Release Date: May 8, 1940
April 13, 1940; By B. R. Crisler
The strange career of Johnny Apollo at the Roxy is one that could only have been born in the brain of a busy screen writer, who reads only the headlines in the newspapers, but for some odd reason the way it works out on celluloid is surprisingly pat. For, after all, why shouldn't a millionaire college boy, a popular stroke, or something, for one of the great universities, be able, to hold how own in the underworld where (to paraphrase a British poet) "there ain't no bloomin' code, and a man can use a little class on the side"? The spectacle of Tyrone Power turning gangster for philosophical reasons (he is the son of a convicted Wall Street broker whose fashionable friends forsake him) will be a familiar one to those who saw Jesse James, in which he took up highway robbery through opposition to that industrial octopus, the railroad.
Certainly there is no denying that Mr. Zanuck and his auctorial and directorial cohorts have taken this perhaps at fist blush unpromising idea and turned it into a crackling melodrama, in which the only slow moments arrive when Dorothy Lamour sings sad songs is a get-up which demi-mondaines discarded back in the Seventies. Otherwise it is one prolonged symphony of socks in the jaw, subpoenas in night clubs, jail breaks and one flash of a penitentiary newspaper with a gossip column heading which we shall never forget: "Stir-Tistics." The man responsible for this happy journalistic invention must also have had a hand in the screen play, which abounds with cute twists and modernized devices for making an ancient melodrama palatable. And when the invention fails there is toujours Lamour.
The picture has other virtues than its productional importance, virtues which include a welcome stream-lined prison set. Primarily, we should list the excellent journey-man direction of Henry Hathaway; the acting of Mr. Power, who maintains a nice balance between Harvard and the Tenderloin, and a felicitous stroke of casting which has placed Edward Arnold, the tergiversating tycoon, and Lionel Atwill, his strictly Groton lawyer, opposite each other in a duel of commanding presences. Lloyd Nolan is the mobster with whom Tyrone decides to tie up, after he leaves school, in a snobbish huff at the sources of his father's wealth, and Charley Grapewin, a really learned gentleman, with a taste for Shakespeare and law books as well as for Scotch comically mixed with milk, is refreshingly novel as the criminal mouthpiece. On the whole, Johnny Apollo is no classic Belvedere, but he is a very amusing gentleman-gangster.
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April 17, 1940; By B. R. Crisler
With Tyrone Power and Dorothy Lamour for the marquee, and a good supporting cast, notable Edward Arnold, Lloyd Nolan and Charley Grapewin, this combo underworld-prison meller will do all right at the box offices. It's a slight switch on the usual pattern, and because of that takes on extra values.
Casting Power as a mobster with a college degree isn't as incongruous as making his a Jesse James, and, what's more, he carries off the assignment quite well.
Basic premise-his embezzling father being sent to the Big House-is a page from the headlines. When Edward Arnold starts paying his debt to society (a five-year stretch) in a manly manner, he wins the respect of the other inmates plus the prison guards. Unbeknownst, through circumstance, his son, from a college oarsman has turned muscle-man in Lloyd Nolan's mob, and subsequently, both inmated in prison, is charged with attempted murder of his father during an abortive prison-break.
Melodramatic evolution sees the son abandoning his family name for that of Johnny Apollo. Miss Lamour is in and out of the proceedings as Nolan's moll, but stuck on Apollo. She's also a gal with lots of perspicacity and somewhat noble standards behind her soiled-dove assignment. But she should really get peeved at being given that corny early-Steve Brodie sartorial getup, even thought it's supposedly part of a 'Nickels and Dimes' song-and-dance sequence. In the main she looks very Helen Morgan is a new coiff and sans sarong. She is cast as quondam song star of the nitery that backgrounds Nolan's dubious activities.
Charley Grapewin is their scotch-and-milk tipling mouthpiece, turning in a good characterization amidst a script that becomes confusing betimes. Grapewin frequently gives the impression of bewilderment, because of this, but in toto it is reasonably well held together. Marc Lawrence, as a scowling mobster and Harry Rosenthal, playing himself, at the Steinway, are other cat prominents.
One other song more or less a thematic for the romantic buildup, is "This is the Beginning of the End" (Mack Gordon), which already evidences promise and hence should reflect value for the film.
Murder with an icepick; plotting a prison-break; absence of the guard during visiting hours; free access to daily newspapers while in prison, and the like, may be food for captious comment, either on production code or technical niceties. But under the broad latitude of melodramatic license these details do not impair the proceedings much, one way or the other.
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Release Date: August 27, 1940
August 28, 1940; Herb.
Brigham Young is Darryl Zanuck's entry for an outstanding picture of the year. It's a big picture in every respect, and will click heavily at the nation's boxoffices for top show biz and holdovers. Taking the favorable factual aspects of the trek of Mormons to the west, and combining them with well-concocted fictional ingredients, picture emerges as one of the epic filmizations of early American history.
In displaying the fortitude of the pioneers who opened up the west, Brigham Young is similar in dramatic texture to The Covered Wagon, and has been produced on a larger scale than the latter. This factor alone insures big b.o. results in all runs.
There's dramatic power in the persecution of the Mormons in their settlement at Nauvoo, Ill.; the conviction and murder of Joseph Smith the resultant decision of Brigham Young to lead his flock across the plains to their eventual home on the shores of Salt Lake. Adversity hits the entourage at every turn, but, despite recalcitrance in the ranks, Young commands attention with a most dominating personality. The Mormon caravan stops at Council Bluffs and Fort Bridge along the trail, and the site of the future home of the sect is determined by Young in a vision of the valley stretching out before the pioneers. Establishment of Salt Lake City is beset with difficulties, with food hoarding necessary during the first devastating winter. The invasion of locusts to initiate the destruction of needed crops, with the timely arrival of flocks of seagulls to wipe out the pests, is most vividly depicted.
Through it all runs a minor romance between Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell; and a more important impress of man and wife on the parts of Young (Dean Jagger) and his first and favorite spouse, Mary Ann (Mary Astor). Latter is decidedly sympathetic and carries prominent appeal as standing solidly behind the leader through adversity, convincing him of the rightness of his leadership, even though he questions his own judgement. Setup makes for strongest form of woman appeal.
Production handles the matter of polygamy delicately and smartly. The multiple-wives edict of the period is not evaded, but is still so buried that few will even be apparent of its existence in the picture's unfolding. Only once does it flare up prominently in the dialog for a brief instance.
The pioneering spirit of the Americans of the century ago is depicted with both strength and vigor. There's a dramatic pleas for religious tolerance that applies to current conditions, and the rigors of the Mormons, in embarking on the hazardous journey across the plains to finally set up their own community are forcibly depicted. Although the story has its premise on the permanent establishment of the Mormon church, the basic preachments of free religious worship in this country are prominently expounded.
Picture discloses Dean Jagger, who portrays Brigham Yong, as a potential starring material. Player had previous experience in Hollywood with discouraging results, and returned to the eastern stage. His ability cannot be discounted, and he brings to the character of the Mormon leader a personable humaness and sympathy that will be long remembered. Miss Astor turns in one of the finest performances of her career as the understanding wife who stands by and counsels her husband through his periods of misgiving. Power and Miss Darnell are overshadowed by the above twain.
In keeping with the epic status of the production, supporting cast is of high merit. There's Jane Darwell, mother of Power, who makes the supreme sacrifice of the western journey; Brian Donlevy, who tries to displace Young as leader of the flock: two-gun scout John Carradine, and Vincent Price as the founder, Joseph Smith.
Henry Hathaway's direction is top-notch and highlights much incident along the way of the expansive panoramas of country and the endless wagon train wending its way across country. Hathaway never allows the intimacy of his main story to be overshadowed by the massiveness of the caravan or the hordes of people used in big scenes of the production. Lamar Trotti executed a slick script form the Louis Bromfield story of early Mormon adventures. Photography by Arthur Miller is outstanding, and prints in preview carries amber toning to accentuate the camera work. Fred Sersen's composition of the descent of the seagulls on the crickets is one of the best examples of special effects in some time.
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September 21, 1940; By Bosley Crowther
With a great deal more solemnity and respect than was generally accorded him by his contemporaries, Twentieth Century-Fox has pictured for prosperity and epic phase in the life Brigham Young Frontiersman and in the film of that name, which arrived at the Roxy yesterday, has cast in his true heroic mold this most famous of Mormon elders. The Mosaic rather than the more familiar sultanic aspect of this life has been reverently treated upon by the great leaders' screen biographers, and the fervor of his high moral convictions has been insistently stressed throughout.
Reluctantly, then, we must state that the picture is much more tedious than Brighams' life must have been. Certainly there was more excitement and general liveliness in a community overrun with plural wives (not to mention mothers-in-law) than is indicted in the film. For pretty close to two hours the picture rumbles ponderously across the screen, groaning under the weight of much patient suffering on the part of all. And, in spite of its studied effort to point a parallel between the wanderings of the oft-oppressed Mormons and the children of Israel, it all boils down to just another heavy and conventional covered-wagon trek film, in which by (you'll hardly believe it) Tyrone Power plays an incidental role(!)
The story commands with the tribulations of Joseph Smith and his stalwart band of Mormon saints at Nauvoo, Ill., and impressively portrays in its early sequences the courageous devotion of these people to their faith despite the whips and scorn of their neighbors. After the dramatically moving death of Smith, however, and the arbitrary acceptance of leadership of Brigham Young, it starts off on the long and monotonous haul by wagon train to Salt Lake, pausing here and there while the people sullenly agitate and Brigham communes with his soul. And, finally, upon reaching the promised land it settles down for a grim, famine-stricken Winter, then ends with a climactic sequence in which a swarm of crickets, which threatens to eat up all the Spring wheat, is miraculously devoured by a ravenous flock of seagulls. Thus is the settlement saved and Brigham divinely vindicated. (this latter event, incidentally, is historically accurate, in the main, and is not just a Hollywood "miracle.") .
Considering the restrictions imposed by a heavy story and slow direction, the cast does uniformly well. Dean Jagger, playing his first major role as Brigham, is supremely convincing-a strong, honest stubborn man impelled by an inner fire. It is his picture. Mr. Power, whose participation is that of a young Mormon zealot who has moments of doubt, is properly earnest. And Mary Astor, Vincent Price Brian Donlevy, John Carradine and Linda Darnell are all good Mormons in their respective ways. .
The absence of any more than casual reference to matrimonial matters and the singular uxorial devotion of Brigham to his No. 1 wife, Miss Astor, is an obvious Hays office compulsion. One or two vague little ladies, such as Jean Rogers, in the background sort of pique one's curiosity, though. It's too bad that Brigham Young Frontiersman had to be so monog-we mean, monotonous.
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The Mark of Zorro
Release Date: November 1, 1940
November 4, 1940; By Bosley Crowther
It has been just twenty years since the late Douglas Fairbanks, in all his glory, was thundering across the screens of the land, flashing an evil blade and boldly inscribing jagged Z's upon all and sundry in The Mark of Zorro. Yes twenty long years it has been, and we who were young then have grown older, and many who weren't even born are now financially responsible movie-goers. So Twentieth Century Fox reasoned wisely when it decided to remake this romantic thriller, this fabulous cinematic gasconade.
And the result, which was made apparent at the Roxy on Saturday, is a sufficient facsimile of its antecedent to assure much old-time excitement among the customers.
Of course, there is this to be considered: Your regular movie-goer of late has become more or less blase over the doings of various Lone Ranges and heroes of the Masked Marvel stamp. So there may not be quite the same old punch that there was twenty years ago in this story of the dashing young Spaniard who rode mysteriously through the night, in California around 1820, performing great deeds of daring with reckless impudence in order to rid the land of a cruelly oppressive tyrant-this same young fellow, incidentally posing deceptively as a languid popinjay between forays.
And, too, we are bound to state that Tyrone Power is no Douglas Fairbanks, and any resemblance which he may bear to his late predecessor in the title role is purely coincidental. Mr. Fairbanks, we can tell you, was really something to see-a swashbuckler who swashed with magnificent arrogance and swished, when required, with great elan. Mr. Power rather overdoes the swishing, and his swash is more beautiful than bold. Neither does he vault about with the athletic ease of a proper Zorro. And a Zorro without at least one leap from a balcony to the back of a running horse, is gravely suspected by us.
But, for all that, director Rouben Mamoulian has kept the picture in the spirit of romantic make believe, with a lot of elegant trifling, some highly fantastic fights and flights, and one jim-dandy duels between Mr. Power and the villainous Basil Rathbone, which ends about as juicily as any one could wish. Once or twice, it is true, there creeps in a note of seriousness, as though Mr. Mamoulian or some one were sincerely concerned about the poor oppressed peons. But mostly it bounds along at a lively, exciting clip, the way all extravagant fictions should. It is played by an excellent cast of expansive actors, including J. Edward Bromberg, Gale Sondergaard, and, of course Mr. Rathbone. And it has the proper look of spectacle. All right, then, we accede. Sergeant, turn out the guard! Zorro-or perhaps his grandson-is somewhere on the grounds-again.
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**** (out of 5)
THE MOTION PICTURE GUIDE; Jay Robert Nash & Stanley Raph Ross
A smashing swashbuckler, the finest of the many Zorro films, this remarkable film owes everything to its inventive and action-minded director Mamoulian. This was Fox's answer to Warner Bros.' THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. Power is marvelous as the fop by day and brave avenger by night. [He] cuts a stylish and convincing Zorro, vigorously playing the brilliant swordsman, although his more strenuous routines are performed by stunt double Albert Cavens. Mamoulian cleverly cuts in and out of his terse scenes to suggest more action than really occurs, maintaining an exciting pace. The final deadly confrontation between Rathbone and Power is a magnificent and thrilling duel no less exciting than the final contretemps between Errol Flynn and Rathbone in The Adventures of Robin Hood......
"....There were other Zorros, even Yakima Cannut, the great stuntman, playing the role in 1937 in Zorro Rides Again. Frank Langella had a swipe at the dashing role in 1974, but none would ever equal Power's role; he looked and acted like a man who could, with bold acts and brave heart, change the course of history. And, of course, for the burgeoning coffers of Fox, he did."
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Nov. 6, 1940; Walt.
Twenty years ago Douglas Fairbanks started his series of fantastic historical super-spectacles with The Mark of Zorro , a tale of early California under Spanish rule, adapted from Johnston McCulley's story, The Curse of Capistrano. In presenting the remake of Fairbanks' original picture, 20th-Fox inducts Tyrone Power into the lead spot and invests the present offering with some surefire audience ingredients. Combo of original title and Power for marquee dressing insures healthy grosses in the regular runs, although holdovers will be the exception rather than the rule.
The colorful background, detailing Los Angeles as little more than a pueblo settlement under the Spanish flag, is utilized for some thrilling melodramatics unfolded at a consistently rapid pace. Picture consumes a third of its footage in setting the characters and period, and in the early portion drags considerably. But once it gets up steam it rolls along with plenty of action and, despite its obvious formula of hooded Robin Hood who terrorizes the tax-biting officials of the district to finally triumph for the peons and caballeros, picture holds plenty of entertainment for general audiences.
Power is no prototype of the original Fairbanks. But, fortunately, neither the script not direction forces him to any close comparison. He's plenty heroic and sincere in his mission, and delays long enough en route for some romantic interludes with the beauteous Linda Darnell. But overall, it'S a fanciful character done up in a neat enough package to hit public fancy for god biz.
After an extensive education in the Spanish army in Madrid, Power returns to California to find his father displaced as Alcalde of Los Angeles by thieving J. Edward Bromberg. Latter, with aid of post captain Basil Rathbone and his command, terrorizes the district and piles on burdensome taxes. Power embarks on a one-man Robinhoodian campaign of wild riding and rapier-wielding to clean up the situation and restore his father to his rightful position. And there's a sweet romance with Miss Dranell, niece of Bromberg, who is unsympathetic to his policies.
Supporting Power in the starring spot is a competent cast, with Rathbone and Bromberg particularly effective as the villainous officials. Miss Darnell is sweet and lovely as the virginal miss who falls in love with Power on sight. Eugene Pallette is a fat and friendly padre, and Gale Sondergaard is Bromberg's flirtatious wife. Montagu Love and Janet Beecher are Power's parents.
Picture displays plenty of color of the period, in addition to wild riding and numerous hair-breadth escapes by Power. Sword duel between Power and Rathbone, running abut two minutes, is one of the most spectacular ever staged, and a melodramatic highlight.
Production mounting is A grade all through, with camera work by Arthur Miller of consistently high standard.
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**** (out of 5)
THE MOTION PICTURE GUIDE; Jay Robert Nash & Stanley Raph Ross
Review by Harvey O'Brien M.A. copyright 1999.
Twentieth Century Fox's response to the Warner Bros. megahit The Adventures of Robin Hood is a remake of the 1920 swashbuckler with Douglas Fairbanks Snr. (from Johnston McCulley's original story). A young Californian nobleman returns from Spain to find the people oppressed and terrified by Governor J. Edward Bromberg and right hand man Basil Rathbone. Adopting the manner of a harmless fop to bewilder his would-be enemies, he crusades for justice in private as the masked hero Zorro: the fox. Meanwhile he pursues a romance with Linda Darnell, daughter of the Governor, who is in love with Zorro but repulsed by his alter-ego.
A clear inspiration for Bob Kane's Batman, Rouben Mamoulian's take on the venerable hero is generally lively and entertaining, though it promises more than it finally delivers. After a wonderful opening training montage (featuring rows of young men fencing in time with Alfred Newman's Oscar-nominated score), and a nice build up which establishes the essential theme of social justice which motivates the action which follows, the film slows down somewhat in the romantic scenes before rising to a series of enjoyable action moments (including a wonderful duel between Power and Rathbone) which conclude the narrative.
Power is quite effective in the lead, playing both sides of his character with equal relish. His opposition is somewhat unsteady, with Bromberg oscillating between buffon and meglomaniac and Rathbone nicely chilling but underused. There is an amusing turn by Eugene Palette as a sympathetic Padre (who even has a brief swordfight), and Darnell aquits herself well as the love interest.
The film is often too close to Robin Hood for comfort though, and a certain amount of the flavour of ethnic Zorro is absent. The character actually abandons his familiar all-black garb before the climax, and fights the final battles as a generic swashbuckling hero, which is a curious point of interest. It does manage to suggest the importance of a proper moral basis for heroic action however, and Power looks well when he does don the mask. It may not be the best version of the tale seen on screen, but is entertaining and maintains a square-jawed heroism which was especially relevant in the political climate in which the film was made.
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Jul 11 '00
BY BRIAN KOLLER
Author's Product Rating: FOUR OUT OF FIVE STARS
Pros: direction, script, casting
Cons: story has formulaic elements
Full Review Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot
When you discuss the actor Tyrone Power, you really have to specify which one. There are five generations of actors named Tyrone Power, including the grandfather, father, son and grandson of the most famous among them. ...............Perhaps his best role was in The Mark of Zorro (1940). Well directed and having a script full of memorable lines, the remake was actually an improvement over the 1920 silent classic. Douglas Fairbanks Sr., a notoriously hammy actor, may have been more fun when playing the perpetually fatigued, handkerchief-clad Don Diego. But Tyrone Power had no equal as Zorro, who was Spanish Southern California's answer to Robin Hood.
But as only the audience knows, the effeminate dandy Don Diego is also the masked avenger Zorro. Diego has been enjoying the privileged life of a cavalryman in early nineteenth century Spain. But he is recalled to Los Angeles by his father Don Alejandro (Montagu Love), who has been deposed as alcalde (or mayor) by greedy, buffoonish Don Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg).
