“Cesare or Nothing – The Die is Cast” - Orson Welles' humble Borgian motto.
After starring in The Captain from Castile, Tyrone Power strayed a bit from the grand plan set out by Fox Czar Darryl Zanuck and made a pair of comedies before returning to the period action hero archetype he fitted so ebulliently.
Following Castile, Prince of the Foxes was the second novel by Samuel Shellabarger the studio flipped into a film, and while less epic in scope (no globe-trotting here), the story still gave audiences solid moments of superbly crafted action in some stirring combat and battle scenes, and a nasty villain named Cesare Borgia (played with dribbling glee by Orson Welles).
Power's magnetism and talent notwithstanding, Fox' mining of its own back catalogue on DVD is slowly reminding audiences of Henry King's skill as a top director. With over a hundred films in his C.V. (including silents), King remained one of the studio's leading directors for decades, and though he worked with superb cinematographers, his films consistently show a dramatic visual style that maximizes elements within a single shot, plus a knack for crafting kinetic action scenes – particularly the storming of the fortress at the end of the film. (A few close-ups in the film's first third admittedly feel rather Wellesian, but King often recognized the dramatic impact of the close-up and holding on an actor's face.)
The script isn't wholly outstanding, and the story contains some very generous allowances (particularly Everett Sloane's vacillating leanings and allegiances when his intro scene makes it clear he's a lethal scoundrel never to be trusted), but the picture really comes alive when Welles, as Cesare Borgia, delivers his lines with acidic arrogance, and eyes that flip from docility to sociopathic rage. (Welles also delivers a naughty allusion to ‘shafts' - one of a few blatant double-entendres that managed to slip past censors.)
Wanda Hendrix is a bit young for her role, but the screenwriters early on establish her marriage to her septuagenarian Count (played by Felix Aylmer) and use their relationship to heighten Power's increasing hunger for the waifish creature, and his maturing into a less wily, selfish fox because of true luv and a higher moral calling.
In the Tyrone Power featurette included on Fox' Son of Fury DVD, Power apparently begged Zanuck to shoot the film in Technicolor, but the black & white photography definitely darkens the tone of the film and steers it away from the more frothy costume romp Alfred Newman's score clearly conveys. Newman's music is still lively, romantic, and elegant, but fans will no doubt hear some re-workings of prior scores. Curiously, the main theme, in its most elongated and dramatic form with strings, really sounds like the main theme composed a few years later for Island in the Sky (1953) by Emil Newman and Hugo Friedhofer.
The locations in Italy, including a gilded Venice and mountainous castle location, are stunning, and Leon Shamroy's photography really exploits the beauty of giant halls, castles, and churches (though the location dialogue in the final sound mix is a bit muddy and echoey at times).
The original mono mix hasn't aged as well – it's shrilling in the highs, and dialogue levels are a bit rough in spots – but similar to Fox' Son of Fury and the Castile DVDs, Newman's score has been isolated on a separate track, and as a special bonus, contains the true stereo remixes used for the 2000 soundtrack CD from Film Score Monthly, plus additional score and source cues from a surviving music & effects mix not used for the CD. (That CD also includes some excellent liner notes, offering a good production overview of the film.)
Note: like the Spanish dub track that accompanies the Fury DVD, Newman's score is barely used, and has been replaced either with swathes of silence, or completely different cues.
Rome also proved helpful in augmenting Tyrone Power's real-life marriage to a fairy tale event for Fox' Movietone news cameras (included on the DVD). The Advertising Gallery also includes quite a mix of campaign art, and amid the formal colour and black & white posters is a tongue-in-cheek poster with a dagger-pointing Welles smirking like a scoundrel; and a caricature poster of the entire cast & crew, led by a completely grotesque, pointy-eared image of longtime Mercury Theatre alumnus Everett Sloan.
This title is available separately, and as part of the Tyrone Power Swashbuckler 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