In the 13th century, Walter of Gurnie, a disinherited Saxon youth, is forced to flee England. With his friend, the master archer Tris, he falls in with the army of the fierce but avuncular General Bayan, and journeys all the way to China, where both men become involved in intrigues in the court of Kublai Khan.Written by
John Vogel <email@example.com>
Two young Saxons, bitter over the Norman predations in their homeland, travel to far Cathay to win their fortunes. Their dangerous journey becomes infinitely more complicated when they provide unwilling refuge for an enticing girl known as THE BLACK ROSE.
Filmed expansively in England & North Africa, 20th Century Fox gave this film excellent production values, with great masses of surging extras & plenty of swashbuckling flurry. The plot is outlandish, based on the novel by Thomas B. Costain, but this doesn't detract from the enjoyment of watching the action or hearing the (often) intelligent dialogue. While not as cerebrally fulfilling as the previous year's PRINCE OF FOXES, the film is still able to hold its own for pure entertainment.
At 36, Tyrone Power may be unconvincing as an Oxford undergraduate, yet he still fills his hero's role with dash & passion. The Technicolor camera isn't always kind to his aging good looks, and he's up against a powerful congregation of talented co-stars, yet Power never fails to offer anything less than a satisfying performance.
Jack Hawkins is every bit Power's equal in screen charisma, making his role as the longbowman sidekick absolutely vital to the story. A lesser actor would have been swamped by Power's star prerogative, but Hawkins holds his own admirably. Entrancing French actress Cécile Aubry is very fetching as the girl the heroes reluctantly rescue. With her big eyes & intense manner, she provides the film with its most tender moments.
Appearing as the formidable Mongol general Bayan, the inimitable Orson Welles fills a rather modest role with his megawatt personality. Body swaggering, voice booming, he effortlessly filches every scene he's in, entertaining the viewers & obviously amusing Power & Hawkins as well. While not as significant as either Cesar Borgia or Harry Lime - his two great roles of that immediate period - Welles still wrings every bit of cinematic pleasure out of Bayan, as if he were saying, `There! Look what I can do with even a small part!' The film's biggest drawback is his abrupt departure from the story line.
The rest of the cast is peppered with fine British actors - James Robertson Justice, craggy Finlay Currie, Michael Rennie, Herbert Lom, & Laurence Harvey. Mary Clare as a Norman countess & Madame Phang as the Chinese Empress both give tiny, vivid portrayals. Movie mavens will recognize an uncredited Torin Thatcher as a rebellious Saxon. Young Robert Blake plays a Moslem servant boy. And that's Peter Sellers dubbing the voice for the oily Lu Chung.
Now for an historical reality check: by the time of the film's action, roughly 200 years after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the difficulties between the Normans & the Saxons had long since dissipated. The Norman government did much to modernize & civilize England; this trend continued under King Edward I, whose reign commenced in 1272 and who appears briefly in the film.
Regardless of what the plot states, the Mongols had long before captured Cathay (China). Genghis Khan had largely completed this task and ruled a huge empire stretching from the Black Sea to the Pacific Ocean by the time of his death in 1227. Tyrone Power's cinematic journey seems to owe much to that of the historical Marco Polo from Venice, who arrived at Shando, the capital of Genghis' grandson Kublai Khan, in 1275.
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