The power behind Quintero is Captain Pasquale (Basil Rathbone), a former fencing instructor whose cruelty has led to a repressive regime. Pasquale is not only extorting from Quintero, but also apparently dallying with his wife, shallow socialite Inez (Gale Sondergaard). For some reason, Pasquale prefers Inez to her lovely, virginal daughter Lolita (Linda Darnell, in one of her first films). Of course, this leads inevitably to a romance between Diego and Lolita, who prefers to see him as Zorro.
Diego acts like a fop to allay the suspicions of Pasquale and Quintero. He dresses up as Zorro not only for dramatic effect, but to coerce Quintero into retirement in favor of his predecessor Don Alejandro. Of course, this leads inevitably to a stirring sword duel between Diego and Pasquale. But the direction and script are more than strong enough to overcome the familiar formula of the story.
Early Los Angeles society appears to be rigid in its class hierarchy. Aside from the occasional tavern owner, soldier or priest, there are really only two classes. Peons are impoverished Indian farmers, beaten cruelly and taxed to starvation by the alcalde. Much better off are the caballeros, who are aristocratic land owners whose ancestors come from Spain.
The character Zorro (which is Spanish for 'fox') was introduced in the novel "The Curse of Capistrano", by Johnston McCulley. While the story remains largely faithful to the Fairbanks adaptation of the novel, the casting has been inspired by a different film, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). In that film as well, Rathbone played the villainous right hand man, and Eugene Pallette played a warrior friar. (Pallette's curious deep voice cast him as a sympathetic comic relief character in many a film from the 1930s and 1940s.)
Errol Flynn as Robin Hood had set the standard for a romantic, swashbuckling film hero. Power, fortunately, was up to the challenge. He also makes for a better Zorro than the many successors who have donned the black cape. Antonio Banderas had a summer box office hit in The Mask of Zorro a few years back, but he was upstaged by the presence of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins. We won't discuss George Hamilton's 'gay' Zorro, or the Disney and Family Channel series that were targeted to pre-teenagers. (74/100)
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"At-A-Glance Film Reviews"
Reviews and Comments
The 1940 Tyrone Power version of The Mark of Zorro matches 1998's The Mask of Zorro as the best of the Zorro films; which you prefer will probably depend more on your preference of forties vs. nineties filmmaking styles. At any rate, The Mark of Zorro is a fantastic swashbuckling adventure story with an intelligent story, believable characters, and plenty of furious action scenes. The swordfights are fast-paced and credible; the villain is the deliciously evil Basil Rathbone, who reprises the same kind of character he played in The Adventures of Robin Hood two years earlier.
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WHAT'S BEHIND THE MARK? SUBTREFUGE AND DECEPTION IN "THE MARK OF ZORRO"
Julian Savage is a Melbourne based artist, filmmaker and writer.
As the title page informs us, The Mark of Zorro is set during an idyllic epoch when 'the Spanish encompassed the globe and young blades were taught the fine and fashionable art of killing'!
When we first meet Diego de Vega (Zorro) he is 'The Californian Cockerel', a commissioned officer in the Spanish cavalry in Madrid, dividing his time between courting young senoritas and fighting duels. He displays the affectations of his position, festooned in elaborately decorated uniforms and attended by a number of valets. On his father's bequest Diego is forced to resign his commission and return to the country of his birth. Sharing a final drink with his fellow officers, they question him about his immanent departure. Asks one, 'Are the Indians troublesome?' 'No', he answers, 'California is a land of gentle missions, happy peons and sleepy caballeros (1), where a man can only marry, raise fat children and watch his vineyards grow'. Surely there has never been articulated a more rose-coloured version of Spanish colonialism to obfuscate the exploitative practice of peonage.
The despicable practice of peonage, not dissimilar to European feudalism, was commonplace in the New World. Supported by the colonial government, large estates known as fincas (2) were run by caballeros or finqueros, who owned the land and maintained control over the peons (unskilled workers made up of indigenos (3) and mestizos (4), through a process of slow pauperisation and enslavement. It was largely this insidious, systemic exploitation that led to the Mexican revolution.
Nevertheless it is to the 'land of gentle missions' that Diego returns when he sets sail from Spain. Along the way he learns that his father, Don Alejandro, the incumbent and benevolent alcalde (mayor), has been replaced by the despotic Don Luis, sending the formerly 'happy' peons into (further) abject poverty. Don Luis has raised taxes and with the venal military aid, Capitan Esteban Pasquale carrying out orders, has changed the society from one of obsequious acceptance to simmering dissent. As alcalde and nominal leader of the caballeros, Don Alejandro is the archetypal elder statesman and heads the opposition to Don Luis. However, his opposition is largely passive, as his strict adherence to the rule of law prevents him from taking direct action against Don Luis.
Recognising the complexity of the situation, and wishing to reinstate his father as alcalde, Diego is forced to create a form of active resistance whilst preserving his father's moral position. He reinvents himself as an effete aesthete, touching a lace kerchief to his brow and speaking with Don Luis' wife, Inez of fabrics, scents and the Spanish court. Conversely, the Capitan presents himself as a man of action, never without a blade in his hand, thrusting and parrying at shadows. The male weapon has never been more literally fetishised, causing the Capitan to quip, it is a 'foolish habit of mine. Some men play with a glove, a monocle or a snuffbox. Churchmen finger their beads. I toy with a sword'.
The 'new' Diego is a masterstroke. Don Luis is happy to be amused by him, as he proves to be no rival for Pasquale; and Dona Inez, a voracious social climber, is enamoured by his European sophistication. She sees in Diego her longing for the privilege of the court and the touch of a younger, more virile man. It also allows Diego to defer any association he may have with his transgressive alter ego, the masked bandit Zorro.
The plot mirrors a decidedly Robin Hood scenario. Zorro steals from Don Luis and the tax collectors, handing over the bounty to his ally, the priest Frey Felipe, to redistribute to the peons and their families. The Robin Hood comparison is well founded, especially with the 1938 film version, The Adventures of Robin Hood (starring Errol Flynn), made just two years before Zorro. Like the men of Sherwood forest, who seek to replace the evil Prince John with the absent and heroic King Richard (who is off fighting in crusades), Zorro's ultimate aim is to reinstate Don Alejandro. In a quirk of Hollywood extra textual referencing, Basil Rathbone virtually reprises his role as Guy of Gisbourne as the Capitan; while Eugene Pallette trades Friar Tuck for Frey Felipe, and even Montagu Love, who plays the moral axis, Don Alejandro, was a bishop in the first film. If there is a Maid Marion then Olivia de Havilland has been replaced as the virginal love interest by Lolita, played by Linda Darnell.
Not sufficiently occupied with liberating the masses through the Zorro persona, politically manipulating Don Luis and rivalling Capitan Pasquale for the affections of Dona Inez; Diego finds time to seduce the young niece of the Quinteros, the appropriately named Lolita. Diego initially achieves this as the unlikely 'priest in disguise' Padre Pablo, then as the foppish Diego and finally revealing himself as the dashing Zorro. Reviled by her uncle's harsh regime the impressionable Lolita is swayed by Diego's affections. In a twist of fate, Don Luis, considering a Diego/Lolita union as an 'alliance for the good of the state', betroths the two lovers. He hopes that the matrimony will appease the caballeros, believing them to be backing the Zorro insurgence, but has no idea that Diego IS Zorro.
"In order to accomplish what I set out to do," Diego tells his young bride, "I've had to deceive a great many people". Diego is a man of impulsive actions and has a penchant for role-playing that divulges a complex and fractured character. After the death of Capitan Pasquale, killed in a dazzling duel with Diego that shows director Mamoulian at the apogee of his almost balletic direction, order is re-established in the city of Los Angeles.
However, for all his rebelliousness Diego is no revolutionary. The transgressive figure of Zorro is retired as he throws away his sword and his father is reinstated as alcalde, maintaining the status quo of the exploitative social order, even if it is in this more appealing and benign form. The supposed enemy, Don Luis is given the opportunity of a face saving 'resignation', then departs for Spain. The outcome of events render the three swishes of Diego's trained blade that cut out the 'Z' for Zorro mark seem remarkably ineffectual for all the subterfuge, heroic deeds, dangerous escapades and flashy swordplay. It is in the film's final moments that Diego's transition from virtuous protagonist to symptomatic opportunist is revealed. When quizzed by Dona Inez as to when he will be returning to Spain with his new wife, Diego concedes, in reiterating the adage from earlier in the film (in this instance derision replaced with sincerity) that he only longs "to marry, raise fat children and watch his vineyards grow". Being born into a privilege status, the Zorro creation only served to perpetuate what Diego considers as his and his family's rightful place in society. Ultimately, he emerges as the model citizen for Spain's expansionist credo.
Julian Savage (2000)
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VOLUNTEER GUEST REVIEWER
CHRISTIAN SPOTLIGHT ON THE MOVIES
Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Though not the first filmed version of the Zorro story (there's a 1920 silent version starring Douglas Fairbanks), this is a well-done and enduring one. It's worth the price of a rental just to see the duel between Zorro and the chief villain.
The time-frame is the early 19th century, when California was a Spanish colony. Don Diego de la Vega (Tyrone Power), the son of the alcalde (mayor) of Los Angeles, has been educated in Spain in the fine arts of killing, and a military commission awaits him. Meanwhile, his reputation as The California Cockerel precedes him and all the young bucks want to cross swords with him (non-lethally) and see how good he really is. But when he receives a message from his father Don Alejandro (Montagu Love) to return to California at once, both the commission and the matches are forgotten.
Arriving in California, he finds a somber atmosphere rather than the gaiety he remembers. His inquiries as to the cause bring evasive answers. When he identifies himself as the son of the alcalde, people clam up and shun him because it's the alcalde's tyranny that has made their lives miserable. There's a lot of "ships passing each other in the night" misunderstanding; it doesn't occur to either Don Diego or the people he speaks with that they may not be talking about the same person.
Finally the mystery is solved. Don Alejandro was forced out of office by Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone), the ruthless personal guard of the new alcalde, Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg). Quintero is sleazy and unprincipled, but weak; Pasquale is the real power behind the throne. Diego's father and the rest of the Dons (rich, landed gentry) are upset with the new government, but they respect the rule of law and keep a low profile. The high taxes (a large portion of which are being pocketed by Quintero and Pasquale) are oppressive to the rich, but bearable. Those same taxes are a matter of life and death to the poor. But anyone who speaks up faces retribution, ranging from imprisonment to having his tongue cut out. No question in this story who the bad guys are.
As he meets with and evaluates these two vermin, a plan begins to hatch in Diego's mind. No one-not even his family-has had intimate contact with him since he began his military training; so if he takes on an alternate personality now and keeps it consistent, he should be able to convince everyone that that false persona is his real self. To Quintero and Pasquale, and later to his own father and mother, he presents himself as disinterested in or revolted by swordplay and all other "manly" pursuits. He'd rather spend time shopping with the women, discussing silks and perfume, and performing magic tricks. His father calls him "worthless", and the priest (Eugene Paulette) who first taught him the use of a sword calls him a "puppy". No one calls his fake affectations by their correct name; after all, it's 1940 and the Hays film codes are in place. But the viewer gets the idea. The purpose of this deceit is, of course, so that Diego can carry on a crusade without being a suspect.
Soon, a masked hero dressed in black, calling himself Zorro (the Fox) and carving a "Z" into any convenient surface, begins a counter-oppression campaign and publicly calls for Quintero's resignation. While Quintero cowers behind an armed guard, Pasquale does everything he can to root out this new threat to "business as usual". Things get a little complicated when Diego falls in love with Quintero's lovely niece Lolita (Linda Darnell). Another priceless scene is the one where Diego, disguised as a priest, awkwardly advises Lolita on marital questions.
Content Warnings: There's some violence, including the elaborate swordfight scene that ends in death. Also a comic-relief sequence in which the priest repeatedly says "God forgive me" while bopping Pasquale's soldiers on the head. No overt sexual material or nudity, of course. There's no profane language in English, but there are expletives such as "Madre de Dios" and "Santa Maria".
Zorro is one of a select group of "superheros" who have no supernatural powers but have honed their natural powers to perfection, and who wear a mask to strike terror into the hearts of bad guys. That group would also include Batman, The Lone Ranger and The Phantom. The Zorro character is deeply imbedded in our culture and never grows old. Besides several remakes of this film and readaptations of the underlying story, there were: five TV series; the 1998 "sequel" The Mark of Zorro starring Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas; spoofs such as Zorro, the Gay Blade starring George Hamilton; and "El Kabong", the alter ego of cartoon character Quick Draw McGraw. Even the Wal-Mart Happy Face once donned a Zorro mask and used a sword to slash prices.
People are conscious of the need for a Saviour, and there's a definite Messianic aspect to many superhero stories.
The Mark of Zorro Has Plenty of Action
Unlike most remakes, the Tyrone Power version of the late Douglas Fairbanks' The Mark of Zorro, at the Roxy, comes out exceedingly well in its talking dress
form. Whether it posses all the acrobatics the late Mr. Fairbanks gave to this story of a California grande turned Robin Hood I cannot say since I don't remember the Fairbanks film. But the new version has plenty of action and that is apparently what the public wants judging from the squeals of delight which are bouncing off the walls of the Roxy.
As a matter of fact, this story is admirably suited to the screen since it is predicated on the first essential of good movie, which is speed. Almost from the beginning Don Diego Vega's exploits on behalf of the downtrodden in Los Angeles practically burst with action. So much so that you are never given a chance to realize that the script is a bit dawdling and that is occasionally cracks under the strain. Fortunately, too, a minimum of emphasis is placed upon the romance.
Maybe Mr. Power doesn't bring as much sparkle and dash to the role of Diego as Mr. Fairbanks did but it seems to me a first rate performance of its kind. Linda Darnell is just what the heroine should be in a film like this "lovely, trusting and in the background. Basil Rathbone is just right as the cruel Pasquale and the others are as good as their opportunities will permit.
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Blood and Sand
Release Date: May 22, 1941
Academy Award Winner 1941: Ernest Palmer, Ray Rennahan, Best Color Cinematography
May 21, 1941; Walt.
Ibanez's novel of the bullfighting arena, which served as a Valentino starrer back in 1922, gets a second picturization via talkers in a Darryl Zanuck presentation of elaborate production and colorful mounting. Production investiture, combined with the marquee voltage of Tyrone Power in the top spot, assures topflight grosses as solo or headline attraction and holdover potentialities for the key runs.
Blood and Sand is associated in the memories of theater-goers as a hot and decidedly sexy piece of merchandise, chiefly because of Valentino's silent version two decades ago. Age places an over-emphasis of glamour on the subject on this respect, as the revival follows the original as a straight drama of the bullfight ring with a love triangle as main motivation. Divested of its colorful setting, the story is one of youthful romance and marriage, with the siren injecting herself to upset the proceedings when the matador becomes the toast of the country. There's a final reconciliation of the married couple at the end.
Twentieth-Fox has provided a splendid cast and plenty of negative cost in putting the tale across. Especially effective are the bullfight arena sequences, which disclose exceptional camera angles and intercutting of shots of crowds at arena in Mexico City with studio shots. All the passes and swirls in bullfighting are vividly depicted, and still there is no actual thrust of the sword at the kill to provide goriness for picture audiences.
Picture consumes 30 minutes in a prolog to establish characters 10 years before the main portion of the story. Power is a peon kid in Seville, son of a bullfighter killed in the ring, decidedly illiterate, and with a pasion for bullfighting. He has an adolescent love for Linda Darnell, and finally runs off to Madrid with a bunch of his pals. Ten years later, as a minor league matador, he returns to Seville, marries Miss Darnell and goes on to become the most famous and widely acclaimed matador of his time. Surrounded by leeches, Power is continually in debt, but happy with his wife until fascinated by sexy Rita Hayworth, socialite flame. Affair with the latter deflects his work in the ring, and he falls from public favor. Wife leaves hi, but returns for his comeback trial after he splits with Miss Hayworth. Brilliant success in ring is dimmed by an accident after public acclaim in which he is killed. While on his deathbed, Anthony Quinn is acclaimed the new hero of the crowds.
Power delivers a persuasive performance as Ibanez's hero while Miss Darnell is pretty and naive as the young wife. Miss Hayworth is excellent as the vamp, originally handled by Nita Naldi, and will catch major audience attention on a par with Nazimova, who gives a corking performance as Power's mother. John Carradine, Anthony Quinn, Laird Cregar and Lynn Bari are the most prominent in support. Monty Banks, who has been producing Gracie Fields' pictures in England the past several years, returns to Hollywood acting in semicomedic role to good advantage (using the film name of William Montague).
Several Spanish songs are included, one by Miss Hayworth when pitching romance to Power. A guitar solo by Vincente Gomez is a musical treat, despite its brevity.
Outside of the principals, and despite the lengthy running time, there's little footage for clear-cut definition of the supporting characters, and all remain rather sketchy components of the whole. Most prominent are Naish and Carradine, both of whom use Hemingwayesque dialog in their outbursts against the bullring addicts. Picture has been provided with lavish production mounting greatly enhanced by Technicolor photography which carries lesser contrast than recent color pictures and more natural tints.
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May 23, 1941; By Theodore Strongin
As if he had all the gold of the lost Spanish galleons at his disposal, Darryl Zanuck has brought to the Roxy a prodigal new version of Ibanez's Blood and Sand, opulently Technicolored, resplendently caparisoned in the gold and pink of brocades of Spain, and languid as a midafternoon such a succession of sumptuously colored stills has not dazzled Broadway in quite a while. With infinite care Rouben Mamoulian, the director, has arranged his cast in striking tableaux; lovingly the camera eye lingers on burnished candelabra, El Greco altar-pieces and rococo interiors of Spanish haciendas. In themselves they are god calendar art; as film drama they are as hopelessly static as Jo Swerling's adaptation is puerile. Most of the fancy capework in "Blood and Sand" occurs in the script.
For there is too little drams, too little blood and sand, in it. Instead the story constantly bogs down in the most atrocious romantic cliches, in an endless recital of proof that talented young bull-fighters are apt to become arrogant and successful; that Curro, the critic, will sing their praises, and that thereafter their love life becomes very complicated. "Give my back my husband!" cries demure little Linda Darnell to that glamorously sheathed cocotte Rita Hayworth. That style of tossing, not the matador, but the bull, is less than classic.
Now and again for brief moments the film takes on some of the harsh vitality it might have had. Sometimes the camera hovers for above the corrida to catch the pageantry of the entrance and later the precise dance of death between a flaring cape of scarlet and a charging bull. IN the darkness of the entry to the ring itself a door opens and the afternoon light flashes like a sword upon taut faces of waiting matadors. OR again the camera catches the frenzy of the crowd at the "moment of truth" in a woman's hand smearing lipstick across her face. These are glimpses of a stunning romantic melodrama with somber overtones.
But most of the essential cruelty of the theme is lost in pretty colors and rhetorical speeches. Tyrone Power of the dark eyes is a mighty handsome fellow in his matador's costume, but is infinitely more believable as a threat to the ladies than to bulls. Miss Darnell as the housewife seems a little young for hectic emotions, and Miss Hayworth, as the siren, doesn't. The better performances come in the lesser roles-Laird Cregar as an effeminate aficionado, J. Carrol Naish as a broken matador, John Carradine as a grumbling member of the quadrilla. For one enthralling moment Vicente Gomez, the musician, appears on the screen. If the film had only caught the barbaric pulse of Gomez's incomparable fingers at the guitar, there would be good cause for cheers. Instead it has been content for the most part to posture beautifully. This Blood and Sand has powder on its wrists.
