Film Review: Prince of Foxes (1949)

Release Date: December 23rd, 1949
Directed by: Henry King
Written by: Milton Krims
Based on: Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger
Music by: Alfred Newman
Cast: Tyrone Power, Orson Welles

20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes

Review:

“It is my belief that everything, even death, can be turned into profit.” – Cesare Borgia

Prince of Foxes re-teams director Henry King with his swashbuckling star Tyrone Power. It also adds Orson Welles to the mix as the famous tyrant Cesare Borgia. The fact that I get to see two of my favorite actors play off of each other, is the real treat of this film.

While the poster and the subject matter may make you think that this is a big swashbuckler (albeit in Renaissance Italy), there is very little swordplay and it is more of a historical war drama with a bit of romance and some swashbuckling elements just lightly sprinkled in.

Orson Welles is the perfect Cesare Borgia. While I didn’t live in 1500 and can’t compare the two men, Welles’ personification greatly embodies the spirit of what Borgia was, historically speaking. The power, the boldness, the heartlessness and the ability to conquer for the sake of ego and wealth. Orson Welles captures this and adds in his own cool and eloquent qualities. He also looks like a Renaissance era Sith lord.

Tyrone Power walks into the film with a smile and unrelenting charm but that is why he was a favorite to star in these sort of pictures. His acting chops and masculine presence are strong enough to stand in front of Welles’ Borgia and to hold his ground. While Welles typically outshines most, Power doesn’t lose his presence in the picture and it is still very much his movie.

The film, where possible, made use of accurate locations and historical structures in an effort to make Prince of Foxes as authentic as possible. The world truly feels real and lived in. It doesn’t feel as if these men are just on some Hollywood back lot or in a studio.

The cinematography is lush and lively, even for a black and white picture that came out in the film-noir 40s. The costumes are perfect, the sets are finely ornamented and the attention to detail is pretty astounding. The sound is also pristine, which must have been a challenge with the on location shooting.

Prince of Foxes is neither my favorite Tyrone Power or Orson Welles picture. However, it was still a film of high quality that brought these two giants together. It kind of holds a special place for me because of that. And I’ve always loved tales of the infamous Borgia family.

Film Review: Shockproof (1949)

Also known as: The Lovers (working title)
Release Date: January 19th, 1949
Directed by: Douglas Sirk
Written by: Samuel Fuller, Helen Deutsch
Music by: George Duning
Cast: Cornel Wilde, Patricia Knight

Columbia Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

Shockproof is a bit of a mixed and strange bag, as far as film noirs go. The first 90 percent of the picture is really damn good. However, the ending sort of pulls everything apart.

Douglas Sirk became quite the accomplished director over the course of his career. His greatness is also very apparent in this film and for the most part, Shockproof is a fine picture. Its negative aspects really had nothing to do with Sirk’s direction, style or the narrative he intended to put to celluloid.

The problem with the film is its ending.

The script was originally written with the male lead, a parole officer, getting gunned down in a shootout with police. An act of defiance against everything he once stood for because he felt forced to fight back against a system that was driving a wedge between himself and the woman he loved, his parolee.

The studio forced a rewrite of the last few scenes and this film gets a happy ending, where there are no consequences to the actions of the main characters. What this did was discount the entire point of the story, which saw a “by the book” officer of the law fall for an ex-con that wanted to better her life. Her ex-boyfriend, a gambler with mob ties, tries to keep her on the crooked path and eventually she shoots him to protect herself and her new love. This causes the parole officer to swerve off of the straight and narrow path and to become a criminal himself.

There should have been grave and serious consequences but what we get is some bullshit happy ending where everyone gets to live out there lives like nothing bad happened. Douglas Sirk was outraged by the changes and went on to disown the film and justifiably so.

Still, this picture is solid and Sirk should have been proud of the work he did up until the studio tied his hands and imposed their power over his art.

The film is well acted by both Cornel Wilde and Patricia Knight, who were actually married when this was made. I was especially impressed with Knight and am somewhat surprised that she didn’t have a big career after this. Then again, Hollywood politics were wonky back then and maybe her divorce from Wilde two years later had something to do with that.

