In this captivating epic of intrigue, action and romance, the handsome and masterful Tyrone Power shines in the title role as Andrea Orsini, a bold and courageous warrior. The setting is Renaissance Italy, where the notorious and violent Borgia family, led by Cesare Borgia (Orson Welles), is determined to capture neighboring lands and expand the family's empire, power, and wealth. As a Borgia spy-soldier, Orsini is dispatched to a small territory Cesare hopes to capture. But Orsini becomes captivated by the intelligence and charm of the Duke and his young wife. Torn between allegiance to his master and a growing friendship with his assigned victims, Orsini becomes embroiled in a fierce and spectacular battle that him to confront his ideas of justice and nobility. Leon Shamroy's superb cinematography of the Italian countryside provides a lush background for the film's drama and adventure.
"And who will relay this delicate information?"
"Who? Who but a man as quick at deceit as a fox. He must have the grace of a dancer, the wrist of an assassin. He must have little regard for good faith. Yet by his astuteness, be able to confuse men's minds. He must have confidence in himself yet not permit that confidence to render him incautious. He must charm as a snake charms a bird, yet he must make no friends."
Every now and again I come across a classic, a film made several decades ago that is so impressively well made, acted, and scripted that I'm left flabbergasted by the fact that I hadn't seen it before. Right around the time venerable actor and filmmaker Orson Welles needed some extra cash to complete his opus 'Othello,' he would frequently star in small supporting roles to bankroll his film. Welles' appearance in the 1949 film 'Prince of Foxes' directed by Henry King and starring Tyrone Power and Wanda Hendrix was one such case. While Welles was there for the money, it didn't stop him from delivering a chilling turn in this fantastic period adventure movie whole not outshining the rest of the cast.
It's 1500 and Italy stands divided. With various powers and families warring for control, one stands above them all, the Borgias. Headed by the conniving and cruel Cesare Borgia (Orson Welles), Cesare finds his campaign for domination stalled due to the terrain and large armies held by his rivals. While most of Cesare's advisors would recommend throwing thousands of men at the enemy, Cesare has a better idea - send in the sly and sneaky fox to catch the rabbit from behind. The best fox he has in his court of rogues is the charming artist Andrea Orsini (Tyrone Power). As Orsini completes his missions with ease and care, his good nature and heart get the better of him when he's ordered to woo the beautiful Camilla Verano (Wanda Hendrix) away from her aging husband (Felix Aylmer). Orsini's crisis of conscience runs him afoul of Cesare and sparks a war that threatens the whole of Italy.
As I said at the outset, I knew of this movie only as one of the many films Welles had to take a supporting part in order to fund the years-long production of 'Othello.' While 'The Third Man' is an obvious classic, I had been led to understand that the other films Welles took - 'Prince of Fox' included - were lesser efforts and not worth the time. I honestly wish I could remember who it was that told me that so I could give them a good smack upside the head and force them to sit down and honestly watch this movie. 'Prince of Foxes' is a fantastic movie. A true classic in my book. Not defined strictly by its age, but by the fabulous performances not only from Welles but from lead Tyrone Power, Wanda Hendrix, and the always reliable Everett Sloane as the traitorous double-dealing assassin Mario Belli. Add in a tight and engrossing script by Milton Krims, the intuitive direction by Henry King, and a rousing score by Alfred Newman and you have all of the elements that make a movie a classic.
Considering the era of this film's production, 'Prince of Foxes' seems to have been treated like a B-movie but with A-movie trappings. Considering the number of beautiful locations this film was shot in all throughout Italy, it's interesting to note this wasn't shot in Technicolor. There's a rumor this was out of retaliation towards Power who wouldn't take just any script thrown at him so studio heads refused to shoot him in color. I don't know if that's true or not - not hiring the guy seems like a better way to get back at him rather than not shooting an expensive film in color. While there is some truly beautiful scenery and architecture throughout the film that would have looked splendid in color, I appreciate good black and white photography and Director of Photography Leon Shamroy fills the film with deep inky shadows giving it a noirish texture. It would have been wonderful to see Venice and various areas of Tuscany in color before they became tourist traps, but the black and white photography adds the right amount of mood to the film that bright primary colors would otherwise steal from.