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MOTION PICTURE GUIDE [1927 - 1983]
By Jay Robert Nash & Stanley Ralph Ross; Cinebooks, Inc. (1986)
".........The old Technicolor process is opulent in this film, one where the brilliant colors match the extravagant costumes and beautiful scenery. Director Mamoulian, who did some shooting for the film in Mexico City, saw the production as a lavish, tragic mural. "Instead of just photographing the story," he was quoted a saying, "I tried to 'paint' it." This is evident in the sets, decorations, and costumes which reflect the brilliant work of Goya, Murillo, Velasquez, and El Greco. Darnell was cast opposite Power as a continuing film lover, having played with him in THE MARK OF ZORRO. The part of the wealthy seductress, however, was another matter. Many actresses were tested for the part, including Maria Montez, the exotic Mexican beauty. According to Mamoulian, she walked into his office and immediately lifted her skirts high display a lot of leg, then gave him a sexy wink. Her screen test later proved unsatisfactory. Mamoulian and Zanuck all along wanted rising star Carole Landis to play the infamous femme fatale but when she learned that she would have to die her hair red, Landis absolutely refused. She had been building herself up as a blond bombshell and she had no intention of having a dye job that would ruin the image. Hayworth, who had been playing supporting parts up to his time tested and the part, especially for her dancing ability; there were a number of short seductive flamenco dances she had to perform in the move.
Ironically, BLOOD AND SAND catapulted Hayworth to superstar status and she was next given the lead in MY GAL SAL, a role which Landis thought she had been guaranteed. Landis would up playing a supporting part in this movie and her career never did take off much beyond starlet status. The tragic actress would commit suicide, taking an overdose of sleeping pills in 1948, after reportedly breaking up with Rex Harrison, who was then married to Lilli Palmer.
Blood and Sand was a tour de force for the handsome Power, who looked for all the world to be the expert matador he was playing; bullfighting techniques were developed for the star by Budd Boetticher, an expert on the subject who later went on to direct MAGNIFICENT MATADOR and THE BULLFIGHTER AND THE LADY. His capework was impressive but Power, who wanted to actually do his own bullfighting, was never allowed near a bull, doubles standing in for him for the close work; the studio bosses were terrified that their top star would be injured. Power's star rose even higher with the triumph of this colorful, exciting production and he was never to forget his role. In later years he would enter a favorite San Francisco saloon where the head of a bull adorned a wall over the bar. Power would always stop before the stuffed menace, salute the horns, and shout jocularly: "Hola, bull! We meet again!"
NEW YORK SUNDAY NEWS
John T. McManus
Blood and Sand Drama in Technicolor; Penny Serenade With Irene Dunne
May 23, 1941
Two good pictures opened yesterday--two pictures that could hardly have been more different from each other and yet each be well worth any audience's time. The Roxy is showing a drama of bullfighters, Blood and Sand, photographed in magnificent technicolor. The Music Hall presents a poignant comedy-drama about two very human people and the child the adopt, Penny Serenade.
Blood and Sand is the tale of Spain and of a very special side of the Spanish character. It s a tale told with bitterness and a grudging admiration of courage. Is background is a whirl of color, its story a romantic one and its characters clear-cut.
Vicente Blasco Ibanez, who wrote the novel, seems to have eyed bullfighting and its audience with fury and contempt, bullfighters and their families with pity and respect. It is a vivid world of which Ibanez tells. Here are Spaniards one can believe, children with courtly manners and suddenly fierce action, peasants and aristocrats and men who risk their lives in fighting the great black bulls each Sunday afternoon.
The bullfighting, in spite of its pageantry, looks like the stupidest as well as the most brutal of all spectacles. But Rouben Mamoulian has directed these sequences shrewdly, avoiding any sight of injury to the bulls, using symbolism freely. Men are killed as men must be when they face danger almost daily. These men knew their fate. Really the had always known it. Juan's father had beeen killed in the bullring. Juan, in spite of his boasting grew cold, with "rust in his throat," before each bullfight. Yet he knew, as did his mother, that he could never leave bullfighting. That was his life.
Blood and Sand tell of Juan and his wife and his mother and the woman who destroys him. There is constant movement in the film, the development of characters as well as the melodrama of the ring.
Mr. Mamoulian and the associate producer, Robert T. Kane, have assembled a most excellent cast. Tyrone Power, always a handsome juvenile who has done nicely in some light character roles, here proves himself a sound actor. He plays Juan, a fiery youth who grows up to be a swaggering bullfighter. He plays with conviction and with a real understanding of his character. He also thanks probably to the make-up department, looks astonishingly like a good-looking Spanish peasant.
Mr. Power is surrounded by good actors. Here is La Nazimova as the mother who can never forget her own husband's terrible death. Here are Laird Cregar as a particularly offensive critic, and Rita Hayworth as a heartless. Laughing heiress, and Linda Darnell as the gentle, frightened wife, and John Cairradine as the radical who always intended to leave bullfighting for politics.
Technicolor has a way of dimming the emotional value of scenes. Often it does so in Blood and Sand, but in itself the color is extraordinary. There is rich beauty in scene after scene, many of them striking enough to make the whole film worth while. Whenever its drama slows up, Blood and Sand relies upon visual beauty and an unusual musical score.
Blood and Sand Shown at Roxy
Tyrone Power Plays Valentino Role in Color
The New Technicolor version of Blood and Sand, at the Roxy, with Tyrone Power in the role made famous by Rudolph Valentino tells the story of a red hot Spanish momma who steals a bullfighter away from his pretty little wife.
In other words, although you had a right to expect much from Blood and Sand, you get very little. Pictorially, it is often superlative, but its tempestuous melodrama, hot off the griddle, is phony, and at times laughable.
This is due chiefly to the fact that the story fails to stimulate the emotions and because the director Rouben Mamoulian, has been more concerned with striking
compositions instead of concentrating on the lives of the people as they are affected by bullfighting and not as bullfighting is affected by these same people.
In case you don't know that story, it is all about a country boy who grows up to be a famous matador, marries his childhood sweetheart, strays from the straight and narrow path when a Madrid siren gets a toe-hold on him and finally dies from wounds amid the crowd's cheers fro his rival.
Tyrone Power gives a careful and well conceived, but entirely uninspired performance as the toreador and the supporting players range from good to bad.
Best of them are Anthony Quinn, John Carradine, J. Caroll Naish and Laird Cregar. Less successful in their efforts are Nazimova, Linda Darnell and Rita Hayworth, who play the hero's mother, wife and inamorata, respectively.
Blood and Sand [date/source unknown]
Having once attempted, with a fair degree of success, turning Tyrone Power into another Douglas Fairbanks, in The Mark of Zorro, the 20th Century Fox studios are now attempting, with what might eventually become even greater success, to turn Tyrone Power into another Rudolph Valentino. Blood and Sand, which came to the Roxy Theater yesterday, still remains one of Valentino's biggest pictures; the memory of the affairs of the bull fighter, his wife and the luscious vamp sitting up there in the box still ranks with such things as The Four Horsemen,, The Sheik and The Son of the Sheik ,among the great lover's masterpieces.
The new version of the Ibanez novel is a rich and glowing picture, all dressed up in Technicolor, filled with splendid costumes and stunning tableaux, and boasting in addition to Mr. Power, Linda Darnell as the wife, and Rita Hayworth as the girl sitting up there in the box. In its biggest scenes, it its spectacular effects, in its emphasis on color and excitement and vitality, Blood and Sand has a good many stirring moments. Certainly nothing has come along, within recent weeks to match that entrance of the bull fighters into the ring, certainly few tapestries have been woven by the screen to equal that scene in the dressing room, Mr. Power sitting enthroned on a dais, while the aficionados look on him with wonder and admiration.
Nor, when you come right down to it have there been many films within recent weeks that have the pace and passion of a Mr. Power and Miss Hayworth do in their scenes together. There is considerable reminiscence about what a luscious woman Nita Naldi was in the original version of the picture. I'll stake Miss Hayworth's form and figure against Mme. Naldis any day, and I rather imagine that the vogue of streamlining that has come into effect since 1922 lends more than its share to the present result. In short, friends, that Rita Haworth in something to look upon, and when Mr. Power looks upon her, there are fireworks and conflagrations and all manner of bursting stars. In a word, wham!
Having disposed of these credits in this new version of Blood and Sand, we can now get down to other matters. The story of the bull fighter and his illicit passion, for instance, is what the boys call right off the cob, the acting of Mr. Power himself as a bull fighter is more than a little reminiscent of a Princeton senior in the annual university
Triangle show, and the support given in so far as acting ability goes by Miss Darnell, and, for that matter, Miss Hayworth too, is little more than the old stock routine Miss Darnell being very sweet and simple and lovely, and Miss Hayworth just turning on her wham.
Eye the Target
But these are minor points in the general effect, and it's the general effect, the impact on the eye, rather than on the intellect, that Blood and Sand tries to manage. For instance, there is that first view of Mr. Power himself, his dark and tousled head lying against a rich crimson drape, there are the bullfighting costumes in which he appears in the ring, more than enough to make all the ladies in the audience swoon with desire, and there is, once again, Miss Hayworth and her wham, more than enough to make the men in the audience do precisely the same thing. Then too, there are the bull ring sequences, there is some magnificent acting by Laird Cregar as a bull fight newspaper critic, there is John Carradine, as a friend of Mr. Power's, forecasting the changes that were so shortly to take place in
Spain, and there is Alla Nazimova as Mr. Power's mother, urging him to get out of bull fighting before it is too late. These things too, must be counted among the credits in the film.
In fact, these are the very things that make Blood and Sand the rich and dynamic film it is. In their light, I shouldn't wonder that this new version will more than match the success of the old Valentino production, and offhand, I can't think of anything the 20th Century Fox studios would rather have.
Roxy's BLOOD AND SAND IN TECHNICOLOR SPLENDOR
Imagine how effective can be the sight of red blood, dripping upon white sand. Technicolor supports symbolism magnificently, and Darryl Zanuck's 20th Century-Fox unit, headed by director Rouben Mamoulian has kept the fine faith with Ibanez in the retelling of this tempestuous romance of Spain and the bullring which makes stimulating, invigorating and exceedingly eye-filling Roxy screen fare.
As to casting, one is apt to think back to Valentino, Nita Naldi and Lila Lee in the 1923 silent, black and white version, and compare them with Tyrone Power, Rita Hayworth and Linda Darnell of the current picture. Comparisons, of course, are ridiculous. No mater how fond a memory one may have of the earlier vehicle, the Mamoulian opus must be, and certainly is, a 99% improvement over its predecessor because this is a production in which performances do not count nearly as much as backgrounds, exciting locale, riot of glorious color in costume and set decoration thrilling arena sequences perfected by the wonders of modern photograph the true reason which Blood and Sand is to be reckoned as an improvement and impressive 1941 production a box office hit.
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Capsule by Dave Kehr
From the Chicago Reader
Several directors of the 80s, including Jean-Jacques Beineix and Francis Ford Coppola, could have learned something from the failure of this 1941 film by Rouben Mamoulian, which takes the old Ibanez story of a young bullfighter destroyed by a wealthy femme fatale as a premise for stunning visual effects and intimations of abstract, eternal themes. Yet, like Beineix's The Moon in the Gutter, the film is abstract in all the wrong ways: the elaborate compositions (in black and red Technicolor) serve only to draw more life from the already debilitated characters; Mamoulian's grab for eternity leaves him with a fistful of hot air. With Tyrone Power, Rita Hayworth, Linda Darnell, Nazimova, Anthony Quinn, and John Carradine; the technical adviser on the bullfight sequences was a young Budd Boetticher.
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A Yank in the R.A.F.
Release Date: September 9, 1941
September 10, 1941
No more timely production has hit release channels in several years than this picturization of a topic getting current headline attention and close public interest. Combo of title, subject, Tyrone Power's marquee voltage and general presentation assures A Yank in the R.A.F. hefty grosses and key holdovers.
Picture neatly mixes the adventures of cocky and carefree Power, former airline pilot, with the inner workings and flights of the RAF squadrons during the hectic time of the German blitz against the Low countries and France a year ago. Producer Zanuck (who also authored the original as 'Melvile Crossman') sidestepped overloading the picture with flying sequences and bombing expeditions; and, in keeping the air shots to a minimum, avoided repetition of familiar material in previous films which would have slowed the zippy pace considerably.
Air formations, RAF flying fields and maneuvers during bombing excursions, were photographed in England and are currently informative the American audiences. The evacuation of Dunkirk, with RAF fighter planes appearing to protect the action, and swarming through the skies like bees, is decidedly suspenseful in its brief presentation.
In flying a training ship to Canada, power enlists as pilot to ferry bombers to England. On his first trip, he meets former sweetheart, Betty Grable, a Texas girl performing in a nightclub and member of the ambulance reserve. Power pursues his former attention, and enlists in the RAF for fighter duty. He's bored with the necessary instruction course, and disappointed in his first leaflet-dropping flight over Berlin. After extensive footage to unfold the romantic affairs of the pair, with wing commander John Sutton edging in to make it a triangle, story zooms into the air again for bombing raids, a pancake landing in Holland amidst the invading Germans, escape and the finally excitement of the Dunkirk evacuation.
Power clicks solidly as the happy go-lucky American pilot sure of his abilities with both planes and women. He handles the role with a lightly nonchalant attitude which will catch wide audience attention. Miss Grable grooves excellently as the girl who fully realizes Power's inconsistencies, but finally breaks down. Sutton commands attention for his sterling portrayal of the third member of the triangle, while Reginald Gardiner provides a wealth of spontaneous comedy which neatly dovetails into the overall. Lesser supporting roles are competently cast.
Henry King, aided by a crackerjack script by Darrell Ware and Karl Tunberg, and exceptionally fine editing by Barbara McLean, directs to keep up a consistently fast pace for maximum audience interest. Two songs by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainge, Hi-Ya Love' and 'Another Little Dream Won't Do Us Any Harm' are tuneful numbers that aim for pop attention. Miss Grable ably delivers the pair in nightclub sequences. Photography by Leon Shamroy is uniformly excellent.
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September 27, 1941; By Bosley Crowther
Never have Darryl F. Zanuck and Twentieth Century-Fox owed so much to so few as they do or the pulsing excitement contained in their new film, A Yank in the R.A.F. For most of the thrilling action, most of the tingling suspense, paced through this lively adventure-romance, which came to the Roxy yesterday, is creditable to the lads of the Royal Air Force, who made it possible.
If it weren't for the fact that those boys saved England when-and as-they did; if they hadn't anticipated fiction with one of the most dramatic climaxes on record, and if some one hadn't permitted Fox to photograph their planes in action for some vivid background shots, there would never have been a A Yank in the R.A.F. And we would all have missed a thoroughly enjoyable show.
Don't go to the Roxy expecting to hear any fine and fancy speeches about fighting to save democracy and the freedom of generations yet unborn. Those have been wisely avoided. Instead, Mr. Zanuck and his cohorts have given out with a simple and natural tale about a cocky young American fliers who ferries a bomber to England for the cash, meets an old girl friend who is dancing in a floor show of a London night club, joins up with the Royal Air Force just to be near her and then participates in that "flap" over Dunkerque when the R.A.F. fledged its wings. It is a lusty and youthful yarn about a fellow who fights to love in a robust, healthy way-a motive which we suspect any R.A.F. lad would applaud. It makes better sense, anyhow, than some of the reasons sometimes heard in films.
And Tyrone Power and Betty Grable play the lovers with becoming gusto. Mr. Power is a clean-cut youngster who looks and behaves as you think an American would under the circumstances and for a similar reason. Miss Grable is plenty of reason, too, and acts as though she knows what she's about. Both are as good as they've ever been in this. John Sutton likewise plays an English suitor with nice restraint, Reginald Gardiner is highly amusing as a perpetually frustrated swain and a cast of lesser characters play R.A.F. soldiers honestly.
One might reasonably complain that there is a little too much romance and not enough scrapping in the film. But no one can say that the scrapping, when it comes isn't lively engough. And the real thing shots throughout the picture of big dark bombers and shark-bellied Spitfires roaring off over clam English country for their fateful "objectives tonight" are the sort that send the shivers down your spine. There is good entertainment in this picture. Thumbs up for A Yank in the R.A.F.
TYRONE POWER AS A 'YANK IN THE R.A.F.'SCORES A HIT AT THE ROXY THEATER
The boys down in Washington out to be vastly interested in the new picture at the Roxy. Not only does it deal with the war, but it also has an American flying in the British Royal Air Force. Propaganda, that's what it is. It actually says there is a war going on, and that there are Americans involved, and that there was horror and hell and heroism at Dunkirk, and that the British Royal Air Force is a mighty fine thing to have around, in the face of the Nazi hordes. Why, there's even propaganda in the title, A Yank in the R.A.F., and certainly the boys down in Washington ought to start investigating it at once. It's a picture that bears directly on what's going on in the world, and as the boys down in Washington know full well, that's an awfully dangerous thing for a picture do.
The title, as a matter of fact, tells you pretty nearly everything about the film that there is to know. It's no secret, by now, that Tyrone Power plays the title role, that Mr. Power is an ex-mail flyer I the States, that he goes to England as a ferry pilot, and that in England he meets up with Betty Grable, whom he knew back home in Texas and tat charmed by the
presence of Miss Grable in the United Kingdom, he decides to stick around a while and learn how to fly Spitfires and Wellingtons and Bristol-Blenheims. And that the big climax of the film is the evacuation of Dunkirk, which has been staged thrillingly and magnificently by the director, Henry King, bringing home all the terror of that awful day with tremendous impact.
Power in Modern Role
but more than this, it may as well be known that A Yank in the R.A.F., is Mr. Power's first modern picture in a good long while, and that when Mr. Power appears in a modern picture, instead of fancy costumes, he acts his age with a good deal more conviction than otherwise. His Tim Baker is a roaring, rambunctious sort of a guy, wit a roving eye for dames, despite his attachment to Miss Grable, and a penchant for picking up a drink every now and then just to pass the time away. It's been so long since we've seen Tyrone Power in a modern story, we've almost forgotten how really pleasant he can be. A Yank in the R.A.F. established him once again as a strictly first-rate fellow, a chap we'd like to see more often in the immediate future.
Miss Grable, of course has little to do except stand around and look bouncy, which she does extremely well, even on occasion throwing in a song and dance or so while dancing in the floor show.
Brilliant Air Shots
The air shots in the picture have been managed brilliantly. The bombing raids over Berlin, when the R.A.F. disgustingly drops leaflets and pamphlets (this was all before Dunkirk) the anti-aircraft fights coming to life and weaving around the sky in their weird patterns, only to be plugged out one by one, and finally, that climax at Dunkirk itself, with the sky full of whirling planes smoke, death an destruction. Not since the dog fights of Wings and Hell's Angels has such aviation material been depicted so stirringly. It is also to the merit of the Fox studios, who made the picture, that the staged stuff in the film is hardly discernable from the actual footage made in England, and that put all together this way, it seems to give a real, authentic panorama of what's going on over there.
Minor roles in the film are handles very capably by John Sutton as a British flier in love with Miss Grable but Reginald Gardiner as another British flier coming in with some comic relief, and by the number of other gentlemen wearing the blue uniform of the R.A.F. for apparent assurance. It's a good picture, it's full of action and speed and thrills, and it has something to do with the state of the world.
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Son of Fury
Release Date: January 6, 1942
NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE (?)
By Elinor Hughes
"Son of Fury" the new screen romance which opened yesterday at the Metropolitan?a world premiere, by the way?is a lusty, gusty and
exciting affair with enough action, fist fights and plot for half a dozen pictures. It provides Tyrone Power with far and away the most satisfactory part he's had since "Lloyd's of London," and should increase his box-office value enormously inasmuch as he has a chance to let the pretty-boy foolishness go by the boards for once and prove that he can give and take punches with the best of them. Not having read Edison Marshall's novel, "Benjamin Blake," I cannot say how closely "Son of Fury" follows its model, but I do know that Philip Dunne's screen play and John Cromwell's direction have caught to remarkable degree a sense of the surface elegance and underlying brutality of life in early 19th century England, when it was death for a servant to strike his master, and when fortunes were to be had by peaceful and honorable means in the as yet unspoiled South Sea islands. the scenes in England are particularly well handled, but even the unusually embarrassing passages involving the hero with a dusky flower-decked maiden are handled with intelligence and restraint, and the whole affair adds up to topnotch entertainment of the swashbuckling school.
