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: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Release Date: May 11th, 2017 (Shanghai premiere)
Directed by: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Written by: Jeff Nathanson, Terry Rossio
Based on: the Pirates of the Caribbean amusement park ride by Walt Disney, characters by Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert
Music by: Geoff Zanelli
Cast: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley

Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Walt Disney, 142 Minutes

Review:

“Pirate’s life.” (raises glass of rum) – Captain Jack Sparrow

I went into Dead Men Tell No Tales expecting a very lackluster effort by Disney after their previous two Pirates of the Caribbean films. You see, I loved the first one and the second one was pretty good. However, the third was a convoluted mess and the fourth, despite the inclusion of the always great Ian McShane, was quite horrible.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a blend of all the things I love about these films and all the things I loathe. However, the balance does lean more towards the things I love.

The real question is, “Why do we see these movies?” The answer, “Because we want to have some fun.” Does this succeed at fun? Yes.

Johnny Depp is so natural as Captain Jack Sparrow that he can dial in his performance and still nail the role. Despite all the iconic parts he has ever played, Jack Sparrow is the quintessential Johnny Depp role, at this point. He is a man of great talent and skill, always takes a unique and strange path to fantastic results and always looks like he enjoys his craft. I’m talking about both Depp and Sparrow.

Of course, despite Depp’s greatness, the highlights of these films for me has always been Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Hector Barbossa. He is a complex character that started out as the villain in the first picture but from film to film, always leaves you guessing as to which side he’s on. But he always comes out a hero, despite his love for piracy and treachery. Dead Men Tell No Tells, however, becomes Barbossa’s most important and personal story.

I have always loved Javier Bardem and seeing him in this as the villain Captain Armando Salazar was pretty cool. He was my favorite of the villains after Barbossa. His story was also really interesting, as he isn’t a pirate but more of a pirate hunter. After meeting his demise, thanks to a young Jack Sparrow, he existed in a place of darkness for decades, waiting for the moment where he and his ghostly looking crew could reenter our world and exact revenge against Sparrow.

The newcomers Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario were both very good. However, they didn’t have the presence and chemistry with the rest of the cast that Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley did in the first three pictures. Out of the two, I thought Scodelario was the more interesting character.

Speaking of Bloom and Knightley, they both return, albeit very briefly, but it does setup their involvement in the next film which is to be the grand finale, or so Disney says. The third film was supposed to be the last and that was three films ago.

Having two directors, I was worried about how this film would turn out. Ultimately, it is a good effort by the directors, Disney and the actors. The new settings and the quest for the newest treasure where refreshing and exciting. Sure, some sequences are way too over the top but these films are really just fantasy epics with some swashbuckling added in. They aren’t supposed to be smart or captivating movies, they are supposed to be a wild adventure and that’s exactly what this is.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a popcorn flick. It doesn’t try to be more than that and it doesn’t need to be more than that. It doesn’t need to be the Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings of the ocean. And frankly, Captain Jack Sparrow isn’t a character I will ever grow tired of. And to be honest, I wouldn’t mind revisiting him time and time again. I do like that Disney took a lengthier break between the last film and this one. The absence made the heart grow fonder but I didn’t come to that realization until I was sitting in the theater and saw a hungover Captain Jack wake up inside a bank vault he intended to steal.

Watching this film, I had the feeling that Depp’s Sparrow had now become this generation’s version of Charlie Chaplin’s the Tramp.

Top 25 Films Starring Basil Rathbone

basil-rathboneI have done a list like this for Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I am working my way through all of the legends of classic horror.

However, Basil Rathbone isn’t just a legend of classic horror, he is an icon of swashbuckling movies – another one of my favorite film genres.

Rathbone could be heroic but he was mostly the foil to the hero whether it was in a horror picture or playing an equally sinister character while holding a cutlass on a pirate ship.

He has always been one of my favorite actors. It probably has to do with the fact that my mum always thought that he was an evil jerk while we watched these old movies together. And, I always pulled for the villain, even as a kid. Although, my mum thought he was the best Sherlock Holmes, so she did like him in that role.

But anyway, these are his twenty-five best roles.

1. Captain Blood
2. The Adventures of Robin Hood
3. The Mark of Zorro
4. Tales of Terror
5. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
6. The Dawn Patrol
7. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
8. The Comedy of Terrors
9. Son of Frankenstein
10. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (as narrator)
11. Terror by Night
12. The Adventures of Marco Polo
13. A Night of Terror
14. Dressed to Kill
15. The Woman In Green
16. Tower of London (1939)
17. The Scarlet Claw
18. The Mad Doctor
19. The Black Cat (1941)
20. The Spider Woman
21. The Black Sleep
22. Pursuit to Algiers
23. The Court Jester
24. Sherlock Holmes Faces Death
25. Queen of Blood

Top 25 Films Starring Peter Cushing

peter_cushingPeter Cushing was one of the greatest horror icons of all-time. He starred alongside the legendary Christopher Lee in more than twenty films and also worked a lot with Vincent Price. He was the king of Hammer Horror, even more so than Christopher Lee.

Cushing could play heroic, sinister or just bad ass roles. He was Van Helsing, Dr. Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes and a plethora of other great characters. He owned every role he ever played.

He is known to most people as Grand Moff Tarkin, the commander of the first Death Star in the first ever Star Wars. That character also reappeared via CGI in the recent Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Since I did a list like this for Lee and for Price, I figured that doing one for Cushing was a must.

1. Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope
2. The Curse of Frankenstein (and whole Frankenstein series)
3. The Horror of Dracula (and Dracula installments he’s in)
4. Twins of Evil
5. The Vampire Lovers
6. Captain Clegg (also known as Night Creatures)
7. Sword of Sherwood Forest
8. The Hound of the Baskervilles
9. The Gorgon
10. Madhouse
11. Dr. Who and the Daleks (and the sequel)
12. The Mummy
13. Island of Terror
14. The Abominable Snowman
15. The Beast Must Die
16. I, Monster
17. The Skull
18. The Creeping Flesh
19. Asylum
20. The Blood Beast Terror
21. Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors
22. The House That Dripped Blood
23. Scream and Scream Again
24. She
25. Horror Express

Top 25 Films Starring Christopher Lee

christopher_lee_draculaI recently did a post about the Top 25 Films Starring Vincent Price.

Another horror legend, who just happens to be my favorite British actor is Christopher Lee. Actually, it is Sir Christopher Lee as the man who has played Count Dracula, Rasputin, Count Dooku, Saruman, The Man with the Golden Gun, Frankenstein’s monster, Lord Summerisle and many other characters was officially knighted. Fitting since he has the world record for most swordfights on screen.

Lee is an amazing actor with amazing presence and has the best voice in the history of cinema.

Here are his twenty-five best roles out of the several hundred he’s done:

1. The Wicker Man (the original, obviously not the Nic Cage remake)
2. Rasputin: The Mad Monk
3. The Horror of Dracula (and whole Dracula series)
4. The Devil Rides Out
5. Jinnah
6. Lord of the Rings/Hobbit series
7. Star Wars (prequel trilogy)
8. The Curse of Frankenstein
9. The Man With the Golden Gun
10. The Hound of the Baskervilles
11. Corridors of Blood
12. The Gorgon
13. The Mummy
14. The Devil Ship Pirates
15. I, Monster
16. The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll
17. The Skull
18. Crypt of the Vampire
19. The Oblong Box
20. The Fu Manchu series
21. The Musketeers series
22. The Creeping Flesh
23. The City of the Dead (Horror Hotel)
24. The Pirates of Blood River
25. Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Film Review: Captain From Castile (1947)

Release Date: December 25th, 1947
Directed by: Henry King
Written by: Lamar Trotti
Based on: Captain From Castile by Samuel Shellabarger
Music by: Alfred Newman
Cast: Tyrone Power, Jean Peters, Cesar Romero

Twentieth Century Fox, 141 Minutes

captain_from_castileReview:

I have Captain From Castile listed as a swashbuckling film. The main reason, is because it stars swashbuckling bad ass Tyrone Power. Also, it features lots of swords and people traveling by ship. It is a picture on the verge of swashbuckling greatness but falls short and never really gives you what you’re looking for in that regard.

That doesn’t mean it is a bad film. It is actually a good historical adventure.

The story sees Power’s Pedro de Vargas help an Aztec slave escape his cruel master. He finds himself in trouble and must flee the Inquisition. He later rescues Jean Peter’s Catana Perez. Then he meets an adventurer and they are then swept away to the New World, Mexico to be exact. The film then revolves around the invasion of Mexico by Cortez.

It is a fairly long movie at 141 minutes but it probably could’ve been edited down significantly. There are a lot of sections of the film that drag on too long or where it seems like not enough is happening. The better sequences make up for that though,

Tyrone Power is typical Tyrone Power. Although, he has less to do, not being able to fence his way through baddies and all. It also stars the always enjoyable Cesar Romero and introduces us to the talents of Jean Peters.

The film was directed by the accomplished Henry King, known for Twelve O’Clock High The Snows of KilimanjaroThe Song of BernadetteCarouselLove is a Many-Splendored ThingThe Gunfighter and Jesse James – just to name some of his dozens of movies.

The trailers for the film are in black and white but the movie itself is actually in vibrant Technicolor. The visuals are mesmerizing and the film has a certain feeling of realism, as it was filmed on location in Mexico – utilizing authentic active volcanoes and shooting around real lava beds. The volcanic ash actually created issues on set but the film still turned out to be visually stunning. The filmmakers were ambitious but accomplished what they set out to do from a visual perspective.

The biggest negative of the film is how it ends. It doesn’t really have a proper conclusion, it just sort of stops in what feels like the middle of the story. Almost as if this was the first part of a trilogy that was never completed. The picture only covers the first half of the novel it is based on. This issue, mixed with how long it was and how some scenes could have been cut or edited down, makes the movie feel like a long pilot for a television show that was never picked up and left dangling story-wise.

I do like the film, it just needed more refinement from a narrative standpoint. Tyrone Power never disappoints and he certainly didn’t in Captain From Castile.

Film Review: Adventures of Don Juan (1948)

Also known as: The New Adventures of Don Juan (UK)
Release Date: December 1st, 1948
Directed by: Vincent Sherman
Written by: Herbert Dalmas, George Oppenheimer, Harry Kurnitz
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Errol Flynn, Viveca Lindfors, Robert Douglas

Warner Bros., 110 Minutes

the-adventures-of-don-juanReview:

Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved Adventures of Don Juan. It is a swashbuckling political romance film starring one of my all-time favorites, Errol Flynn. Also, it has an amazing score and is capped off by a fantastic sword fight.

Vincent Sherman’s direction, in this film, was stellar. While he may not gel in the same way that Michael Curtiz did with Flynn, he still gets the most out of the legendary actor, as well as the other players.

Originally, Max Steiner was not set to be the man behind the film’s score but Erich Wolfgang Korngold retired while production was delayed. Adventures of Don Juan greatly benefits from Steiner’s score. The main theme is one of the best in cinema history. It is also pretty recognizable to fans of The Goonies, as it appears in that film multiple times.

Errol Flynn looks like he is having a lot of fun in this picture. His chemistry with female lead Viveca Lindfors is really good but then again, he always has great chemistry with his leading ladies. This is probably why he was the perfect choice to play Don Juan.

The villainous Duke de Lorca, played by Robert Douglas, was a perfect foil for Flynn’s Don Juan. Their final duel was close to perfection. It also added in an extra element when both men fought with swords and daggers.

The film also had good special effects and impressive stunts. In fact, the scene where Don Juan rips a gigantic flaming curtain down, in an effort to thwart off the castle guards, looked dangerous as hell.

Adventures of Don Juan is a well-weaved tapestry. Everything just works and it is an exciting movie that moves at a great pace and delivers on action and humor. It also looks beautiful in the process.