Shockproof is certainly worth a view. It is really short too. But the positives far outweigh the negatives. Just keep in mind the ending that was originally intended, which would have possibly made this a noir classic.

Film Review: The Third Man (1949)

Release Date: September 2nd, 1949 (UK)
Directed by: Carol Reed
Written by: Graham Greene
Music by: Anton Karas
Cast: Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli (credited as Valli), Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee

London Films, British Lion Film Corporation, Selznick Releasing Organization, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.” – Harry Lime

It is sad to say that I really didn’t know much about The Third Man until a friend recently told me about it. Having now watched it, I remember seeing a trailer for it long ago and I had the intention of seeing it but never did. I clearly remembered the visual of the Wiener Riesenrad, Vienna’s famous giant Ferris wheel.

That being said, the visuals throughout the entire film are captivating and mesmerizing. The picture captures the film noir aesthetic and emphasizes a high contrast. Between the streets of post-War Vienna, the famous landmarks and the cavernous and ominous sewer system, the director and cinematographer turned Vienna into the main character of the picture. There is just a mysterious allure that draws you in and doesn’t release you until the film fades to black after 108 minutes.

The film re-teams the duo of Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles, who first worked together on CBS Radio’s The American School of the Air and would be most known for staring together in Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane. The two would go on to have a great working relationship in several films. Both men are studious actors who have both reached legendary status and for good reason. Their ability to play off of one another is magnificent and each brings out the best in the other. This film showcases what the duo can do when put together. Not to say that both men weren’t great on their own.

The cast also features Alida Valli (credited as just Valli). She was a great Italian actress who was in more than a hundred films. I grew to appreciate her work in films like Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Inferno. She was also featured in a lot of giallo pictures by Mario Bava and Argento, as well as Italian horror films throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

There is also the appearance of Bernard Lee as a British police sergeant. He is probably best known as the original version of M in the James Bond franchise.

The Third Man is written by accomplished novelist Graham Greene and directed by auteur Carol Reed, who would later win an Oscar for Oliver! and who also directed the classics Odd Man Out and The Fallen Idol. This is probably Reed’s best work however, even though it didn’t capture the Academy Award for Best Director. It did win for Best Cinematography, however, which went to Robert Krasker, whose work can also be seen in Odd Man Out, as well as Brief Encounter and Another Man’s Poison.

As the story beings, we learn that the main character, a novelist named Holly Martins (Cotton), has arrived in Vienna at the invitation of his dear friend Harry Lime (Welles). However, we soon discover that Lime has died. As the plot rolls on, Martins comes to learn that Lime may be alive, probably faked his own death and there is a big mystery that needs to be solved.

The film’s plot is very layered but it plays out like a standard noir plot structure, even though it doesn’t follow the traditional subject matter of a noir and is missing some key elements. While Valli is quite the beautiful accompaniment to the men in the film, she isn’t a traditional femme fatale and the film breaks from the noir norm in other aspects too. However, The Third Man still encompasses the noir style and spirit but it is the product of a natural evolution within the genre and thus, isn’t a stale or derivative picture by any means. It is very much its own thing while giving a proper nod to its inspirations.

From a musical standpoint, the picture utilizes zither music. It really sets the narrative in the proper time and place and gives the movie a sense of authenticity and a sort of exotic charm.

The Third Man is a masterpiece. While not quite Citizen Kane, it is just about perfect in every way. Being a Welles fan, I wish he was in it a bit more but the scenes we get are of the highest quality. Plus, the big crescendo, as Welles’ Harry Lime runs through the labyrinth of Vienna’s sewers in an effort to escape a massive police force, is probably my favorite motion picture moment that involves Welles. It is a stupendous climax that has great suspense and looks stunning on the screen.

Films don’t get much better than this and The Third Man completely encapsulates the term “movie magic”. It isn’t often that a film feels like a living, breathing intelligent being of its own. The Third Man is one of these motion pictures. It is truly exceptional and may be in my personal top twenty of all-time.