The screen play covers about 15 years in the life of young Benjamin Blake from the time that he was taken from the care of his grandfather, Amos Kidder but his sadistic uncle, Sir Arthur Blake, who made him a stable boy and consistently maltreated him in the effort to break his spirit. Benjamin, you see, was the son of Sir Arthur?s elder brother and heir to the family estates, but no satisfactory proof was available that showed that Benjamin was born in wedlock.
No reader of romance should need to be told how Sir Arthur's worst efforts were unsuccessful; the Benjamin grew up filled with one purpose and only one, to obtain his birthright and outs his uncle, that he lived his beautiful, cold-hearted cousin, that he ran away from home, made a fortune in pearls in the south seas and came back for the most thorough going and satisfactory public vindication. If you think he married his cousin, however, you're wrong: remember the tropical island and the dusky maiden. [...] Equally extremely effective; by Dudley Digges, who gives a shrewd and entertaining pictures of a foxy old lawyer, and by Elsa Lanchester, whose brief portrait of a waterfront barmaid is something to cherish Frances Farmer has never looked handsomer than as the scheming Isabel, and Gene Tierney, in the relatively minor role of Benjamin's true love, is naive and pleasing. Roddy McDowell gives another fine performance as the young Ben, and Harry Davenport, John Carradine, Kay Johnson, Halliwell Hobbes and Robert Greig are all admirable in smaller roles.
The second picture on the program is "Right to the Heart," with Brenda Joyce, Joseph Allen, Jr. and Cobina Wright, Jr.
January 7, 1942; Char.
Produced on a lavish scale, this is a romantic adventure-drama of boxoffice merit based on the Edison Marshall novel., 'Benjamin Blake,' which enjoyed a good though not outstanding sale. Backed by a cast headed by Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney, it will do good business or better, in some engagements possibly big.
Running time is a little long, 98 minutes, with some sequences slowing the action down, but generally the story commands rapt attention and, on the whole, emerges as sound, compelling entertainment. The footage backgrounded on an obscure south Sea island for the purpose of establishing Miss Tierney as an important factor in the story is long probably for that reason though it needn't have been.
Laid in England during the reign of King George III, the story is that of Benjamin Blake who undergoes great hardships and reverses in an attempt, ultimately successful, to establish the birthright that had been snatched from him nefariously by a scheming uncle of the upper crust. However, on retaining title to the fortune that was rightfully his, he parcels it out to servants of the estate and others in order to return to the tropic isle where he made himself independently rich from oyster pearls and, in the process met Miss Tierney, exotic native belle. The picture ends on his return there and by now Miss Tierney is speaking fine English. Power had played teacher during his several years on the island fishing for pearls and his native girl friend apparently learned awfully fast.
Miss Tierney otherwise is a good fit for the role of the duskey maiden with those South Sea eyes and costumes, while Power is impressive in every respect, including the swell fist fight he has with George Sanders, his cruel and scheming uncle. The scrap is among the best ever screened.
Stress is laid on brutality in the manner in which Power is treated as a boy and as a young man to point up the pathetic side of his earlier life. Roddy McDowell plays the character of Benjamin Blake as a boy.
Scenes aboard a sailing ship from which Power and John Carradine escape in order to search for the fabled pearl beds of an island Carradine had learned about, are photographed excellently. The same fine grade of camera work figures in the tropical island sequence and in scenes located in England.
Carradine, as a lowly sailor who falls under the spell of the island he has found and chooses to remain there, gives his usual fine character portrayal and possibly it is a negligible oversight that he's wearing the same striped sweater-shirt that he had when he arrived there years before.
There is virtually no comic relief. It cold have been used here and there to fine advantage because of the general heaviness of the action.
Playing the daughter of Sanders who again turns in an excellent job, Frances Farmer suites her role well and gives it as such warmth as could be permitted. Elsa Lanchester tops in a short sequence and others providing good support are Harry davenport and Dudley Digges.
William Perlberg has invested the picture with much production values and John Cromwell's direction is its decided asset.
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January 30, 1942; By Bosley Crowther
Twentieth Century-Fox and Darryl F. Zanuck have always had a soft spot in their corporate hear (but not in their head) for robust romantic screen fiction dressed in historical clothes. Lloyds of London, for instance, was one of their more beloved films and so was Clive of India-both of them about adversity-bucking boys. So it was not in the least surprising that this usually successful combine should have grabbed onto Edison Marshall's swash-bucking novel, "Benjamin Blake," and turned it into a picture under the daredevlish title of Son of Fury.
Indeed, so loyal were the affections of Twentieth Century-Fox and Mr. Zanuck that they even got Tyrone Power, who played one Jonathan Blake in Lloyd's of London, to play the role of Ben (likewise Blake) in this film. And the finished job is now thumping and sprawling on the screen of the Roxy.
To say that it is an excessively fanciful film would be a mild statement. This time Mr. Zanuck hasn't even rung in any famous characters to give it that awesome pretense of historical elbow-rubbing. He and Director John Cromwell and Writer Philip Dunne have simply taken a story set in eighteenth-century time-a story of family feuding and bold adventuring-and milked it for as much blood-and-thunder and romance as they could get out of it. You may rest assured that they have got a bucket-full.
For this is the boisterous fable of a spirited lad by the name of Ben, the supposedly base-born son of an English gentleman and a wayward maid, who suffers brutal poke at the brute, and on a South Pacific island finds a dream girl and a hat full of pearls. The first is a pleasant diversion, but the second are riches untold. So Ben hauls them back to England, employs a court-fixer, has his name cleared of suspicion, takes over his rightful estates, kicks his greedy uncle (and the latter's daughter) out of the house and then-romantic fellow!-returns to that South Pacific belle.
Packed into that fantastic framework are at least three bare-fisted fights between Mr. Power and George Sanders, who sneers a beautiful uncle; several lesser maulings in which Mr. Power is the one most frequently mauled, and some very bashless romancing between Mr. Power an Gene Tierney, the South Seas lure. Mss Tierney, whose talent for acting is open to serious doubt, benefits considerably in this picture by the fact that she doesn't have much to say; all she has to do is look voluptuous in some Hawaiian-print bathing suits-the fashionable thing, apparently in eighteenth-century times.
A competent group of actors appear in lesser roles-Roddy McDowall, Dudley Digges, Frances Framer, John Carradine, etc. And the production is polished and rich. But the sets as well as the actors take a beating in Son of Fury. For the fact is it's another juvenile charmer with a great deal more brawn than brain.
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THE FAMILY CIRCLE
February 27, 1942
Taken from Edison Marshall's novel "Benjamin Blake," this is a picture almost sure toe please wherever it is shown. It has a little bit of everything, including a South Sea idyll and the flavor of "The Count of Monte Cristo." Potpourri though it may be, you can stake a few shillings that almost every customer will find something in it to his liking.
The casting is excellent. Young Mr. Power is well suited to his role in every respect, and the presence in any picture of George Sanders is something to make this department do nip-ups. The minor parts are excellently cast, with Dudley Digges and Elsa Lanchester contributing memorable performances.
While you may find it hard to believe that Tyrone Power can lick George Sanders in a rough-tumble fight, the fisticuffs themselves are well staged and it's an exciting event. Frances Farmer's change of character at the picture's close seems a mit too sudden. But those are but minor faults in a well made, entertaining film.
An Excellent Cast Puts Over 'Son of Fury'
Studio Workshops Reshape 'Benjamin Blake' for Screen
The Chicago Sun January, 1942
Son of Fury is a filmization of Edison Marshall's novel, "Benjamin Blake," which some of you may have red. The studio says it is a very faithful adaptation from the novel, and all I can do is take their word for it, especially since the studio goes on to admit that the finish has been completely altered. So what I shall limit my comments to is a discussion of the film's merits as a film and the snap judgment on that is: it is very long, it is very exciting, it is very colorful and it is a little bit of a bore.
This is one of those historical novels that movie studios seem to love and it is built with skillful workmanship to fit the genial shoulders of Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney. If you are one of those people who enjoys lavish setting and stylish costumes, by all means see it.
There is an almost constant parade of eye-filling background and decoration. Frou-frou some of us call it, but it might as well be admitted, here and now that it is all very elegant.
The story was altered at the very finish only, says the studio, and that is an anecdote worth repeating in the novel, the character played by Gene Tierney commits suicide. In Hollywood the moguls went into secret session and decided that this must not be. Gene Tierney is to pretty to commit suicide, or words to that effect. So a very lavish ultra-ultra wedding was written into the script for her and Power as a finale.
This Sort of Thing Can't Be
At this point, the Hays Office steps in. Nothing doing. A nice white man like Power cannot marry a nice native girl like Tierney. Not in the movies. So the lavish wedding had to be scrapped, and the two are left merely yearning for each other and living unhappily ever after.
Well, to get on with a review of the film itself. The story is a rather good basic yarn of escape. Way back in the 18th century George Sanders kicks Tyrone Power around, to the point where the kid runs away and lands in a South Sea Island. Here he fishes for pearls lives like a native, falls in love with a native girl, then goes back home to London to even scores with Sir Arthur (Sanders).
What helps a great deal is that the cast is way above average. Power is believable and likeable. Sanders is as good as he always is. Frances Farmer is better than usual as the other girl, the girl back home. Scenes are exceptionally well handled throughout with Roddy MacDowell, John Carradine, Dudley Digges and Elsa Lanchester best.
Miss Tierney Shapes Up Well
The Tierney gal is very good, too. She looks like a native girl with ease. She speaks English much too well for a native girl, but maybe that doesn't matter. Sort of funny, too. As you recall, Gene was a society girl before she broke into pictures and she is now married to a count. But the countess has never been a lady on the screen. She was a gun moll in The Return of Frank James,, a hillbilly in Tobacco Road, an outlaw in Belle Starr, an Arab girl in Sundown, a half cast in Shanghai Gesture and now she is a Polynesian in Son of Fury.
Which leads to another amusing anecdote about this film. There are about 100 Polynesian characters in the film. But the studio could manage to round up only on native Tahitian who could sing and dance. So the rest of them were made up of Hindus, Mexicans, and Indians. And made up is the word.
Oh, well, that, as mentioned, elsewhere is Hollywood. And the movie still has a lot of color and action. Cut down to about 15 minutes it would have been even better.
SON OF FURY IS A PRE-WAR BABY
John T. McManus
If you want to see how badly Hollywood was frightened last fall by the Ney Senatorial witch hunt into alleged war-mongering by the movies, drop around to the Roxy.
There is evidence right now that 20th Century-Fox, at least, was scared clear back into the 18th century.
The evidence is a move called Son of Fury, made under fire, you might say, since Sen. Nye and his isolationist colleagues kept their guns trained on Hollywood right up to Pearl Harbor. So Son of Fury takes refuge in the remote problems of a noble young pretender (Tyrone Power of George III's era, and the scurrilous efforts of his scoundrely uncle (George Sanders, of course) to deprive him of his rightful baronetey. Something abut the young lad having been born on the wrong the estates side of the blanket, that sort of thing.
Now there's nothing wrong with that sort of thing when it's god, but Son of Fury is pretty bad, bad and long. It's so long in fact, that it has two heroines, Frances Farmer, in jabot and redingote, for the first part, and Gene Tierney, in bare midriff, for the finale.
It seems eons before our here gets around to Gene, but he finally does, while seeking defense funds for himself in the South Sea Islands. They meet, they love, they fetch for pearls together in dazzling batik swim suits in a blue Pacific harbor. When Ty collects enough pearls he wind-jams back to England, unseats the villainous Lord Eyewash and hands him a beautiful pasting, distribute the estates among the help, and speeds back south to Miss Tierney and the batik suit.
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This Above All
Release Date: May 13, 1942
Academy Award Winner 1942: Richard Day, Joseph Wright, Best Black & White Art Direction
Thomas Little, Best Interior Black & White Decoration
NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE (?)
'This Above All' Is Gripping and Timely
"THIS ABOVE ALL," at the Astor. A fine and sympathetic production based on the Eric Knight best-seller. A 20th Century-Fox production; directed by Anatole Litvak.
The average movie has an audience circulation at least 100 times more than the best-selling novel and perhaps 1,000 times more than the longest-run play.
So the critic who judges cinematizations by their resemblance or lack thereof to the book or stage original often does a grave injustice not only to the film but to 99 percent of the filmgoers who care nothing about what the playwright or novelist meant in the first place.
But some of my literary friends tell me that Eric Knight's tremendous novel, "This Above All," has been devitalized by the Hays office. They tell me that after the operation any resemblance that "This Above All" bears to the Knight book is purely coincidental. That's what they tell me. But I don't read, so I don't have disappointments. All I know is what I see, and what I saw at the Astor is an absorbing and timely film which, if not great, certainly at one point approaches greatness.
That is when Joan Fontaine, who has always been my idea of what an actress should be, tells Tyrone Power, who hasn't always been my idea of what an actor should be, why must he fight for England.
Though I don't know whether this part of the script was penned by Knight or by the adapters, whoever wrote the words did one of the finest jobs of selling Britain since a gent named Shakespeare go off a few lines about "this England."
SET IN ENGLAND
The story of the film, "This Above All," is set in England at and immediately following Dunkirk, when al the world was shaking?except, of course, the older hidebound British aristocracy.
Miss Fontaine, of its newer generation, enlists as a private in the Women's Airforce volunteer Service, and one night in a blackout she gets romantically inclined with a guy whose face she can't see.
It turns out to be love at first unsight and they go away for a weekend together. It develops that the guy is a deserter from the army because he can't figure out why he should fight for landed gentry and stuffy tradition and all that sort of blasted rot, old thing.
Now, as I remarked before, I enjoyed every minute of the 120 in the over-long film, even some of the bumpy sequences where Anatole Litvak's direction was not all that Anatole Litvak's direction is supposed to be.
But I felt that this was one of the finer things of the season--and never mind the book or what was cut out of it.
May 12, 1942; By Bosley Crowther
Out of Eric Knight's singularly skillful war novel, This Above All, Twentieth Century-Fox and Darryl F. Zanuck have derived a taut and poignant war film, which arrived at the Astor last evening for a meticulously restrained world premiere. The principal weakness of the picture is that it accentuates the original's chief fault-that is, it skimps a rationalization of the leading character's profound change of mind. And it also neglects to establish the convictions to which he so stubbornly holds.
But its strength and disarming distinction is that it tells a very moving love story with a sensitive regard for tensile passions against a background of England at war.
This Above All , as a novel was a remarkably inclusive tale, which vividly revealed the aberrant feelings of a variety of English people in the Summer of 1940. It keenly and sharply contrasted their social impulses, and it left a distinct impression of a nation fighting not only for survival but change. Naturally, the picture could not encompass the whole book, and a great many characters an details have been easily overlooked, R. C. Sherriff, who wrote the screen play, has concentrated predominantly on two characters-on Clive, the cynical soldier, and Prue, the well-bred W.A.A.F. Girl. And he has written a straight war romance with only mildly social overtones.
Casually, as in the novel, Prue and Clive are introduced. More virtuously than in the novel, their acquaintance ripens into romance. More by fate than by free choice, they go off together to a seaside resort, and there Prue miserably discovers the canker which is eating sat Clive's mind-his bitter disgust at British democracy, his contempt for the privileged classes, his disillusion after the Battle of Flanders (through which he gallantly fought) and his implacable resolve to desert the army and let the British go on fighting without him. As in the novel, Prue tries to dissuade him; his old buddy, Monty, puts in his two cents. But it is not until Clive has done a fugitive turn of the English countryside that he realizes the error in his thinking and goes back to win the ironic victory of his own soul.
Readers of the book will be happy to know that Twentieth Century-Fox has not violated the originals' ending. A doubt-but only a slight one-is permitted to remain as to Clives' destiny. And that is some compensation for other necessary compromises which are made-the implication of Clives' and Prue's virtue as manifest by their occupancy of separate rooms, he omission of Prue's pride in approaching maternity and the performance of a marriage ceremony before the end. There is a prudence about this romance which is not in keeping with nature, and which belies the rank dispositions of the two participants.
More to be criticized, however, is the failure of Mr. Sherriff and all concerned to justify Clive's animosities by explaining his poverty-stricken background (this could have been done briefly but graphically) and to clarify his emotional switch. One believes Clive when he says that he doesn't think with his heart. It is hard, then, to understand why he should accept the advice to trust his feelings, not his reason. Once can only assume that the producers of the film did not wish to reveal the degradation out of which the character rose, for fear of giving offense, and further felt that love was a sufficient excuse for anything.
And, with Joan Fontaine playing a lady, it is hard to deny that theory. Miss Fontaine is surpassingly lovely and tender and believable as Prue. She thoroughly combines gently breeding with generosity of soul, and her speech on the meaning of England is one of the high points of the film. Tyrone Power can be rated no more than "adequate" in the particularly demanding role of Clive. He doesn't look or act like a hard-bitten Britisher; anything else he does is incidental. Thomas Mitchell is hoarse and beetling in the disappointingly brief role of Monty, and several other good actors do well in minor parts.
This Above All is not quite what it might very well have been. But the tension and pathos of love reaching hopefully for some fulfillment amid deep woe is expressively captured in it. It is tremendously appealing-much better than a smack in the lug, as Monty would say.
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May 13, 1942; Hobe.
From Eric M. Knight's This Above All , the first best-selling novel to come out of the Second World War, 20th Century-Fox has made an enormously successful picture. It has everything-an enthralling romantic story with inescapable topical connotations, a distinguished cast, superb performances, skillful direction and a handsome production. It should evoke enthusiastic reviews and potent word of mouth, and it is a cinch for extended runs and powerful grosses.
As a huge reading public already knows, This Above All is a tale of England in that tense interval between Dunkirk and the London blitz of September, 1940. It tells of the romance between a beauteous daughter of the aristocracy and a lowly-born soldier who has deserted after fighting honorably through the shattering battle of Flanders and the tragic evacuation of Dunkirk.
But to an America still arousing itself to the full fury of war, it is also the inflaming story of how a disillusioned man's unquenchable love of country finally restores his faith, bring him back to duty and to his own self-respect. That's mettlesome subject matter at any time, but just now it has irresistible compulsion.
Although R. C. Sherriff's screen adaptation softens certain aspects of the novel, such a toning down the love affair during the couple's stay at the Dover inn, or eliminating the complication of the soldier's brain injury, it has not weakened the story. In some ways the yarn is even improved. For one thing, the whole involved subject of the democratic aims in the war, problem of the conflict of social classes, or the question of pacifism against duty to one's country are expertly focused in personal terms. Similarly, the expansive canvas of an England breathlessly preparing for the expected invasion is kept as a background to the vibrant personal story. Indeed, that story itself is related with such taut cogency that interest rarely slackens.
There are many effective, affecting scenes in the picture. A provocative one opens the story, as the liberal-minded girl tells off her circle of Cliveden-set relatives for their stupidly reactionary attitude toward the war. Several of the love scenes between the man and the girl are deeply touching, but her speech about the England she loves has especially throat-catching poignance.
With so many worthwhile elements so smoothly blended in the film, it is difficult single tout individual contribution. Yet Anatole Litvak's direction is unmistakably expressive. Tyrone Power gives admirable vigor and conviction to the role of the cynical, but inarticulate soldier. Joan Fontaine gives a glowing tender and enormously beguiling portrayal of the tremulous, courageous loving and loveable heroine.
Thomas Mitchell, Henry Stephenson, Nigel Bruce, Gladys Cooper, Philip Merivale, Sara Allgood, Alexander Knox are all convincing in varying important supporting roles while such competent actors as Melville Cooper, Queenie Leonard, Jill Esmond, Arthur Shields and Dennis Hoey register in bit parts. Alfred Newman's score is eloquent.
