Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Black Rose (1950)

Not to be confused with Fox's earlier The Black Swan, FMC is running the 1950 film The Black Rose tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

Both movies star Tyrone Power and both are historical adventure movies, something with Power did quite a bit of during his career. The Black Rose sees Power in the 13th century as William of Guthrie, a Saxon Englishman who still doesn't like the Normans because his father married a Norman and left him a bastard child, even though it's been two centuries since the Battle of Hastings, and the Norman/Saxon conflicts we saw in The Adventures of Robin Hood had in real life been resolved generations earlier. When William's father dies, William leads an attack on what had been the family castle, an attack which unsurprisingly is rather against the law, and rightly so. Left an outlaw and without much funds, William and his liege Tristram (Jack Hawkins) decide to go east, not to grow up with the country, but to seek fame and fortune, having heard about the riches in Cathay.

The first place that William and Tristram end up is not Cathay, but the Near East, although to be fair, it's more or less on the way if you assume it's easier to do the first part of the journey by boat instead of overland through Europe. After some adventure, our two heroes wind up in a caravan that's heading for Cathay, one guarded by General Bayan (Orson Welles). Going in a caravan from the Holy Land to China would make for a boring movie, so to liven things up, the screenwriters included a young lady hostage named Maryam (played by C├ęcil Aubry). She doesn't want to be sent to China, and believes that somehow, she's destined to end up in England. So, unsurprisingly, when William and Tristram show up, she believes that they were sent by God to save her from Bayan and take her to England. Needless to say, that's not Bayan's plan, and wasn't exactly William's plan, but Tristram talks so glowingly of England that William eventually decides to help the two of them try to escape.

None of this was part of Bayan's plans. Bayan, for his part, wants riches of his own, and plans to gte them by conquest. Bayan sends Walter ahead to tell the Emperor of Bayan's superior strength and why it would be better for the Emperor to become a vassal instead of having to deal wiht all that nasty violence, but Walter, on meeting the Chinese and seeing such things as gunpower, decides that siding with the Chinese offers him the best chance of escaping the clutches of Bayan and getting back to England.

The Black Rose is silly escapist fare, and has little if any grounding in real history as far as I can tell. (I'll admit to not being an expert on this period of history, however.) But damn if it isn't an entertaining movie. Power had played in this sort of movie quite a bit, and to be honest looks too old for the part, but it's a part he could have played in his sleep and he does a professional job. Welles is also good, not going over the top when he easily could have (much as I like The Third Man, Welles' line about Italian Renaissance violence versus Swiss peace is probably my least favorite part of that film by a good ways). The Black Rose was made over at Fox's British unit, meaning that much of the supporting cast is British, which is no bad thing.

The Black Rose got a DVD release as part of a box set of Tyrone Power's historical dramas, but I'm not certain if the set is still in print.

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