Film Review: Omoo-Omoo, the Shark God (1949)

Also known as: The Shark God (UK)
Release Date: June 10th, 1949
Directed by: Leon Leonard
Written by: George D. Green, Leon Leonard
Based on: Omoo by Herman Melville
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Ron Randell, Devera Burton

Screen Guild Productions, 58 Minutes

Review:

“Mr. Garland you’re not paying attention to me.” – Julie Guy, “Attention? I love you.” – Jeff Garland

Omoo-Omoo, the Shark God is something I came across while searching for the perfect Tiki themed movie. This is not it.

The film is less than an hour but it feels longer than that. It isn’t very good and a large bulk of the film uses stock footage. This was typical at the beginning of the independent film era but it was not a formula that served its movies well.

In Omoo-Omoo, we see what happens when a bunch of greedy white people take advantage of another culture. In this case, white people steal some jewels from the eyes of an idol on Tahiti. The group is then cursed at sea and on land. They are even attacked by a stock footage Bengal tiger. However, all their woes go away when the idol gets its eyes back.

Omoo-Omoo lacks in just about every department. The acting is bad, the cinematography is really bad, the editing is even worse, the implementation of stock footage stuck out like a sore thumb and the score was uninspiring for something that should have represented the lush tropical islands and jungles of the South Pacific.

This is a film that could have been really cool in more capable hands.

And yes, it is bad enough to go through the Cinespiria Shitometer. Let’s see… a-ha! Omoo-Omoo‘s results have come through and they say that it is a “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”

Serial Review: Batman and Robin (1949)

Release Date: May 26th, 1949 (first chapter)
Directed by: Spencer Gordon Bennet
Written by: George H. Plympton, Joseph F. Poland, Royal K. Cole
Based on: Batman created by Bob Kane
Cast: Robert Lowery, Johnny Duncan, Jane Adams, Lyle Talbot, Ralph Graves, Don C. Harvey, William Fawcett, Leonard Penn

Columbia Pictures, 264 Minutes total (15 episodes)

Review:

Batman and Robin is the 1949 sequel to the 1943 serial Batman. It was also produced by Columbia Pictures but it stars a completely different cast.

In this second live action Batman adventure, we get to see Robert Lowery take up the mantle of Batman/Bruce Wayne while Johnny Duncan plays his sidekick Robin/Dick Grayson. We also get to see the first live action incarnation of Vicki Vale (played by Jane Adams) and Commissioner Jim Gordon (played by Lyle Talbot).

In this serial, we get to see Batman face a more appropriate super villain than the Japanese secret agent of the first series of short films. Here we are introduced to the Wizard, a hooded mad man who has a device that can control cars. Maybe that’s not the best scheme but this is a serial from the 1940s. Also, his identity is a mystery until a big reveal at the end of the final chapter.

From a visual standpoint, Batman and Robin is consistent with its predecessor. The costumes are a bit more refined but they have the same overall look and style. Unfortunately, they still drive a lame car.

I do, however, prefer the cinematography of Batman over Batman and Robin. The original serial was more artistic in its presentation and used a lot of stark contrast. The opening scene of the original serial was a much better start to a series than the newspaper headline montage opening of this Batman tale. While this seems to be a bit more refined overall and better produced, it lacks in creativity.

At least it has a better villain, even if it is another character not taken from the comic books. How cool would it have been to see a live action Joker in this era? We never got that though. And it’s not like there weren’t already a slew of Batman rogues introduced in the comic books, by this point. At least when the 1960s television series made up its own villains, they were all fairly cool and unique and some went on to be introduced in comic book form later on. Who’s the Wizard? Who cares.

Batman and Robin is entertaining enough for hardcore Bat-fans but it isn’t something that has aged well or would be appreciated by casual fans. The cliffhangers are redundant and there is so much filler in the story it puts Oscar Mayer Weiners to shame.

This chapter in the rich history of the Batman franchise is pretty simplistic and bare bones. There isn’t enough imagination to make this serial all that worthwhile. But still, it has Batman in it and if you are a super fan and want to complete your live action Batman franchise viewing experience, this isn’t impossible to get through.