Picture's title is a quotation form the familiar speech of Polonius in Hamlet-"This above all: To thine own self be true."
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The Black Swan
Release Date: October 16, 1942
Academy Award Winner 1942: Leon Shamroy, Best Color Cinematography
Oct. 21, 1942; Scho.
Rafael Sabatini's story of sea piracy is an apropos, action-full aurevoir to pictures for Tyrone Power now in naval uniform. Its also fitting that Power's last film for 20th Fox for the duration should include so much of a box office wallop.
This one can't miss making the wickets whirl. That business of Power slugging Maureen O'Hara after she repulses his forced attentions, or Power crawling into bed with her, or some of the dialog anent Powers propensity to take women when, where, and how he wants 'em, is hardly for the kiddies.
This is a lusty story of English buccaneers who plunder women and the Spanish Main with equal facility. On one point though, the purity Code is adhered to-some of the pirates reform, while the others meet their just deserts at swords end or the gallows. Thus chief pirate Laird Cregar, playing Henry Morgan, winds up as the hones governor of Jamaica; his chief aide, Power, likewise turns pure, even winning the love of Miss O'Hara, whom he previously tries to compromise; Thomas Mitchell also winds up a reformed pirate, while such brutes as George Sanders, whose bearded makeup makes him look like a ferocious, red-headed butcher, and Anthony Quinn, as a one-eyed scourge of the sea, become dead pirates.
Film is enhanced by the color photography, which makes the marine shots especially attractive and lends punch to the gory battle scenes. Inasmuch as it's a costume picture, the Technicolor is all the more appealing.
There are several sea and personal battles, plus some fast sabre dueling. Power is in action in most of them, flashing a muscled torso that's photogenic for the femme patrons. As a pitch for the males, Miss O'Hara is laced in low-cut dresses that more than once threaten to spring a major celluliod surprise. The color, incidentally, greatly adds to her physical appearance.
Both Power and Miss O'Hara turn in god acting performances, although it's left mystifying at the finish why she suddenly switches her affections to Power.
Thomas Mitchell is living up to his rep as a scene-stealer. Always a good actor, he has the faculty, by some motion or mugging to focus attention upon himself. Cregar and Sanders are of similar type, especially in bizarre makeup, but Mitchell outshines them in the scenery-chewing department. Other good performances are turned in by Edward Ashley, as Miss O'Hara's chicken-hearted fiancÃ©e and double-crosser of the Jamaica colony; George Zucco playing Miss O'Hara's stuffed- shirted father, whom Cregar supersedes as governor of Jamaica, and Anthony Quinn, who, with Sanders, defies Cregar's orders that the pirates must stop their pillaging and work honestly towards the buildup of the British empire. Others in the film are not importantly cast.
Some of the film's action stuff is of the cliff-hanger variety, but director Henry King kept the fantasy pretty well in hand so that it doesn't become to ludicrous. He paces the story well with the Ben Hecht-Seton I. Miller dialog bright and peppery. Leon Shamroy's camera job was A-1.
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December 24, 1942; By Bosley Crowther
After seeing The Black Swan, which hove to at the Roxy last night, a good many small boys are going to feel they were born too late into this world. Fr guided y Rafael Sabatini's reckless pirate yarn, Darryl Zanuck has hauled a likely lot of studio swashbucklers all over the Spanish Main and with enough Technicolored sword-play and double-barreled oaths to make a 12-year-old's eyes pop. Directed in headlong style by Henry King, filled with rococo rhetoric by Ben Hecht and Seton I. Miller, and acted in the ripest tradition, The Black Swan is one of the waning season's prettiest adventures. Sir Henry Morgan, Jamie Boy and Tommy Blue-they were men, sirrah!
Swaggering up and down the Caribbean under full sail, wearing enormous sashes, cutlasses like razors and mustachios of assorted styles, the villains have a gay time of it. Today, they pounce upon a gold-laden galleon, scuttle it and leave precious few survivors; tomorrow they swoop into Tortuga; next day, Maracaibo lies ready for plunder. The boys sweep through the streets, breaking heads merrily as they go, stealing the likeliest maidens, brawling over rich brocades. Now and then, on finds himself upon the rack in the governor's dungeon, but not for long-his friends arrive invariably and on cue.
Amid these rip-roaring events there is the story of Sir Henry Morgan's temporary return to grace as governor of Jamaica and his attempt to sweep an unrepentant former henchman, Billy Leech, from the seas. For this mission, Jamie Boy, who looks for all the world like Tyrone Power, is selected, but only after Jamie makes a midnight abduction of a certain aristocratic lady-in this case, Maureen O'Hara-to make this voyage more bearable. How Jamie brings the red-bearded Leech to bay and simultaneously wins the acquiescence of his kidnapped lady is all told in that final handsome battle as ships rake each other with broadsides and Mr. Power's men rage across the decks.
It is performed by actors as if the hokum born. Mr. Power is a very vision of manly loveliness, and he growls just like a big bad pirate; Laird Cregar, as Morgan bellows oaths like an irate opera singer; George Sander's Billy Leech is as naughty and quarrelsome a man as one would care not to meet on a moonless night; Thomas Mitchell's Irish accent still stands him in good stead as one of the roisterers, and Maureen O'Hara is brunette and beautiful-which is all the part requires. The Black Swan is in the golden tradition of boyish adventures. The small fry probably will be brandishing wooden swords in the parlors and slitting sofa pillows for some time to come. But a lot of grown-ups are going to like it too.
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June 12, 1943; *** (out of 4 stars)
While one feels that Douglas Fairbanks, Senior or junior would have made a better job of this swashbuckling, piratical tale than Tyrone Power, it must be admitted that it does present colourful high adventure in the Spanish Main.
It deals in rather loose continuity, with the famous Henry Morgan who from buccaneer became Governor of Jamaica and with the help of his lieutenant, Jamie Warring, clears up the pirates.
The picture is in colour, which adds a lot to its spectacular sea fights and general atmosphere.
Tyrone is quite good as Jamie who wins the hand of the daughter of the autocratic, deposed Governor of the island and Maureen O'Hara is attractive as the heroine. Laird Cregar is excellent as Henry Morgan, and the acting of Thomas Mitchell as Jamie's mate and George Sanders as a cold-blooded pirate is first rate.
There is plenty of comedy, action, and full-blooded romance.
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Release Date: April 23, 1943
Academy Award Winner 1943: Ernest Palmer, Ray Rennahan, Best Special Effects, Fred Sersen, (Photographic), Roger Heman (Sound)
NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE
April 29, 1943
By Otis L. Guernsey, Jr.
Tyrone Power is making his last civilian screen appearance in the now current "Crash Dive" at the Roxy, and, paradoxically, he appears as a Naval two striper who specializes in action both above and below the surface in patrol torpedo boats and submarines. His latest vehicle is a combination love and adventure story filmed in brilliant Technicolor and set in the hotly-contested North Atlantic battlefield. This modernized swashbuckling is generally effective, and it is to be hoped, in passing, that Mr. power's career as an officer in the Marine Corps will be as brilliant as that portrayed in his new screen offering.
The leading role in "Crash Dive" is old hat to the young Hollywood luminary, who has appeared on the screen many times as an unflinching hero of sea warfare. The manipulation of heavy torpedoes is not as romantic as the twisting of a bright rapier, but the havoc wrought against the Nazis makes up for it in satisfaction the films melodramatic punch is packed in two submarine action scenes, both of which result in blowing the enemy sky-high.
The lion's share of this film's merits belongs to director Archie Mayo, to Technicolor director Leion Shamroy and toe Fred Sersen, who arranged for the special effects. the final, climactic scene in which one of our submarines attacks an enemy base, is tops in the field of film melodrama--without it "Crash Dive" might be classed as rather a mild adventure tale. Simultaneous action on land and sea is presented without confusion, and the photography creates just the right mood. The Technicolor becomes almost black and white when the scenes are shot in semi-darkness, and against it are contrasted the sudden red and yellow flashes of tremendous explosions. there is only one faulty touch--a light shinning out of the sub's conning tower as the men begin a night raid on the German base--to mar one of Hollywood's most effective action scenes.
Anne Baxter, an attractive young starlet, does as well as possible with a rather conventional love triangle involving herself, Mr. Power and Dana Andrews, who is very much at home is in the part of the laconic but capable captain of the submarine. The actors and the director have done as much as they could with a trite love story. It takes up too much screen footage thought it is a mere by-product of the plot's main line and is thrown in only out of force of Hollywood habit. Luckily there are action scenes which pick the film up at the moments when the romance begins to drag.
There are several good supporting characterizations to round out the proceedings. James Gleason gives his usually fine performance as a hard-bitten petty officer Ben Carter does a good job as the submarine's Negro cook, and Dame May Whitty contributes comedy in a bit part.
There is nothing startling about the original script of "Crash Dive," but the actors, the director and the camera crew have added a goodly amount of tense melodrama and magnificent color photography. It would be worth while to drop in on Mr. Power's final cinema effort of the duration, if only for its final scene.
April 29, 1943; By Bosley Crowther
More of that Hollywood warfare which looks like nothing at all but the unbridled fancies of scriptwriters worked out through special effects is the climax of Twentieth Century-Fox's film about love and submarines which came yesterday to the Roxy under the sensational title of Crash Dive. And more of that old familiar business about two officers being in love with the same girl is the lengthy and tedious preface which leads up to this noisy jamboree.
What's the use of talking? Crash Diveis one of those films which have no more sense of reality about this war than a popular song. In it a young "pigboat" officer-none other than smiling Tyrone Power-pursues a rather haughty young lady for what seems an interminable time, only to find out eventually that she is the fiancee of his commanding officer. In the meantime he and his commander have got acquainted at considerable pains because Tyrone persists in maintaining that PT boats are superior to submarines. But with this greater barrier between them-well, you can imagine the strain when their sub goes to raid a secret land base of the northern coast!
And that raid-well, to call it fantastic would be understating the case, for sub crew, with Mr. Power foremost, play commandos with a wild and vicious zeal. They blow up oil tanks, ammunition, set fire to barracks and ships and escape through a sea of flaming fuel oil, with the captain steering from the submerged bridge. Such incredible heroics have seldom been seen on the screen. It is Hollywood at its wildest. And in Technicolor, too! Oh, boy!
And that's what you'll see in Crash Dive, Mr. Power is his usual snappy self, and Dana Andrews plays the submarine commander with commendable second lead charm. Anne Baxter is the little lady over whom there is so much to-do, and James Gleason and Ben Carter are the only distinguishable members of the sub's non-officer crew. There are one or two sequences of interest, showing tension within the sub and a slight indication of shore life at the New London submarine bas. But mainly the picture is romance and thriller of the most fictitious sort. It leaves one wondering blankly whether Hollywood knows that we're at war.
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April 21, 1943; Rose.
Crash Dive is 20th-Fox's salute to the submarine crews of the U.S. Navy. It packs terrific wallop and is geared to exceptional b.o. grosses in all situations.
Endowed with a fine cast, headed by Tyrone Power for marquee strength, it has been directed with consummate skill and artistry by Archie Mayo, unfolds a tense, dramatic series of undersea warfare episodes and visually through it's excellent Technicolor treatment, is at all times highly distinctive.
True, the script concocted by Jo Swerling from and original by w. R. Burnett can hardly lay claim to originality, with the film having a tendency to slip during its maudlin boy-chases-gal sequences in the early chapters but once the preliminaries have been disposed of and the U.S. S. Corsair starts hitting the high seas, it's a tense, arresting saga of sub warfare that's as educational as it is entertaining. When the picture deals with the adventures of the sub's crew in maneuvering the ship through narrow channels to elude sub nets and a profusion of mines, with only a matter of inches the difference between life and death it creates an overwhelming suspense. The fact that many of the filmstop moments are derived from an examination of the intricacies involved in the complex operation of the submersible is a tribute to director May for his ability to dramatize the technical aspects of the sub's mechanisms with such vividness and clarity, and endow it with a maximum of entertainment. Throughout the latter part, the film is charged with surefire episodes, such as the sub's crash diving to the floor of the ocean as depth charges from an enemy Q-boat explode about her, with the resultant sinking of the enemy vessel via a ruse whereby the sub fires dummies to the surface and ejects, oil to convey to the Germans that she has been sunk. Crash Dive was made in cooperation with the U.S. naval sub base at New London, Conn., where many of its sequences were filmed.
Tale opens on a weak note with Lt. Tyrone Power transferred from a PT mosquito boat to submarine service. En route to Washington for instructions he meets up with Anne Baxter, a New London teacher taking a group of junior misses on an educational tour of the capital. The officer gets off on the wrong foot through a lower berth mix-up and later they wind up at the same hotel where, through another sleeping arrangement maneuver, he puts on a wolf act to gain her affections. It's trite, but solid stuff for the Power fans. Back in New London, where the gal has returned to her teaching post, he continues his play for her, finally winning her over only to learn she's the fiancÃ©e of his superior officer, Dana Andrews. Thus is laid the background for the conflict between the two officers, which is only submerged by their allegiance to the Corsair and their respect for each other's abilities.
It's when the triangle situation is properly relegated to a background that the film's interest hypoes, with the sea episodes building up to a sock climactic sequence when the sub is ordered back into the North Atlantic waters to find and destroy a Nazi minelayer base in the vicinity of its first encounter with the Q-boat. The manner in which the sub's crew blasts the shore installations and torpedoes subs and other enemy craft, while required to work with split-second accuracy, offers moments of terrific excitement and permits for maximum production presentation, enhanced considerably by the Technicolor.
Power is expertly cast both in the romantic role and as the sub officer. Andrews also turns in a top performance as does Miss Baxter. In supporting roles, James Gleason Dame May Whitty, Henry Morgan and Ben Carter later as the sub's colored mess attendant, likewise rate kudos.
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The Razor's Edge
Release Date: November 20. 1946
Academy Award Winner 1946: Anne Baxter, Best Supporting Actress
"Razor's Edge" Glitters on Keith-Memorial Screen
Somerset Maugham's best-selling novel, "The Razor's Edge," has been treated handsomely
by Darryl Zanuck and 20th Century Fox. It is a sumptuously upholstered, its cast is full of stars, many of the characterizations are splendid. It follows Maugham's book faithfully, too.
Given a cast that includes Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, Herbert Marshall, John Payne, Anne Baxter, Elsa Lanchester and many other excellent players, a plot that takes us from Chicago to Paris and eventually to the peaks of the Himalayan mountains, the film cannot be said to be unimpressive.
It is impressive, and it will undoubtedly be a box office record breaker. but it impressed me as being much ado about a lot of people not worth all that bother, as being too long and pretentious, and in places downright trashy.
The picture, like the book, is the story of a man's search for spiritual salvation. [The] top honors of the feminine side go to Anne Baxter as Sophie, the dipsomaniac who was rescued from degradation by the soul-seeker, only to be plunged back to it again by her married rival.
Among the outstanding supporting performances are those of Lucille Watson as Aunt Louisa, Elsa Lanchester as a coy spinster secretary, and Henri Letonda, whose portrayal of a self-important French official is a delight.
Perhaps "The Razor's Edge" may convey a genuine spiritual message to some; if so, that is fine. Its success, however, will be the result of its more worldly aspects, in this reporter's opinion.
NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE
November 20, 1948
By Howard Barnes
There is an impressive scuttling of screen cliché in "The Razor's Edge." The adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel which has opened with considerable fanfare at the Roxy, has far more integrity than the tub-thumping might suggest. Edmund Gouldling has staged the work as a restrained and frequently fascinating study in character, which is all that the book offered. there is scant traffic with conventional romantics and a laudable lack of irrelevant sentiment. Meanwhile, the stars who rub shoulders through a series of vignettes collaborate without a trace of scene stealing. The virtues of "the Razor's Edge" are solid. Its faults stem directly from a long-winded literary original.
At its best, this 20th Century Fox production has a dramatic depth which is rarely explored in Hollywood. The inner urges of the figures in a kaleidoscopic account of the years between two wars are probed with subtlety and meaning. the Larry of Tyrone Power, engaged in a restless quest for spiritual sustenance, is a remarkable as Maugham thought him. the tragic Sophie, drowning her unendurable grief in Paris bistros, is beautifully realized in Anne Baxter's sensitive portrayal. Gene Tierney gives an admirable performance as the selfish and defeated Isabel and Clifton Webb is arrantly appealing as a generous hearted snob.
If the players are still at the threshold of a significant drama at the final curtain, it is because Maugham never made their encounters more than fugitively compelling. All the skill of Goudling's direction and all the intensity of Power's acting cannot make the modern "Pilgrim's Progress," which is the heart of the exposition, more than intermittently entertaining. As a matter of fact, it is Webb's portrait of an expatriate American, hobnobbing with dukes and princesses, which best sustains the continuity and brings it to some sort of resolution. Herbert Marshall is on hand, diffidently enacting Maugham himself, but he creates neither a wise nor winning philosopher.
What matters most is that "The Razor's Edge" has had the audacity to philosophize. Here is a movie which goes behind the obvious boy-meet-girl formula to assay the fundamental appetites of mankind. that in so doing, it creates such memorable passages as Sophie's fall from a newly found grace after Larry has offered to marry her, is high on the credit side of the offering. What is wanting is the dramatic texture which would warrant the pains and honest which have been lavished on a film which one will certainly wish to witness. John Payne, Elsa Lanchester and Fritz Kortner are some of the supporting players who have vivid bits in a picture which is too much a matter of bits. "The Razor's Edge" is an important and sometimes eminently satisfying screen achievement which must suffer critically by the very standards which it has established.
November 20, 1946; Abel.
The Razor's Edge will cut plenty of fancy box-office takings in all markets. It has everything for virtually every type film fan.
The values are solid-Jackson in the best Hollywood tradition. Here's how they shape up: cast, story, romance, action and, for the truly discriminating non-addicted filmgoers, a possible message of faith. Set all this against the background of two continents not counting the hero's excursion to the Hindu mystic in the Himalayas: seque it from the turbulent times for post-World War I after Wall Street's memorable omelet and its; a surefire parlay.
Fundamentally it's all good cinematurgy. It's a moving picture that moves. Despite the urbanity of its leading characters and the high-society (Chicago and Paris) of backgrounds of most of its cast, which calls for not a little fancy dialog, the action is more than compensatory. If some of the scripting is slightly meritricious few will argue with its lesser artificialities. Even Harry Pilcer's phoney Rue de Lappe (Paris Apache quarter) hokum is the least of it s the action depicts the degradation of Sophie (Anne Baxter), who becomes a hopeless dipsomaniac, acquiring one of those stagelooking maqureaus as protector, and winds up in a reefer layout with a crude Corsican.
The romance is more than slightly on the sizzling side. Tyrone Power, as the flyer who can't find himself is always seeking goodness (hence his quest to the Hindue holy man), and spurns the easy life offered him by the more than usually appealing Gene Tierney. It reaches a climax after they play the Paris nitery bell from Montmartre to Montparnasse, and when back in Chicago she loses sight of him and marries John Payne there is the unashamed confession of a lasting love which Power spurns. When he essays to marry the downfallen Sophie, who went completely dipso when her husband and baby were killed in an auto crash, it's Miss Tierney who leaves the inviting bottle exposed so as to throw her over the brink, just as she was successfully taking the cure under Power's strong and slightly mystic influence.
Against this panorama is Clifton Webb as the dilettante rich uncle the epitome of international snobbery who, even in effective yet somewhat theatrical deathbed scene, only achieves final peace when Power expedites (1) a desirable socialite invitation from a princess (Cobina Wright, Sr.) who was snubbing him, and (2) the Bishop himself comes to administer the last rites.
