shakespeare, but at least it would move with reasonable rapidity from one grand theatrical set-piece to the next.
Meticulous craftsmanship in all departments reveal the studio style at its zenith. The CinemaScope screen is well utilized.
OTHER VIEWS: I must confess that on the sound stage I was completely captured by Richard's performance in every scene, and I believed we were making a great picture. Yet, when I went to the projection room at night to see the rushes, I would go into a state of virtual shock. Richard's personal magnetism, his magnificent voice, his handsomeness simply were not there. They were not on the screen, whether he was playing Hamlet, Richard III, or Edwin Booth. Yet I knew I had seen those characters, with my own eyes, on the set. So I'd go back the next morning and try it again. Richard would once more enthrall, not only me, but everyone on the sound stage. But somehow, it did not transfer on camera. I did not understand it then, and I am still mystified by it.
I know what the result was, however. The picture, while it was praised by the critics, was a complete box-office failure. Hollywood, in its usual fashion, made a joke of it. It proclaimed "The Prince of Players" as "the first flop in CinemaScope". — Philip Dunne.