Thursday, April 3, 2008
It Came From the Forgotten Filmography Fridays 3
Prince of Foxes (dir. Henry King, 1949)
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
“One of the most passionate dramas of all time!”
Brief Synopsis: Tyrone Power, Orson Welles, Wanda Hendrix, action, swashbuckling, intrigue, Renaissance Venice, love, betrayal, “One of the most passionate dramas of all time!”
This week’s It Came From the Forgotten Filmography Fridays is a big studio release from the end of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Prince of Foxes. For those not totally aware of the history, this is a very interesting time for film, after the Second World War but before the decline from the 60s related to television (and bloated productions like Cleopatra [Mankiewicz, 1963]) to early-70s (when a lot of the big name directors of today got their starts.) What drew this film for me was Orson Welles circa 1950, when he was at the peak of his game. As an actor, this film comes around his work in The Lady from Shanghai (Welles, 1947.) This also predates the bloated, later, Welles who has his own particular appeal (like in A Touch of Evil [Welles, 1958]). I’m a huge fan of Welles, as most film people are, but add to that some swashbuckling and adventure, and, well, I’m already sold.
The tagline is a little hyperbolic: “One of the most passionate dramas of all time!” Wow. Take that in for a moment.
The story takes place in Renaissance Italy in 1500 during the time of the Borgias, and was shot in black and white (meaning it was not meant to be a big picture despite some pretty big name draws.) The opening says every shot, interior and exterior was shot on location, if possible in the actual locations. This is CHC (Classical Hollywood Cinema) at its CHC-iest.
Tyrone Power is Capt. Orcini, the dashing protagonist who is “Quick at deceit as a fox, grace of a dancer, wrist of an assassin, with little regard for good faith” Orcini is more a fox than his master knows, a conning bandit prince. Orson Welles is the antagonist, in transition to his portly bearded period as Duke Borgias, desiring to unify Italy under his rule.
Welles is, as always, a fairly amazing actor, especially playing these grandiose, larger-than-life characters. His villains often seem the heroes of their own narratives, as often as his heroes seem the villains of others. Welles description of the Prince of Foxes he needs in the opening is quite amazingly well written. The script, penned by Milton Krims, is full of witty wordplay and swashbuckling action. Although far from naturalistic, the dialogue is extremely compelling (this almost is turning into a Screenwriting 101. That should be the last I mention the writing.)
The lighting is fairly drab, perhaps coming from using these natural locations. The costumes and production design though, seem pretty decent, and the camerawork and direction is good, if traditional in the sense of the craftsmanship that comes from these anti-auteurs in this studio period.
We get a whirlwind look through Italy, from Venice, to Ferrara. Many of the locales are very beautiful, but oftentimes, the focus seems more on Tyrone Power actually being in these locales than it is the locale (this is especially true in Venice.)
Repeatedly, the discussion regards “the end justifying the means,” of course, as our hero falls in love with the beautiful Lady Camilla Verano (Wanda Hendrix,) he begins questioning that idea, especially as he betrays his master in favor of her. The story goes into somewhat predictable military action after that, and setting up the Orcino/Verano relationship with the death of the husband. It all falls into place neatly, with “there’s no honor in deceit.” Very neatly.
This is exactly my reasoning why this column exists: to find good movies nobody’s ever heard of. This isn’t great, it won’t change your life, but it’s a solidly good film. B+.