Herbert Marshall introduces a new cinematic technique-as it was in the original novel-of playing the author W. Somerset Maugham who thus integrates himself into the story by name identity instead of the conventional first-person (but invariably fictitious identified)characterization. As Edmund Goulding and Lamar Trotti have done it, Marshall utilizes an off-screen commentary technique in the earlier footage but, thereafter, is an ubiquitous character, integrated into the cinematrugy as the story unfolds.
The casting is superb. Power is thoroughly believable as the youth who finally learns aloft a rugged Himalayan peak what he's always sought; that "the path to salvation is as hard to travel as the sharp edge of a razor" but having found "God's beauty....fresh and vivid to the day of our death" he is prime to return to his homeland.
For all its pseudo-ritualistic aura the film is fundamentally a solid love story. Miss Tierney is the almost irresistibly appealing [female lead] and completely depicts all the beauty and charm endowed her by Maugham's characterization. Mss Baxter walks off with perhaps the films' personal bit as the dipso, rivaled only by Webb's effete characterization. That goes right down the line. Elsa Lancaster makes a kittenish old-maid secretarial role count for much. Henri Letondal as the pompous little French functionary is a gem of a characterization as the Toulon police inspector (who also has commisionnarire cards for funeral parlors, restaurants and the like for which he shills). Frank Latimore, relatively new face, looks promising as the young husband who gets killed. Fritz Kortner makes his religioso-angry miner role stand out; ditto Noel Cravat as an oh-chi-chornia specialist; Renne Carson as the Apache protector of the degraded Miss Baxter. And not forgetting Harry Pilcer, who is in his element (1) as the Apache specialty dancer and (2) as the general terp stager of the atmospheric Rue de Lape stuff.
This is a personal Darryl F. Zannuck production and he has given it the gun in every detail. Not the least of it is Alfred Newman's fine score and excellent lensing.
Sumptuously mounted and capably administered by director Goulding, the film lives up to one of the industry's best pre-sold products. As a showmanship footnote in this new scheme of pre-selling the bigger pictures, The Razor's Edge evidences how sharply this particular commodity cut itself into public consciousness. It's an advance buildup which must interpret itself for extra values, especially when the pre-campaign is matched by the box-office pull.
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November 18, 1946; By Bosley Crowther
In an earnest, expensive endeavor to put upon the screen the tenuous drama and morality of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, Twentieth Century-Fox has concocted a long and elaborate film in which the grasp for some shining revelation of spiritual quality exceeds its reach.
It has aimed for a lofty exhibition of goodness within the should of man and has shown little more than surface piety in this new film which opened at the Roxy last night.
And that is because the story which Mr. Maugham wrote-and which has been followed with essential fidelity by Lamar Trotty in the screen play-is a vague and uncertain encroachment upon a mystical moral realm, more emotional that intellectual, more talked about than pursued. It seems a strangely hypothetical exploration upon a narrow social plane-and the film has done nothing to delimit either the area of operations of the thought.
It still tells the oddly specious story of a young flier of the First World War who goes looking for peace and spiritual harmony while his friends swish in luxury and greed. It still takes this earnest young fellow into an occult East Indian hide-away, where he gathers some sort of salvation, and brings him back to spread light among his friends. And it still pits this paragon of wisdom primarily against an old flame who is vain, selfish, vicious and deceitful-in short, a most ungodly dame.
But the details of demonstration, while as worldly and showy as the book's, lack the clear and incisive quality that would make them seem visibles of truths. They are richly, exquisitely theatrical in the very best style of Hollywood, but they carry no cachet of humanity, no insight into abstract ecstasies.
Typical is the manner in which the hero's salvation is revealed as the consequence of a visit to a saintly philosopher in the East. After a quaintly sophomoric conversation with this ancient gentleman, conducted inmost reverential voices, the hero ascends to a mountaintop, where a few moments later (in the picture) he is bathed in refulgent light. Cathedral music rocks the sound track. That represents his peace with God. But what it means in practical extension is rather tritely exhibited. He works some yogi on a friend who has the megrims and tries to save a fallen woman by marrying her. The first is miraculously successful, but the second does not succeed. The woman, far gone in melancholia, is more interested in strong drink.
And because of these specious situations, adorned with glib but vacuous dialogue, the opportunities of the performers are quite as limited as the talents of most. Tyrone Power, who returns in this picture after a long war service career, tries exceeding hard to play a "good" man on little more than frequent statements that he is. His face glows like Mr. Sunshine's and he affects a sublime serenity. But the quality of "goodness" that is in him must depend on no more.
For the role of the girl who adores him for selfish reasons alone, Gene Tierney is spectacularly deficient. Where she might have made a scathing expose of a parasitic female, she hits only the most childish attitudes. And Anne Baxter, as the wretched fallen woman, fairly wallows in debauchery and pathos*. Clifton Webb is crisply amusing and almost destructive in spots as a titanic snob and social tyrant, and Herbert Marshal is wan as Somerset Maugham. In directing this elegant company Edmond Goulding has cleverly exercises some interesting movements with his camera, but not sufficient histrionic taste.
For all its shortcomings however, there is no doubt that The Razor's Edge will appeal to a great many people who are sentimentally inclined to its vague philosophy. And the unctuousness of its expression will take care of a lot of vagrant hopes. Also-and this is important-it returns Mr. Power to the screen in a role of a modern evangelist. Goodness is back and Mr. Power has got it. At least, that's what it says.
*Anne Baxter received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for 1946 for this role.
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Release Date: September 9, 1947
October 10, 1947; By Thomas M. Pryor
Tyrone Power has that mystical glint in his eyes again in Nightmare Alley, but there's a world of difference between his motives in the new Twentieth Century-Fox production, which opened yesterday at the Mayfair, and last year's Nightmare Alley.
This time Mr. Power is playing an utterly reprehensible charlatan out to bilk gullible rich folk seeking solace with his artfully contrived manifestations of metaphysical powers. Despite his grandiose scheming, however, Stan Carlisle's spiritualistic presentations never carry him beyond high-paying super club engagements. For, as he is about to execute his greatest coup, his wife and reluctant accomplice is suddenly conscience-stricken by the enormity of Stan's evil purpose.
If one can take any moral value out of Nightmare Alley it would seem to be that a terrible retribution is the inevitable consequence for he who would mockingly attempt to play God. Otherwise, the experience would not be very rewarding for, despite some fine and intense acting by Mr. Power and others, this film traverses distasteful dramatic ground and only rarely does it achieve any substance as entertainment.
In his direction Edmund Goulding makes good use of Nightmare Alley's carnival atmosphere and the screen play by Jules Furthman retains most of the spirit of the novel, thought it has toned down some of the characters. But, like the book, the film is productive of its moments of shock and revulsion. There is, in fact, little in the way of human wickedness that Mr. Power doesn't do as the slick-tongued carnival spieler who uses his blandishments on an amorous mind reader to obtain the secret code that once made Zeena and her now whisky-sodden husband a topflight mentalist act.
Mr. Power has a juicy role and sinks his teeth into it, performing with considerable versatility and persuasiveness.
Joan Blondell, as the duped mindreader, gives good, earthy characterization. Helen Walker, playing a phony psychologist who outwits Stan Carlisle in his biggest swindle attempt, is cool and poised s the role demands. But Coleen Gray, while appealing as the innocent sideshow girl Stan is forced into marrying, betrays lack of experience and dramatic expression in her one pivotal scene with Mr. Power when she is trying to make him realize that his travesty of Divine power will end disastrously.
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October 15, 1947; Fisk.
Nightmare Alley is a harsh, brutal story told with the sharp clarity of an etching. There isn't a really sympathetic or inspiring character in the show, but acting, direction and production values lift the piece to the plane of griping dramas. In spots it approaches the dignity of authentic tragedy. The picture will satisfy no demands for slight entertainment, hence the box-office is problematical and largely conditioned on the femme draw of Tyrone Power in the lead.
The film deals with the roughest and most sordid phases of carnival life and showmanship. Despite the grim realism of its treatment, it has all the shuddery effect of a horror yarn.
Power's talent hits a new high in his depiction of Stan Carlisle, reform school graduate, who works his way from Carney roustabout to big time mentalist and finally to important swindling in the spook racket. Ruthless and unscrupulous, he uses the women in his life to further his advancement, stepping on them as he climbs.
Most vivid of these is Joan Blondell as the girl he works for the secrets of the mind-reading act. Coleen Gray is sympathetic and convincing as his steadfast wife and partner in his act and Helen Walker comes through successfully as the calculating femme who topples Power from the heights of fortune back to degradation as the geek in the Carney. Ian Keith is outstanding as Blondell's drunken husband, and the balance of the supporting cast works hard and effectively.
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November 3, 1947; James Agee
Nightmare Alley is a hair raising carnival sideshow. At the end of the alley lives the Geek, an is-he-man-or-is-he-beast carnival exhibit that tears up and eats live chickens. He is able to stomach this job because he is in the last stages of dipsomania, and is paid a bottle a day and a place to sleep it off.
This ultimate pit of carnival-life degradation fascinates shrewd, up and coming young Stand Carlisle (Tyrone Power), but it takes Stan nearly two hours' playing time to learn that in spite of all his talents he was born to be a Geek. Stan is one of the most wholehearted and resourceful heels yet to leave a print on the U.S. screen. He climbs a ladder made of ladies. Rung Number 1 is Zeena (Joan Blondell), the midway's mentalist. He plays cozy with her just long enough to swipe a pseudo-telepathic formula through which he can graduate to the big time. Number 2 is luscious loyal dimwit named Molly (Coleen Gray), whom he marries. Number 3 is Lilith (Helen Walker), a pseudo-psychiatrist who outsmarts him at his own racket.
Nightmare Alley would be unbearable brutal for general audiences if it were played for all the humor, cynicism and malign social observation that are implicit in it. I would be unbearably mawkish if it were played too solemnly. Scripter Jules Furthman and Director Edmund Goulding have steered a middle course, now and then crudely but on the whole with tact, skill and power. They have seldom forgotten that the original novel they were adapting is essentially intelligent trash and they have never forgotten that on the screen pretty exciting things can be made of trash. From top to bottom of the cast, the playing is good. Joan Blondell, as the fading carnival queen, is excellent and Tyrone Power, who asked to be cast in the picture, steps into a new class as an actor.
November 8, 1947; James Agee
Nightmare Alley is the story of a cold young criminal (Tyrone Power) who starts as a carnival "mentalist," moves on to a Chicago night club, and is on the verge of the big time (pseudo-religion, with prospects of a personal "temple" and a radio station), when two of the women he has used gum up his act. The picture goes careful just short of all that might have made it very interesting; I gather from the handed-out synopsis that a temple sequence was made which does not appear in the show. Even so, two or three sharply comic and cynical scenes make it worth seeing Power's wrangle over "God" with his wonderfully stupid but not-that-stupid wife (Coleen Gray), a scene which has some of the hard gray audacity of "Monsieur Verdoux;" and every scene in which Taylor Holmes impersonates a skeptical but vulnerable industrialist. In any mature movie context these scenes would be no better than all right, and an intelligently trashy level of all right, at that; but this kind of wit and meanness is so rare in movies today that I had the added special pleasure of thinking "Oh, no; they won't have the guts to do that." But they do; as long as they have any nerve at all, they have quite a lot. The rest of the show is scarcely better than average. Lee Garmes's camera work is lush but vigorous.
Body and Soul, which gets very bitter and discreetly leftish about commercialism in prize fighting, is really nothing much, I suppose, when you get right down to it. But it was almost continuously interesting and exhilarating while I watched it, mainly because everyone had clearly decided to de every scene to a finish and because, barring a few letdowns, scene after scene came off that way. It is never as nervy as the best of Nightmare Alley, but of its own kind it is more solidly made. I like both pictures because in both there is a quick satirical observation a sense of meanness to match the meanness of the worlds they are showing, a correct assumption of cynical knowledge in the audience which relieves them of the now almost universal practice of drawing diagrams for the retarded, and a general quality of tension and of pleasure in good workmanship which now al seem to me to have been commonplaces of American movies of the early thirties and which rarely appear now without looking like cautious museum copies...."
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By Elvis Mitchell; Friday Jan. 28, 2000
"I can't understand how anyone could get so low," the wily carny Stan(Tyrone Power)says of the gibbering geek, the chicken-head-biting freak who's the lowest attraction at the sideshow. It's an ominous piece of foreshadowing that begins Nightmare Alley, the 1947 adaptation of the grim novel by William Lindsay Gresham. (Jules Furthman wrote the screenplay, adding a few shafts of optimism to the bleakness of the original material, in which no one gets off easily.)
The vivid, hard-boiled dialogue of Alley, opening today at Cinema Village in anew 35-millimeter print, allows Power to use his charm ruthlessly.
Here the actor traded on the public perception of him as a handsome wind-up hero to play a clam opportunist. Like Tom Cruise, Power started his career as a sleek hood ornament who made his way through the movies on his charisma and good looks. And like Mr. Cruise, he learned to act, using his career as on-the-job training.
Power's Stan is a light-on-his-feet operator who cajoles the carnival's fortuneteller (Joan Blondell) into teaching him her act. He leaves the tents behind and becomes a star mentalist, chasing grander illegal schemes offstage. The director, Edmund Goulding, keeps the action moving, and the cast-including the luminous young Coleen Gray-is unusually loose with the tangy dialogue (expect for Helen Walker as a shady shrink named Lillith, whose deliver is so clipped that the words come out in individually warped slices). The sharp black-and-white cinematography by Lee Garmes gives the movie an extra lift; you could get lost in the depth and clarity of his compositions.
Power is a little old for the part. It's hard to fight a wince every time someone refers to him as "kid." (Especially when he's in the same shot as Gray.)
But his performance is deft and real: when he pulls off his cheap dickey to wipe his brow and ready himself for action, its a believable throw-away moment. The hood-wink-picture genre doesn't have a whole lot of peaks to choose from but Nightmare Alley is one of the few.
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THE BOSTON GLOBE
"Tyrone Power Mesmerizes in 'Alley'"
By Jay Carr, Friday March 10, 2000
Like his actor father, Tyrone Power died while making a film (Yul Brynner replaced him in Solomon and Sheba). A long string of romantic leads made-and kept-him a star. But there was a darker side to Power that didn't often make it to the screen. When Power returned from the Marines after World War II, he was not feeling romantic. He prodded 20th Century-Fox to buy the rights to William Greesham's Nightmare Alley, a tough, gritty novel about the rise and fall of a sideshow hustler, as lurid as anything Jim Thompson wrote. Power demanded to be cast against type as a charismatic double-crosser voraciously working his way up from carnival mind-reading con games to high-society scams.
Power was never better, never more committed, than in the moody, sizzlingly trashy Nightmare Alley (1947), at the Brattle Theatre tonight and tomorrow. Although he seemed to merely smile his way through a lot of the costume dramas that made him famous, he crackles with shrewdness from the moment we see him in action backstage at the seedy carnival. Determined to get ahead by learning the word code employed by fake telepathists and fallen vaudevillians Joan Blondell and Ian Keith (as her alcoholic husband), he slips the latter a fatal bottle of wood alcohol, and puts the moves on Blondell's blowsy, likable widow to learn her tricks.
En route, the film gives a hint of its destination in the character (this was in pre-computer days) called the Geek, whose act consists of biting the heads off live chickens. The Geek is simply a desperate alcoholic who'll do anything for his daily bottle and a place to sleep it off. When Power says, "I can't understand how anybody can get so low," you don't need ESP to sense fate being tempted. Meanwhile, Power charms Coleen Gray's naive sideshow performer, a circumstance greeted with a communal anger by the carnival folk, who force him to marry her. He does, then relocates to Chicago, where he sets up shop at a fancy nightclub and starts fleecing bigger game after making a deal with Helen Walker's duplicitous iceberg of a psychologist. She feeds him her clients' secretes so he can impress them, milk them, and split the proceeds with her.
All does not go strictly according to plan. But while you expect Power's crook to come full circle, he doesn't quite. The country's hunger for conformity, after decades of upheaval, dealt Hollywood's censors a controlling hand. Which means the redeeming love of a good woman was improbably written into the script. She is not Walker's entertainingly sinister unethical psychologist, however. The carny stuff is pungent, but even here the hand of postwar conformity descends heavily. Somebody asks the carny boss, "How can a guy get so low?" The reply? "He reached to high." So much for the spirit of expansiveness in can-do America. But Power didn't reach too high. On the hustler's way up, Power's black Irish looks have never seemed more dangerous. On the way down, he surprisingly gains our sympathy as an outsider who wants to get inside, only to find himself up against nastier specimens higher on the food chain, higher in the social order. The real nightmare alley, as he was to find out, was not on the sawdust between the tents, but on the flossy, glossy thoroughfares where the big bucks dwell.
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Chuck Rudolph, Film Editor
20th Century Fox player Tyrone Power gives a broken, beaten performance in Nightmare Alley, Edmund Goulding's 1947 film noir that's gotten a three-week revival at New York's Cinema Village theater. Never released on video and rarely screened, Alley is a literal carnival of souls that tells the story of Stan Carlisle, a two-bit carny who works a fortune-telling show with Zeena (played forlornly by Joan Blondell), who had her crack at the big-time but fell from grace. Eager to capitalize on any kind of opportunity that crosses his path, Stan quickly rises from local fair barker to showman fortune-teller to religious guru, all on his power to con people into believing he can predict the future. He's set up for a fall, too, and the film traces his rise to power and subsequent demise with a showman's eye, a subtle combination of B-movie sensationalism and A-list tech credits.
Nightmare Alley is being presented as a forgotten noir story, but it's more of a middle of the road drama that has a lot going for it in certain key areas. Worth mentioning is Lee Garmes' terrific black and white photography, which gives the film an unconventional sheen, and the great cast that works wonders with what could have been a throwaway story. Especially good are Helen Walker as a psychiatrist who may or may not be up to some con games herself, and Power, who subverts his star turn in The Razor's Edge with a risky performance that is heartwrenchingly shaky even at its most confident. He alone makes Nightmare Alley a film to see, a revival that's worth its weight in years.
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TYRONE POWER IN NIGHTMARE ALLEY
by Michael Atkinson
Into every Hollywood glamour god's career comes one film role that rubs creepily against the grain of everything that made a god of the star to begin with. For Cary Grant, it was the mendacious cad he played in Suspicion. For James Stewart, it was the compulsive pervert of Vertigo. For Gary Cooper, it was the cancerous gunslinger in Man of the West. For Tyrone Power, one of the most beautiful men ever to dash across a Golden Age soundstage, the one-character rebellion against typecasting was Stan, the carny miscreant he played in Nightmare Alley. The vast majority of roles Power took on in his 26-year career required only a striking profile, but in Nightmare Alley, one of the oddest noirs of the '40s, Power used his almost irritating handsomeness as a subversive tool. Stan exploits the carnival crowd's instinctual trust of a gorgeous face, which allows Power to play with the implication that the audience offscreen as well as on is being elaborately conned.
For an actor whose specialties were explorers, swashbucklers and dashing romantics to play a carnival scam artist who rises to celebrity and then crashes down to geekhood is borderline perverse. But it works. Power's seductive beauty, winning simplicity and heat-lightning smile take on an edge as they become his character's means to rip off the world. As Power employs his looks and charisma to fuel Stan's charm, it becomes apparent that Stan's shtick isn't far from Power's own--that using one's long eyelashes and perfect teeth to cheat a mark isn't so different from using them to become a movie star.
Because Power is a completely unself-conscious actor, Stan utters every cock-and-bull thing he says with total sincerity. It's fine that Power never signals us that Stan is lying, because he's lying all the time. As Stan climbs from carny pit to nightclub eminence with a clairvoyance grift, Power beams with the conviction and ego of a matinee idol confused between illusion and reality.
