Based on the novel by Thomas B. Costain (author of The Silver Chalice, filmed in 1954), The Black Rose followed the same basic storyline of a young man who's lost his name, family fortune, and social stature, and as an outlaw, struggles to reclaim it all with a few globe-trotting adventures thrown in for colour, excitement, and physical tests from which Our Hero emerges a better, wiser, stronger man.
Certainly one truism of Fox' Tyrone Power DVD wave is how the studio either sought out novels or reworked them into familiar narratives to suit high-profile projects, such as The Mark of Zorro, Son of Fury, Prince of Foxes, and Captain from Castile – titles that served Tyrone Power quite well, but as the template was cosmetically updated, it obviously didn't give the actor much to play with in each subsequent round.
Power plays Walter of Gurnie, a young Saxon snot who returns from good schooling and discovers the family fortune's been diluted, and he's obliged to serve King Edward (Michael Rennie), a Norman ruler whom he detests in spite of the king's obvious efforts to form a ‘united kingdom' among English territories, and while Power gives his best as Gurnie, he's far too old as a fresh-faced college grad.
Even Jack Hawkins (then close to 40) is miscast as his youthful buddy, though the actor's charm and stentorian voice at least match his character's nature as a man of hard, if not impulsive action: when Hawkins disregards Power's warnings not brashly enter an archery contest, you've no doubt the actor will indeed show the infidels who make up Bayan's posse that the English longbow will indeed kick some mighty Mongolian ass.
Jack Cardiff's cinematography is breathtaking, and does much more than show off the gorgeous North African locations the production exploited to upgrade what's really just a hybrid of the Adventures of Robin Hood, King Solomon's Mines, and Marco Polo rolled into one fast-paced adventure yarn.
There's plenty of cliffhangers, brutality, and exotica, but Cardiff 's visual style really demonstrates how the rigid Technicolor rules for colour cinematography had to be ignored in order for the medium to succeed beyond the brilliant but over-stylized colour palettes used by Hollywood .
Cardiff had spent time traveling the globe, shooting colour travelogues during the forties, which undoubtedly served as a prime opportunity to observe and experiment with natural and location light; in Black Rose, he aimed for his own brand of stylized naturalism, and several sequences are jaw-dropping for the saturation of magic hour lighting (as in the concluding sequence in Cathay/China) that bathes the actors in warm, near-blazing swathes of amber), or some of the nighttime sequences (as the tent scenes with Hawkins, Power, and the film's ambiguous heroine Maryam, played by Cecile Aubry).
Ambiguous is really the only adjective suitable for Maryam, a gamine who seems to have been set up in the script as a reckless teenager Gurnie eventually falls for, once several years have elapsed, and she's now legal and free game.
The casting of eeny-weeny French actress Cecile Aubry (then 21, fresh from her debut in Henri-Georges Clouzot's Manon in 1949) may have seemed like a wise choice at the time – she's impetuous, and delivers her dialogue like a child – but there's a huge continuity gap with her over-aged suitor; one gets the impression the subtext was shifted during filming, as if the filmmakers knew Aubry photographed way too young, and their relationship was kept as platonic – or teenage infatuation at the very most – for longest time until a final clarification, so the finale makes moral sense.
Their eventual consummation still comes out of left field because Gurnie's regard for Maryam has remained as cautious as that of the audience, but if anything, the onscreen romance demonstrates the pairing of a starlet and an older leading man had been a Hollywood standard for some time; it just kind of backfired in Black Rose.
Perhaps meant to recall the chemistry from Prince of Foxes, Orson Welles returns (rounder, with his stocky physique now a thing of the past) as Power's leading foe, and though Welles may have taken the role to help finance his own ventures and interests, he dove into the character of the brutal Mongolian conqueror with obvious delight; the scenes between Welles, Hawkins, and Power are the most kinetic, and definitely enliven the mismatched friendship between a severe man and two runaways in search of fame, fortune, and action.
Other cast members in clichéd ethnic roles include Robert Blake (hardly North African, but the grease paint helps) as the servant boy annoyed by Maryam's presence, Herbert Lom as a local bigwig with criminal contacts, and overdubbed Alfonso Bedoya (Treasure of the Sierra Madre) as a Chinese official.
Fox' transfer is taken from a clean print, and while less sharp in fine details, Cardiff 's cinematography still glows from the screen. Also of note is Richard Addinsell's score, which avoids the romanticism and overt exoticism a lesser composer would've indulged in. (Like prior DVDs in this Tyrone Power wave, the Spanish and French dub tracks replace a lot of original cues with stock music, including clichéd, pseudo-Chinese cuts for scenes in the film's most bizarre plot point in ancient Cathay/China.)
The extras are more sparing on this DVD, but include “Tyrone Power: Family Reunion” which gathers siblings Tyrone Power IV, Taryn Power-Deer (Cocoon), Romina Power, and Power's former wife Linda Christian (perhaps best-known as the first actress to appear in a James Bond adaptation – the 1954 teleplay of Casino Royale).
It's a straightforward two-camera setup that captures an informal discussion of Power's career, impact, and legacy, and each discussion is bracketed by a short title card. Most of the observations echo similar thoughts on Power's startling looks and ignored acting abilities, though the most compelling moments deal with the kids who each have faint, blurry memories of their father, and the disconnect from growing up with the surviving images and memories of people who knew Power as an adult.
Fox' also added a handy feature to the original press book that was sent to theatre managers: one can access transcribed text, and legible close-ups of vintage, overblown publicity pap, plus stills from the scanned booklet.
Director Henry Hathaway would later re-team with Power in Rawhide (1951), after having already directed the actor in Johnny Apollo and Brigham Young (both 1940). Cecile Aubry would return to Europe and make a handful of film appearances, including Barbe-Bleue / Bluebeard (1951) before turning to TV.
This title is available separately and as part of the Tyrone Power Collection, which includes Blood and Sand (1941), Son of Fury (1942), Captain from Castile (1947), Prince of Foxes (1949), and The Black Rose (1950).
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan