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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>
Tyrone Power stars in "The Black Rose," a 1950 adventure film also starring Jack Hawkins, Orson Welles, Cecile Aubrey, and Michael Rennie. Power plays Walter of Gurney, an Oxford scholar who hates the ruling Normans, takes off for Cathay with his friend Tris (Jack Hawkins). They wind up traveling with General Bayan (Orson Welles) and hiding a young girl, Maryam, known as The Black Rose.
The film is based on Thomas Costain's novel, and thanks to Tyrone Power, I became a fan of Costain's and read many of his books as a teenager. Very romantic, they'll get you through puberty. I seem to remember a lot of hotter encounters between Walter and Maryam, though the film does contain some romance.
"The Black Rose" was made at a time when 20th Century Fox and all of the other Hollywood studios were going through major changes since the government had broken the alliance between the studios and theater chains. Even with their problems, there is no expense spared on "The Black Rose." It is a sumptuous production, done on location and in color, with a top cast even in the minor roles: Herbert Lom, Laurence Harvey, Robert Blake, and famously, the voice of Peter Sellers dubbing the role of Bedoya.
The acting is uniformly good. Orson Welles played Bayan to fund one of his film projects. Normally he phones these performances in, using his formidable technique to get him through - he probably did the same here; sometimes it's hard to tell. He's excellent and underplays, being smooth in his role rather than barbaric, and he and Power have good screen chemistry. Off the screen, the two went back to the early '30s in New York when both were cast in a tour of Romeo and Juliet - this tour is captured in a roman a clef, "Quicksilver" by Fitzroy Davis. During the filming of "The Black Rose", director Hathaway needed some time away from Welles and, after being harassed by him in the company dining room, had a table set up in another room for himself, his wife, Tyrone Power and Linda Christian, so they could eat in peace. Welles became convinced they were getting special food and showed up. "We don't want special food," Hathaway informed him. "We want quiet." But Welles got his own table in this area, and the Powers and the Hathaways headed back to the main dining area.
Jack Hawkins is immensely likable as Tris. Cecile Aubrey, who would abandon her career and become a very accomplished screenwriter in France, is the gamine here. Some may find her a little too young-looking and a little too bubbly, but she is quite lovely as the childlike Maryam. Actually, she reminded me a little of Power's first wife, the French actress Annabella. Power is excellent as the adventurous Walter. One thing interesting about Power is that he never asked for scripts to be changed to reflect his age, and 20th Century Fox gave him scripts during this period that called for him to play characters anywhere from 10 to 15 years younger than he was, which in this movie is 36. It doesn't detract here; it's more obvious in "Rawhide," when he's supposed to be a green kid, and in "The Sun Also Rises." During their long working relationship, Zanuck apparently never thought of Power as anything but the young man he first hired in 1935. Walter is the kind or role the actor was sick of playing; he would shortly begin doing more stage work and form his own production company.
This is a sweeping adventure that many boomers will recall from "Saturday Night at the Movies" - like Power's swashbucklers, it's one of the previous generation's Saturday afternoon at the movies type films that young people remember fondly. I certainly do and am grateful for all the historical fiction I read as a result. Thankfully, this and other heretofore unreleased Power films will soon be available in a DVD collection.
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