But Power's fluency with Stan's duplicitous success is one thing-that's part of being a star. Stan's descent into the maelstrom is a whole other bag of chips. After getting caught red-handed in an outrageous con, Stan runs for it and devolves from a polished trickster to a roadside rumpot. Doom falls over him like a black blanket. In the final act when he's hitting up a carny boss for a job, Power gives him the look of a man who's been hit by a two-ton truck. Power the movie star has erased the natural burnish right off his face. When Stan looks up from downing a shot and tries for a personable, "Oh that's very refreshing," Power shows us such chillingly bruised eyes that we can't help feeling we're getting a cold glimpse of many an actor's foreshortened career, including Power's own. And when Stan is offered the job as the show's resident geek-a man who bites off live chicken heads for a bottle and a bunk-Power hisses with what sounds like genuine self-knowledge, "Mister, I was made for it." Without his youthful good looks and confidence, what's left to a romantic lead? Power seemed genuinely to see the future in the final segment of Nightmare Alley (he was dead at 45 [sic]), and to stare it straight in the eye.
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February 15, 2002
REVIEW NIGHTMARE ALLEY GRADE: A Nightmare Alley
A- THE OREGONIAN
by Jeffrey M. Anderson
There's something strangely endearing and nostalgic about a carnival setting. Perhaps it's the innocence of its attractions; games of skill, feats of magic, sideshow freaks. And there is kind of a sleazy family quality to the carny workers -- like low-rent Italian mobsters. There are few great movies about carnivals -- Tod Browning's Freaks (1932) is one of them -- and Nightmare Alley(1947) is another.
Nightmare Alley has been elevated to cult status mostly out of its unavailability. It has been out of circulation for fifty years due to some argument over rights. Some say it played on television twenty years ago and there may be bootleg tapes circulating. In the fall of 1999, a print resurfaced that played at San Francisco's Roxie theater for one week, and in a theater in Seattle for one week. And that's it. It's gone again. I got to see it, and I'm forever grateful.
Nightmare Alley tells the story of Stan (Tyrone Power), a drifter who has worked many jobs before ending up in a carnival. He works with Zeena (Joan Blondell), a mind-reader, and her drunken husband Pete (Ian Keith). We're shown the secret of how they do their act, but it's a only a second-rate act. Zeena and her husband had once developed a priceless code that allowed them to do a first-class act in Vaudeville, but now Pete is too drunk to pull it off. Pete dies in an accident one night that is partially Stan's fault, and Stan moves up to the big time, learning the code and working with Zeena. But Stan has fallen in love with Molly ( Colleen Gray), the strongman Bruno's (Mike Mazurki) girlfriend. Stan and Molly run away together and get a job working the act in a nightclub. There Stan meets a less-than-scrupulous shrink named Lilith Ritter (Helen Walker). Together they plan even bigger swindles, bilking the town's richest and most powerful out of their cash. But this is film noir, and in the end, everything falls apart in the most vicious and circular way.
The central question of Nightmare Alley is, "how does one get so low?" At first Stan asks that question about the circus geek, who we never see except in shadow. No one really likes to talk about the geek. He's a fact of life that everyone accepts; the black sheep of the family. Crowds like to see him because he holds an odd fascination. Because Stan breaks the rule and asks about the geek, their fates become intertwined. No matter how successful Stan becomes, he is destined to fall down again. During some of his turning points, we hear the geek laughing and screaming in the background.
Nightmare Alley is a terrific movie, pulled off with a tremendous amount of skill. Director Edmund Goulding was a Hollywood director-for-hire who was best known for working with great actresses. Best Picture winner Grand Hotel (1932) with Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo and Dark Victory (1939) with Bette Davis were his. After World War II, his projects got stranger and he ended up directing Tyrone Power in The Razor's Edge (1946). Goulding used Power again in Nightmare Alley, twisting Power's image around into a greedy and unscrupulous user. If there is a flaw in Nightmare Alley, it's Power, who was a handsome lug without much electricity.
Goulding had the best crew of his career on Nightmare Alley. The screenplay was by Jules Furthman, based on a novel by William Lindsay. Furthman was one of the best in the business, writing some of the greatest films by Josef von Sternberg (Morocco, Shanghai Express, The Shanghai Gesture) and Howard Hawks (Only Angels Have Wings, To Have and Have Not, Rio Bravo). His dialogue was crisp and seductive. His best scene is when Stan sweet-talks the small-town sheriff into not shutting down the carnival. The cinematography was by Lee Garmes, also one of the best in the business. Garmes brought some extraordinary expressionist lighting to early Hollywood in films like Morocco, Shanghai Express, Scarface, and None Shall Escape. He also shot Duel in the Sun in lurid color for King Vidor, The Paradine Case for Alfred Hitchcock, Caught for Max Ophuls, The Lusty Men for Nicholas Ray, and Land of the Pharaohs for Hawks. Garmes' work is evidenced in the boxy shadow work in the nighttime scenes at the carnival, and the criss-crossed lines in Dr. Ritter's office.
There's not much point in me recommending Nightmare Alley, unless you're lucky enough to live in San Francisco or Seattle, or know someone who has a bootleg tape. Or perhaps you know the guilty parties who are arguing over some mysterious and long-lost copyright, and you can talk some sense into them so that a new generation may be able to see the film. Until then, I will cherish my memory. Rating: 4 Cormans (out of 4)
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1947 Noir Reveals Geeks Within
Tyrone Power creepy in
Mick LaSalle, "San Francisco Chronicle" Staff Critic
Friday, October 8, 1999
Here's a thought: Within every person, there is a geek busting to get out. We may be cool. We may be in control. But come a series of disasters -- followed by years of bad choices, bad breaks and bad habits -- and who can say for certain that we would not jump at a job biting off live chicken heads at a carnival?
Nightmare Alley a 1947 film noir that starts a one-week run at the Roxie Cinema today, is about a fellow who looks great from the outside. Tyrone Power, about as handsome as any man this century, plays a fellow with a gift of gab that keeps on giving. He can charm, seduce and out-talk anybody. But that inner geek wants out. That geek is screaming, "Bring on the poultry."
Nightmare Alley is a strange and rather sick movie made by highly talented people. The director: Ed mund Goulding (Grand Hotel). The cameraman: Lee Garmes, a master of light and shadows who photographed Marlene Dietrich's best movies. The original source: a novel by William Lindsay Gresham, who had a thing for carnivals and circuses and eventually committed suicide.
Power plays Stanton, a carnival newcomer who sees a geek freaking out one day and asks an old-timer, "How does a guy become a geek?" No one will tell him, and he drops the subject. Stanton has bigger things in mind. He wants to become a fake clairvoyant and spiritualist -- one heck of an ambition.
Joan Blondell plays Zeena, a fake mind-reader whose infidelity has turned her husband into a pathetic alcoholic. "I'm as reliable as a two- dollar cornet," she says, as only Blondell can. Stanton exploits the weakness in Zeena's marriage, and she's just the first person he uses to make it to the top. Stanton thinks he's running from possible geekdom. In fact, he's doing the opposite. If he only stopped talking for a moment, he might even hear the distant sound of clucking.
Noirs usually have an evil woman, and this one has a doozy. Helen Walker plays a psychiatrist who teams up with "The Great Stanton" on a scam to fleece rich suckers. The lady is as cold-blooded as Stanton, and has one advantage: No inner geek. No weakness.
Nightmare Alley, which was released 52 years ago tomorrow, has achieved legendary status, and yet it has rarely been seen in theaters. It's a one-of-a-kind experience -- dark, bleak, twisted carnival noir.
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by J. Hoberman
January 26 - February 1, 2000
"Citizen Kane" was the movie that raised the artistic ante among American filmmakers-although, as Manny Farber noted in a piece called "The Gimp," Kane's influence seemed "to have festered in Hollywood's unconscious" for a few years until after World War II. "Then it broke out in full force."
Nightmare Alley, opening Friday at Cinema Village in a brand-new 35mm print, was one such wannabe Kane. This 1947 account of an archetypal American's rise and fall is neither a great movie nor even a classic noir but it has a great ambition to be daring and, once seen, is not easily forgotten. The movie suggested far more than it showed but what it showed, including the climactic degradation of 20th Century Fox's then-major star Tyrone Power, was remarkably sordid for so high-profile a release.
Excitingly tawdry, as well as self-defeatingly slick, this backstage excursion through the showbiz lower depths was based on the doggedly poetic pulp novel by William Lindsay Gresham (perhaps the only drugstore shocker inspired by T.S. Eliot). The project was evidently initiated at Power's request and involved a number of high-powered professionals. Howard Hawks associate Jules Furthman wrote the hard-boiled adaptation for high-gloss director Edmund Goulding; Sternberg cameraman Lee Garmes provided the opalescent cinematography. The early sequences are nearly timeless in introducing the carnival world of marks and rubes, Gypsy fortune-tellers, dimwitted strongmen, and the unseen geek-a broken-down alcoholic who bites the heads off live chickens for a daily bottle of booze and a place to sleep it off.
Nightmare Alley doesn't begin to approach the vÃ©ritÃ© ferocity of Tod Browning's Freaks. The dappled studio lighting and artfully cluttered midway mise-en-scÃ¨ne suggest a rancid Oz forever stuck in Kansas. When the movie opened in October 1947, Variety found it both grimly realistic and horrifyingly fantastic. Writing in Time, James Agee praised the cynical humor and sharp social observation, although both seem to have evaporated over the past half-century. Nightmare Alley is a grim morality tale in which gum-chewing smoothie Stanton Carlisle (Power, who appears in virtually every scene) graduates from barker to mind-reading mentalist to big-time spiritualist, while stringing along a succession of female costars-notably Joan Blondell as a warmhearted soothsayer and Colleen Gray as a winsome circus girl.
While it's difficult to accept the inexpressive Power as a brilliant con artist, many have noted that he's a more convincing fake mystic here than he was a real one in his previous feature The Razor's Edge> (also directed by Goulding). Once Stan makes the big time in deco Chicago, the best performers have been left behind-Blondell, Ian Keith's inebriated cuckold, James Flavin's tough carnie boss. Worse, the visuals go fussy and inert, imprisoning the performers in streamlined shadow patterns even as the filmmakers keep jerking what Farber called the "gimp string," making sure the spectator makes the connection between traditional suckerbait and its modern manifestations (Freudian jargon, secret recording devices). It's at this point that the Great Stanton meets the movie's ultimate femme fatale, "consulting psychologist" Lilith Ritter (ice queen Helen Walker), a society shrink who's working her own racket.
It's tempting to read Nightmare Alley as an allegory about what the religion of showbiz gives an audience. The movie eluded the Production Code in several small ways, mainly allowing its antihero to enjoy sexual dalliances outside of marriage and its villainess to escape unpunished. The fake redemptive ending doesn't mitigate the sordid trajectory-or the movie's too obvious sense of being pleased with itself, as expressed in Dr. Ritter's ostentatiously grown-up view of human nature. "You're a perfectly normal human being," she coolly tells Stan. "Selfish and ruthless when you want something, kind and generous when you've got it."
At the very least, Nightmare Alley added a new line to the compendium of conventional wisdom. Just as you should never eat at a diner called Mom's, nor sit down to play poker with a guy who's known as Doc, it's not smart to trust your secret to a dame named Lilith.
** Were Nightmare Alley less pumped up, it might have been a great B movie. The destructive inflation is a classic example of the syndrome Manny Farber described so pungently in "White Elephant Art vs Termite Art." The 82-year-old Farber, recent recipient of a special award from the New York Film Critics Circle, is himself the subject of Chris Petit's 40-minute BBC portrait, showing Saturday afternoon at AMMI to preface a four-weekend series in which various NYFCC members introduce movies of the '90s they deem insufficiently appreciated.
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Captain from Castille
Release Date: November 26, 1947
NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE
December 26, 1947
A swashbuckling and disjointed salute to the high deeds of the Spanish conquistadors has come to the Rivoli. "Captain from Castile" is jammed to its celluloid seams with chases, prison escapes. amorous encounters, fights on land and sea and pageantry. In vivid Technicolor. It is a bountiful, but confusing entertainment. Although Tyrone Power dashes from Castile i 1518 to the Palace of Montezuma a few years later, he quite fails to keep the motion picture from becoming wildly episodic. Since the fans of arrant derring-do are generally less interested in a defined continuity than lots of excitement, they are certain to welcome this extravaganza.
Based on Samuel Shellabarger's novel of the same name, this 20th Century Fox production makes almost no effort to tie the rambling chapters of a pseudo-historical chronicle into a sustained drama. The early reels are concerned with a Spanish nobleman's vicissitudes at the hands of the Inquisition, in which his small sister is tortured to death. There is also a hint of a titled match with a fair senorita which permits some of the gaudiest tints in the entire work. From then on, there is little point in following the plot carefully. suffice it to say that it finds De Vargas following Cortez into the interior of Mexico, marrying a Spanish peasant girl who has in some manner accompanied him and covering himself with martial glory.
Power has wisely taken the dislocated fragments of the productions as they have come. He is excellent in the passages describing the flight from the Inquisition; less impressive when he is attempting to tell an Aztec what the Spaniards are doing in the New world. At least his escapades are always accomplished in a florid manner, even when he is taking over a shipload of mutineers single-handed. Here is acting of the elder Douglas Fairbanks school done to the queen's taste.
His assistants range from Jean Peters, as the feminine companion of his journey across the Atlantic, to Cesar Romero, as Cortez. the latter matches his performance most perfectly in an unrestrained portrayal of the Spanish leader, Lee J. Cobb, John Sutton,
Alan Mowbray and Antonio Moreno are among those who intrude themselves temporarily on the scenes of general hubbub. Henry King has staged "Captain from Castile" expansively. He has even marshaled a Spanish army in the climax and left them with no fight on their hands. The Rivoli offering is strictly for vicarious swashbucklers.
December 26, 1947; By Bosley Crowther
Readers of Samuel Shelaberger's spectacular Captain from Castile (which seemed, indeed, to have been written with the movies and Technicolor in view) will be distressed to discover a rather pastel reflection of the book in Twentieth Century-Fox's film version, which opened at the Rivoli yesterday. Blood, which flowed in such abundance through the notable action-crammed romance, is reduced to a few read trickles and sun-dried splashes in this strangely queasy film The horror of the Spanish Inquisition, which was basic to the villainy in the book, is implied in a few mild arm-twisting as one brief torture-cry from off-stage. And the battles between the Spaniard and the Mexicans, which were violent and clanging in print, are conspicuously nonexistent on the gaudy but unexcited screen.
Whether a meticulous deference to the Catholic Church and to our neighbors to the south occasioned elimination of the richest action in the book, it remains that the picture is neither good history nor top adventure-romance. It is a long a peculiarly disjointed report on a bold young Spaniard's life, from his bland youth in sixteenth-century Castile to his soldiering in Mexico with Cortez. And although it does have some fast cape-slinging, sword-drawing and chases on horse and foot, plus a share of love-making al fresco, it lacks direction and suspense. Too much attention is given to undramatic intrigue.
Indifferent,too, are the performances. Tyrone Power makes a handsome Spanish blade, but with little temper in his mettle, and Caesar Romero makes an uninspired Cortez, while Jean Peters is luke warm as a slavey and Lee J. Cobb is windy as a buccaneer. Ten or twelve other actors inflate their costumes elaborately but they become little more than added gadgets on a big assembly-line-produced display.
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November 26, 1947; Herm.
This is a b.o. bonanza. A surging massive, spectacularly iridescent opus, Captain from Castile will line â€˜em up layers deep form the tanktowns to the key cities despite the upped admission scales which 20th-Fox has pinned on this offering.
Based on Samuel Shellaberger's 1945 best-selling historical novel, the cinema adaptation hews closely to the structure of the book, capturing the vast sweep to its story and adding to it an eye-stunning Technicolor dimension. In its sumptuous mountings costuming, numberless horde of extras, name players and solidly packed running time of two hours and 20 minutes, this film is beyond doubt among the most elaborate ever turned out by a Hollywood studio. The coin poured into this production, reported to be around $4,5000,000,is visible in every inch of the footage.
For this plume-and-sabre epic of 16t Century Spanish imperial conquerors, producer Lamar Trotti and 20th production chief Darryl Zanuck have assembled a group of thespers who, besides their high-powered marquee voltage, are cleanly tailored for the various parts. Led by Tyrone Power, who's rarely been shown to better advantage, the roster is buttressed by Cesar Romero, in stirringly virile portrait of Cortez; Lee J. Cobb, as a fortune hunter; John Sutton as a velvety villain, and newcomer Jean Peters, a buxom appealing wench for the romantic by-play. Lesser parts are stocked by such solid standbys as Alan Mowbray, George Zucco, Thomas Gomez, Antonio Moreno and others who play their bit parts to the hilt.
The Technicolor and the usages to which it is put in this film, is a brilliant achievement considered by itself. Like the British masterpiece, Henry V, the tinting in Captain from Castile is something more than an added visual element, but it is explored for its dramatic possibilities as an integral aspect of the action. Through staggering contrasts, subtle shadings and kaleidoscopic merging of color patterns into a dominant tone fitting to the sequence, the color is the most prominent single factor in this production densely atmospheric quality.
Trotti's screenplay, like the book has a headlong pace. Due to its pseudo-historical scaffolding, plot has a loose structure based on a succession of individually exciting episodes. From the opening reel to the closing there's a stampede of action that rarely slows down long enough for the spectator to catch his breath.
From one viewpoint, this picture is constructed like a self-contained double feature. In the first half, the locale is Spain during the Inquisition, with Power and his family unjustly persecuted for heresy. (The Catholic Church's role in the witch-hunting atrocities of that time have been neatly muted to the satisfaction of the unofficial censorship bodies.) This passage is loaded with cross-country chases, jail brake and one superb dueling scene between Power and Sutton within a prison cubicle.
Escaping from Spain, Power finds himself during the second half in Mexico as a recruit in Cortez's expedition of plunder against the Aztec Empire ruled by Montezuma. Also crammed with action, this section is notable for its handling of panoramic shots of the Spanish camp and the huge diplomatic delegations from Montezuma. Photographed on locations in Mexico, many of the Aztec civilization relics are melded into the film, giving an authentic flavor to the pic. "Whatever the historical validity of this depiction of the brutal, gunpowdered policy of Cortez towards the spear-armed Aztecs, this film builds and sustains a persuasive canvas of history-in-the-making.
There are, however, several soft spots in the story that interfere with credibility. There is, for instance, the fact that Power narrowly escapes death no less than three times under the most extreme circumstances. Sutton, likewise, cheats death two times despite his being stabbed through the heart with a foot of steel one time and near-strangled the next. But these are picayune considerations in a film that will satisfy all levels of taste in its elemental excitement and colossal size.
Performances are properly keyed, without exception, to the derring-do proceedings. Power as a Spanish nobleman who becomes a captain in Cortez's army, is an intense, brooding and agile personality with all the emotional depth that part requires. Romero, breaking away from the fancy-dan type casting, draws a dominating portrait as Cortez which shads surrounding players while he's on the scene. Cobb turns in a sharply etched characterization as a fortune-hunter tormented in his lust for the revenge of his mother's death at Sutton's hands. Latter, playing a civilian inquisitor in false service to the faith, is superb in his aristocratic sadism. Miss Peters, as Power's plebian flame, is a flashy looker who handles the thesping needs completely. Other cast members are uniformly excellent.
Powerfully underscoring the driving tandem of the story and the color is a magnificent score by Alfred Newman. The music, which is not unobtrusive, adds heavily to the overall pulse-quickening tempo of the picture.
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The Luck of the Irish
Release Date: September 1, 1948
September 16, 1948; By Bosley Crowther
Just because Finian's Rainbow uncovered a pot of gold within the theatrical cut-ups of a playful leprechaun is no cause for anyone's suspecting that Twentieth Century-fox has likewise employed an Irish pixy in its new film to steal a march. The elf in The Luck of the Irish, which came to the Roxy yesterday, is plainly a chance invention of Guy and Constance Jones, who wrote the very recent novel on which this film is based. And the fact that he has the same appearance as Finian's magic friend, Og, is surely a natural coincidence. Besides, leprechauns are in the public domain.
