Tuesday, May 22, 2007
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
You've heard it said and possibly laughed it off, but I'll repeat the refrain: 'They don't make movie stars like that anymore.'
Tyrone Power is one of THOSE movie stars, who whether you like his acting or not, you would have to agree that he brought a special presence to nearly every production. And from what I've read, it was true to his real life, also. Okay, I know that the publicity machines of olden days worked on a hyperbole warped factor that wouldn't pass scrutiny of today's media. Power, however, did appear to live a rich life and was one of those types who blessed those who walked with him.
A new box set of films from 20th Century Fox, released a few weeks ago, celebrates the typecasted swashbuckler/romantic swordsman.
Power's career was so much more than 'Blood and Sand', 'Captain from Castile', 'Prince of Foxes', 'Son of Fury' and 'The Black Rose.' But if they had been his only legacy put to celluloid, he still would have been a star.
The son of an accomplished actor by the same name, Power shook off a frail childhood and the tragedy of having his mid-50s father die in his arms to gain access to the 20th Century stable of wannabes and nevertobes. He was originally told that he couldn't act, that his features were unruly and there was little of real appeal. Zanuck said, after viewing his first screen test, shouted 'He looks like a monkey!' This was obviously a half-blind heterosexual guy talking. Had his wife been asked for her opinion, no doubt the young Power would have been signed, sealed and delivered to a hungry public sooner than his break-through role in 'Lloyds of London'.
This box set is a collection of his more physical roles, and there are plenty of scenes where Power emotes minus a shirt. If you've got a single gal pal or a gay guy friend who have never been exposed to Power before, rent them 'Blood and Sand'. It's intense and percolating with latin machismo, as Power plays a self-centred bullfighter who climbs to the top. He gets to choose between gorgeously sincere Linda Darnell and red-hot Rita Hayworth (who, when she first appears in the film, looked too much like a skanky Lucille Ball for my taste. I'm all about Darnell in this film). Power's performance is taut, brooding and bombastic. Look at his eyes while he tells his servant/former bullfighter J. Carrol Naish about the moments before stepping into the ring. It's a level of acting that almost seems wasted in much of this popcorn pleasing work. However, let it not be said that we all need some popcorn in our lives...
He has two tour de forces with acting giant Orson Welles here, neither of the movies is a standout. But getting to watch the two interact and play off each other, Power almost underplaying his position, while Welles turns up the volume. Fascinating stuff! The true surprise for me was how engaging 'Son of Fury: the Story of Benjamin Blake' was. I'd neither heard nor expected much from this costume drama, but the story was reasonably quick paced (admittedly, the style in the 40s and 50s likely would trip up most people under 25 these days due to the slow storytelling) and the acting terrific. George Sanders plays Power's uncle, and the despicable ol' miser as is his wont, delivers with a punch. In a tragic sense of trivia, it was Sanders who shared the 45-year-old Power's last scene when he collapsed and died in 1958 while filming 'Solomon and Sheba'...
Personally, each film in this collection ranks as a pleasure; 'Blood and Sand' ranks up with 'The Mark of Zorro' and 'Nightmare Alley' among Power's best performances. The direction by Rouben Mamoulain, who helmed the ahead-of-its time Fredric March version of 'Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde', keeps this predictable but spellbinding story flowing to its tragic end. Prince of Foxes is entertaining, though should have been filmed in colour, and Captain from Castile is lively. I've already given my thumbs up to Son of Fury.
For those not into adventure and costume dramas, I'd recommend checking out Power in 'Nightmare Alley', a fetchingly dark noir that Power fought to make; Billy Wilder's engrossing 'Witness for the Prosecution', and 'The Razor's Edge', where he brings Larry Darnell to life in the adaption of Maugham's great novel.
Many saw Power as a mere pretty boy. He certainly had his share of typecasting battles, but managed to rise above it with an pristine charm that made all right again. A star by 1938, Power stepped away from his lucrative career and contract to join the Marines and fly 1100 hours between the mainland and the fighting forces in the Pacific theatre. In those days, some of the cinema heroes lived up to the legend (John Wayne excluded)...
Rent it! Buy it! You'll enjoy it!