However, it must be stated, out of all due respect for Og, that the elf in this whimsy-wishful picture isn't in the same leprechaun league. He is strictly a vaudeville-Irish pixy with a Country Kerry hat, a foot-thick brogue and a set of standard equipment for Irish sentiment and comedy. And, although he is played by Cecil Kellaway with considerable affection throughout, he never seems much more than an actor-and a rather broad one-to a stubborn realist.
Nor does The Luck of the Irish, for all its occasional little glints, seem more than a modernized version of a Chauncey Olcott-type of Irish someday, done with a slick New York villain and a vague hint of Third Avenue. For the hero, in standard Olcott fashion, is saved by the leprechaun from a life of power and a greedy female to live in Ireland with that sweet girl at the country inn. And the concept of Ireland and the Irish is the ancient thea4rical one of cottages, dog carts, whisky, whimsy and a tenor singing Rose of Tranlee. Significantly, those sections of the picture which are supposedly set in Ireland are tinted-oh, shades of St. Patrick!-painfully bilious green.
As a fellow who give up fame and fortune at the hest of the leprechaun, Tyrone Power looks and acts like a person who is not quite certain that he isn't being a fool. And one can well understand this. Jayne Meadows, as the girly he gives up, is much more beguiling than Anne Baxter, with her quaint charm and her Midwest Irish brogue. Indeed, even the standard hard-boiled manner of a tycoon put on by Lee J. Cobb might be easier to live with, in the long run, than the Irishness of J. M. Kerrigan.
But then there's no telling about people. There may be some, like Mr. Power, who are lured by the scent of the shamrock and the patter of leprechauns. If so, there's The Luck of the Irish as sticky as it is green. Bejabbers, an' we'll be after tellin' ye, its for the likes of them as likes the likes of such.
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September 15, 1948; Stat.
<>Take some fantastic creature like a leprechaun, add to it a couple of stars like Tyrone Power and Anne Baxter, mix well with a whimsical story in modern dress, and the result should be a picture that could draw 'em all. But make the whimsy just a bit too contrived and the result is 20th-Fox's The Luck of the Irish, an entertaining little picture that misses just a bit.
With the names of Power, Miss, Baxter and the catchy title, the film should have no trouble getting started in most situations. The word-of-mouth is the catch in this one. It all depends on whether the customers go for such things as a dyed-in-the-green leprechaun cavorting around Manhattan in the guise of a gentleman's gentleman. Same type of character in the current Broadway musical, Finian's Rainbow, was acceptable, so maybe this one will be too.
Whether the customers go for the Irish type of pixie or not, they'll go for Cecil Kellaway, who plays the part in Irish. Under the light comedy tough of director Henry Kostner, Kellaway makes the character come to life in believable fashion. His every movement is tailored to the role and he's continually snatching scenes away from the stars. Irish mothers attempting to bring their kids up in the traditions of the old sod may rebel at the leprechaun's persistent taste and apparently unquenchable thirst for good Scotch whiskey, but on Kellaway it looks good.
Power, after being saddled with the roles he had in Nightmare Alley and Captain From Castile has a part better suited to his talents as the political writer who befriends the leprechaun. Miss Baxter, on the other hand, seems wasted in a role that requires none of the heavy thesping with which she's made her mark. However, she carries off well the part of Power's vis-a-vis, making her Irish brogue sound authentic.
Story, adopted by Philip Dunne from a novel by Guy and Constance Jones, goes too far afield to be wholly believable. As a war correspondent who's freelanced around Europe after V-E Day, Power meets both the leprechaun and Miss Baxter, a native colleen, just before leaving Ireland to take a well-paying job in New York as a ghost writer for a powerful publisher wishing to run for the Senate. Leprechaun, knowing Power is prostituting himself for money, turns up in N.Y. as his valet. Miss Baxter follows, the two of them work on Power and the denouement is obvious. Interspersed with the main plot are Power's half-hearted romance with the publisher's daughter and some notes on Irish folklore showing how to trap a leprechaun and make him give up his w.k. pot of gold.
With the two stars and Kellaway taking the lead, the supporting cast follows through nicely. Talents of Lee J. Cobb, like those of Miss Baxter, seem wasted on the role of the publisher but, as usual, he turns in an ultra-neat performance. Jayne Meadows is sufficiently attractive and conniving as his daughter out to trap Power and keep him in the family. James Todd, J. M. Kerrigan and Phil Brown are good in lesser roles.
Although the picture is no lush top budgeter, in the modern idiom, producer Fred Kohlmar has limned it with some costly trappings. His use of a green-tinted film for all scenes supposedly shot in Ireland. Incidentally, is a novel and well-executed stunt that should add exploitation value to the picture. Joseph La Sheele's camera direction is good, as is Cyril Mockridge's score.
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MOTION PICTURE GUIDE [1927 - 1983]
By Jay Robert Nash & Stanley Ralph Ross; Cinebooks, Inc. (1986)
"..........The debonair Power is surprisingly good in this comedic role and Kellaway is absolutely fascinating as the gnome-like, mischievous leprechaun, a part originally designed for Barry Fitzgerald."
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That Wonderful Urge
Release Date: November 2, 1948
NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE
* * *
December 22, 1948
By Howard Barnes
Love is Still News
The old gag about the reporter and the heiress has been dusted off by 20th Century Fox for "That Wonderful Urge" at the Roxy.
With Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney in the leading roles, it is easy to guess just which urge is referred to in the title; and it is even easier if one remembers the picture "Love is News" with Power in the same role, in 1937. A story by William R. Lipkman and Frederick Stepani, about a newspaper man and a very solvent lady pulling tricks on each other, formed the basis for both scripts. Jay Dratler has brought it up-to-date by placing a couple of scenes in Sun Valley and referring to war correspondence. It is still a mediocre antic which goes wild in an attempt to give nonsense to appearance of genuine humor.
Power is on familiar ground in the role of a tabloid feature writer ding a series of rather rude articles on an imaginary Doris duke. Miss Tierney is the lady who resents having her private life aired, and who falsely tells the press that she and the reporter are married in order to place him in the publicity limelight and see how he likes it. He doesn't, of course, and thereby hang all the variations of this joke. They range from rough-and-tumble n a bedroom to a courtroom resolution of the whole thing. the stars march through their parts with the technical competence and good looks which are so often used as a substitute for lively, imaginative acting in large scale romantic comedies.
* * *
There is a touch of real virtuosity in Gene Lockhart's brief portrayal of a fussy, sentimental judge, and at several points the Robert B. Sinclair direction manages some merry sequences. the best has Power pretending to be a backwoods boor at a very correct party in order to embarrass his unwanted "wife"; the worst tries to get a laugh out of the fact that small country jailhouses are sometimes infested with an insect population. Most of "That Wonderful Urge" is inoffensive, glossy and conventional. It is nothing to be shouted out of town, but its heiress-reporter business is too far fetched for satire and too full of production dignity to be played for farce.
* * *
With three dozen names on the cast list, the stars have plenty of support. On the roster are Reginald Gardiner, Arleen Whelan, Lucile
Watson, Lloyd Gough, Porter Hall and Taylor Holmes as the sort of people you would expect to meet at the best table at "21" or in the cul-de-sac at Bleeck's.
Some real fun has been and could again be made from the crossing of Park Avenue and Park Row. But as crossed on the 20th Century
Fox lot in "That Wonderful Urge," they merge into just another routine assignment for a couple of expensive stars.
December 22, 1948; By Thomas M. Pryor
Tyrone Power, encouraged by the cheering squad at Twentieth Century-Fox, is taking another whirl at being a reporter who ridicules a personable rich girl in print and then succumbs to her charm in That Wonderful Urge. Giving away the whole plot of the Roxy's new farce in an introductory sentence probably is not the sporting thing to do. But, on the other hand, such a reach of critical etiquette may e pardoned on the ground that the picture is pretty slim entertainment, an old jape with no real farcical bounce to sustain it.
Indeed, any resemblance between the film which opened last night and Love is News, which played the same theatre in 1037, probably is not so much intentional as it is reflection of the limited inventiveness of Jay Dratler, who did the present rewrite of this William R. Lipman-Frederick Stephani story. But the casting of Mr. Power must have been calculated, for it hardly seems likely that either the actor of the studio could have forgotten that he also starred in the earlier picture.
To give Mr. Dratler due credit, he did change the story about somewhat, and someone else worked a further new development by inducing Gene Tierney to step into the role originally performed by Loretta Young. You may recall that the heiress in Love is News got her revenge by announcing to the rival press her "engagement" to the brash reporter. Our play girl in That Wonderful Urge is a bit more daring and brazenly proclaims her "marriage," a circumstance which costs Thomas Jefferson Tyler his job and makes him the butt of embarrassing Cinderella-man jibes.
The fun (sic) is, of course, predicated on Tyler's efforts to substantiate his claims to bachelorhood, and when the initial impetus of that jest begins to pale the joke is heightened-not to mention complicated-by allowing the report to play in earnest the role of "husband," a twist which rocks Sara Farley on her pretty heels. Perhaps this spectator lacks the proper degree of sophistication to view the highjinks in That Wonderful Urge with thorough equanimity, but we venture to say that the moral tone of the picture leaves much to be desired from this point, especially as a Christmas entertainment when so many children are lose on Broadway.
In the process of deflating the reporter the much-battered institution of marriage is subjected to questionable-farcical treatment. Moreover, the dignity of the court which is finally dragged in to determine whether the principals are legally wed, is shamelessly travestied. However, lest one feel that the reviewer is prudishly disposed, we cite as the ultimate in good taste the climactic episode which finds the reporter, now really in love, waiting for the heiress in her boudoir and reading a book plainly labeled "Sexual Behavior." Is that supposed to be funny, gentleman of Twentieth Century-Fox?
Mr. Power and Miss Tierney are a congenial team and they get adequate assistance from Reginald Gardiner, Arleen Whelan, Lucille Watson and others plus some beautiful Sun Valley snowscapes in the opening moments of That Wonderful Urge. But there isn't much honest amusement on the Roxy's screen.
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November 24, 1948; Herm.
With escapist comedies once again in their heyday of boxoffice favor, That Wonderful Urge can be marked down as a surefire laugh-winner and coin-snarer. It's one of the best in the current cycle of fluffy confections. Geared for gaiety, the film deftly spins its lightweight yarn into a zany and volatile romance for maximum impact. Teaming of Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney will provide the necessary marquee lift.
Mounted in a slick production, the screenplay is another variation of the-poor-little-rich-girl theme against a newspaper background. But Jay Dratler has dressed up this script with enough new twists and smart dialog to give an old chestnut the flavor of a brand new soufflÃ©. Robert Sinclair's direction has wrapped up this dish with a bouncing pace that never falters under the story's lack of weight.
Switching from his heavy romantic and adventure roles, Power makes the most of his comedy chances as a cynical reporter assigned to assassinate the character of a grocery chain heiress. Posing as a lover to get the inside story for his series, he becomes tangled in his own line and bait when the gal, Miss Tierney, snaps back and turns him into a national laughing stock.
This is also one of Miss Tierney's most successful performances. Costumed to highlight her natural charms and rigged with peppery lines, she polishes off her role with considerable grace. Wreaking a woman's revenge on her tormentor, she gives a newsbeat to rival newspapermen by faking a claim of marriage to Power. Fired from his job for selling out to the enemy, Power works all the angles to extricate himself from her gag but can't prove that he's still a bachelor. At the finale, of course, there's a legitimate clinch with Power lying in bed reading the Kinsey report.
Solid support to the principals is delivered by Reginald Gardner as a penniless count on the make for a fortune, and Gene Lockhart, as a sentimental judge who wants to reconcile the couple. Arleen Whelan and Lucile Watson, in briefer roles, also do nicely among a competent cast of secondary players.
Excellent camera work and a pointed musical score round off an ace production.
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Prince of Foxes
Release Date: August 22, 1949
NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE
* * *
December 24, 1949
By Howard Barnes
An elaborate and macabre account of the wicked Borgias has come to the Roxy screen. Filmed in Italy under Henry King's direction
"The Prince of Foxes" is chock-full of ridiculous violence. Tyrone Power, Orson Welles and Wanda Hendrix posture murkily in the alurums and excursions which find the great Cesare overthrown by a peasant. there is a certain excitement about the storming of walled towns and calculated treachery. but this preposterous examination of the Rennaisance is more corny than convincing.
The impetus that the picture achieves by its realistic settings is almost nullified by a vapid screen adaptation of Samuel
Shellabarger's novel. There is great to-do about the amoral and murderous notions of the Italian family which waged sadistic war on a group of cities. the climax, which has Orsini burning down the household of Borgia is definitely lacking in dramatic impulse. Before that point Orsini is shown defending a beleaguered hill town, supposedly blinded and torn from his inamorata. Welles sits at the head of a banquet table with great aplomb, but no conviction. Power pulls a lot of derring-do, but it is generally random.
* * *
The chief interest in "The Prince of Foxes" resides in the fact that a handsome Hollywood production has been made on the scene and misses almost all the advantages that might have been achieved by straight shooting. King has devised extraordinary scenes or rural warfare, diabolical schemes and mass movement. they add up to very little of cinematic value in the exposition of a melodrama.
* * *
Power is by far the foxiest in the title role. He takes the story as though it meant something and achieves his vengeance on the house of the Borgias with meticulous skill. Welles is far less apt as the villain of all Italy in his time and Miss Hendrix is just a bad choice for the role of Camilla. there is great fanfare in "Prince of Foxes," but little to make it a memorable recollection of the dread doings of the period it tries to portray.
August 22, 1949; By Bosley Crowther
A picture of stately magnificence, so far as settings and costumes are concerned, and of unbounded generosity in bringing the Italian renaissance to popular view has been made from Samuel Shellabarger's Prince of Foxes by twentieth Century-Fox and put on exhibition on the Roxy's appropriate screen.
Persons who want to look at palaces, frescoes, Venetian canals, walled hill town, brocaded costumes and banquet tables will find a' plenty here.
They will also find one vivid sequence representing an assault on a hill town by the armies of Cesare Borgia, done with horrendous graphicness, and a brief palazzo's stairway at the end.
For Twentieth Century-Fox has filmed this picture entirely in Italy and has spared no expense in obtaining the best in scenery which that country affords. The hill town of San Gimignano, Florence, Terrachini, Rome and the Republic of San Marino were locations for the shooting of its scenes. Beautiful ducal palaces, with their lavishly frescoed walls and exquisite formal gardens, were sweepingly used as backgrounds. Likewise, rich as Renaissance trappings and clothing of elegant style were placed upon hundreds of actors. And all were superbly photographed.
But curiously missing from this picture is the believable breath of life and the sense of momentum and excitement that a story of the Renaissance should have. Except for the last fifteen minutes of its hour and three-quarters length, it is peculiarly prolix and static succession of beautiful scenes, full of inflated conversation, in which dramatic action rarely shows.
Like Mr. Shellaarger's novel, it tells of a young adventurer who dares to defy Cesare Borgia and is almost destroyed for his choice. Sent by the Great Italian tyrant to a peaceful and prosperous hill town, there to conquer the young wife of an old duke and thus win the town, this rascal-this prince of foxes-responds to the goodness of his host an instead of stealing the young wife allies himself with the old duke. Naturally, Cesare is furious; the fellow is captured and presumable ruined, but he bounces back for the climax and gets both revenge and the girl.
In arranging this story, however, Milton Krims has spent a lot of time on picturesque by obvious non-essentials and on much to much ponderous dialogue. And Henry King has directed the principals in his cast for performances that have the grand manner but little vitality Tyrone Power as the bold adventurer swashes as much as he can, but the tempo and mood of the picture perceptibly hold him down. Everett Sloane, too, does his darndest to get in some broad licks now and then as a renegade and assassin. He has his trouble too. However, both of these gentlemen unquestionably look their parts and may definitely be counted as assets t the general attraction of this film.
Less can be said for Wanda Hendrix, who plays the old duke's young wife. She is much too juvenile and sallow for such an essentially vibrant role. And Orson Welles' eager performance of Cesare Borgia, whom they called â€œThe Bull,â€ is remarkable appropriate to that distinctive soubriquet. As the old Duke, Felix Aylmer speaks his wisdom piously, and Katina Paxinou does nicely in two scenes as Mr. Power's old Ma!
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August 24, 1949; Kahn.
History has not treated the in-famous Borgias too kindly, and 20th-Fox hasn't advanced their cause any in a melodrama of intrigue, treachery and cold murder. However, the names of Tyrone Power and Orson Welles, plus the novel's bestselling title from which this film was adapted, should serve the boxoffice to some extent.
Samuel Shellabarger's novel of the same name-and the cinematic version-are reminiscent of recent modern history in their pertinence to the ruthless, treacherous warfare they chronicle. Prince of Foxes actually is a fictional incident in the history of the Italian Renaissance general, Cesare Borgia, but too often it is slow and plodding in its exposition and execution.
Prince tells of Borgia's lust for power and desire to expand his empire. This he does with all the intrigue and knife-in-the-back knavery at his command. It is inferred that he is responsible for the death of his sister Lucrezia's husband, so that she can marry the Duke of Ferrara and thus effect an advantageous alliance. He also plans to have slain the aged ruler of another neighboring duchy, and have one of his aides seduce the latter's wife, as part of his plan for conquest.
The Borgiastic episode, despite its 16th century background, nevertheless, has been conceived and executed in true Capone and Chicago tradition. As the murderous Cesare, Orson Welles is alternately glowering, reposing and diabolical. At times, that's good; but frequently the Wellesian manner of dialoging-with its too-clipped speech, mannered eyebrow raising and the like, are inclined to become monotonous.
Tyrone Power plays Orsini, who assumes the mantle of nobility to achieve social stature and ultimately bests Borgia when he deserts him to join the invaded duchy of the elderly Varano. Power hasn't been photographed to best advantage in a number of scenes though his performance generally befits the courageous character he plays. Wanda Hendrix, as Varano's young wife, and whom Power loves, gives the weakest of the performances.
Everett Sloane, as the traitorous aide to Power-who ultimately is responsible for Power's freedom from the Borgia chains-gives an excellent portrayal that almost snares the film's major acting laurels. Marina Berti is the girl Power rejects for Miss Hendrix; she's a native Italian who has little opportunity to show her ability. Katina Paxinou has a bit as Power's mother, but she carries it off well. Felix Aylmer, as the elderly duke, gives a quietly restrained but effective portrayal.
As an "action" picture, Prince suffers mostly because of lack of action. There is one battle scene, wherein the forces of Borgia seek to scale Varano's fortress, that is much too stagey. A gripping situation, however, and very well played by Sloane, is one in which he ostensibly gouges out the eyes of Power with his thumbs, as the penalty for desertion. It is a scene that strikes terror to viewers.
Prince, filmed in Italy, has been beautifully, authentically and expensively backgrounded.
MOTION PICTURE GUIDE [1927 - 1983]
By Jay Robert Nash & Stanley Ralph Ross; Cinebooks, Inc. (1986)
".........Beautifully photographed on location in Italy by [Leon] Shamroy, this Fox production is both tasteful and lavish with Power exceptional in his portrait of an ambitious but noble Renaissance man. The exquisite costuming here loses in Fox's option to shoot in black and white, despite the fact that King begged for color. Welles, who essays a whole sinister Cesare Borgia, took the role when desperately in need of cash. In one scene where Florentine royalty gather to pay homage to Welles, the actor complained that the actors weren't bowing and scraping enough to his august presence. "You're getting a damned sight more than you deserved," yelled King from his director's platform. "You just play the part The people will do what I tell them!"
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