Performances all around are particularly impressive showcasing each actor to their strengths. Most may remember Tyrone Power as the best cinematic Zorro and a swashbuckler, he's often forgotten as a terrific dramatic actor. Here, he's right in his element. He gets to play a man of many secrets and conflicted interest while also getting to show off his impressive swordplay skills. On the opposite side of the story, we have a devilish turn from Orson Welles. No one can deliver a long-winded speech quite like Welles, and he's given more than a few great ones - including the opening quote I placed above. He may have been working to pay the bills on another film, but it didn't stop him from delivering one hell of a cinematic villain. These performances wouldn't be much without Henry King's direction. He keeps his camera fluid yet intimately close to the performances catching every nuance. When Welles decides to unexpectedly stare at the audience at the climax of a speech, the audience gets to feel a little extra chill run down their spine.
I wasn't expecting to become so engrossed in 'Prince of Foxes' as it started up. Much of it initially feels like a run of the mill costume drama - but then Welles delivers his first big speech. That moment perked up my interests. Then the A-plot gets going and all of a sudden I was wrapped up in a web of intrigue and suspense. When the big battle reaches the screen it's an impressive sight featuring some terrific stunt work. The smart script keeps the twists and turns coming right up to the very end. I love it when I come across a great movie like 'Prince of Foxes' and I can't stop writing about it. On that note, I probably should stop here as this review has already gone on long enough suffice to say you owe it to yourself to check this one out if you haven't seen it already.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Prince of Foxes' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label. Pressed onto a Region A BD-25 disc, the disc comes housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
'Prince of Foxes' arrives with a pleasing - if aged - 1.33:1 1080p transfer. While the film looks fantastic with an appreciable grain level and strong details, there is some age-related wear and tear evident. Periodically the left side of the image will show signs of spooling and become notably faded with a little bit of flicker. Thankfully this is the only serious damage to the image. There are some spots of small scratches and some speckling but the image as a whole looks pretty terrific. As I said, details are great here and allow you to appreciate the intricate period clothing and centuries-old architecture. Facial features are also impressive, especially Welles' beard. Black levels and the grayscale are well balanced allowing for plenty of shadow separation creating a terrific sense of depth. If it weren't for the faded stripe issue I mentioned, this would a near-flawless transfer. As it stands, 'Prince of Foxes' makes a pretty great impression on Blu-ray.
With an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix, 'Prince of Foxes' sounds fantastic. There is some very mild nearly impossible-to-hear hiss in some sections of the film. The hiss is there, I can't deny that, but thankfully it doesn't dominate the rest of the elements. Dialogue is clear and appreciable throughout the film. Sound effects and atmospherics are terrific providing the right amount of slight echo in the tall cathedral-like rooms many scenes take place. The Alfred Newman score is a real treat and gives the film that traditional sound of a classic swashbuckling adventure while also playing up the dramatic sensibilities without dominating the mix. There are some scenes and moments where the mix plays a little hot, maybe a little distorted, but nothing so serious as to diminish the viewing experience merely a side effect of age. All around this is still a solid mix.
Audio Commentary: Film Historian and Critic Troy Howarth provides an excellent solo commentary track for this release. He's full of information and history about the production as well as the various cast members. A solid listen all around.
Isolated Score: It's Alfred Newman, I mean, come on - this is some of the best movie music by one of the legends in the art.
Movietone News: Tyrone Power Weds Linda Christian in Rome Ceremony: (SD 3:05) Evidently Power married Christian while shooting 'Prince of Foxes,' making this newsreel a bit of an interesting bit - especially for how uncomfortable Power appears to be, clearly he'd rather be anywhere else but talking to reporters. There is also a bit covering the premier of the film.
International Trailer: (SD 2:55)
'Rawhide' Trailer: (HD 2:27)
'Mark of Zorro' Teaser: (SD 1:45)
'The Stranger' Trailer: (SD 1:17)
'Compulsion' Trailer: (SD 1:01)
I love being surprised by a movie. While 'Prince of Foxes' sported an impressive cast in Tyrone Power and Orson Welles, I was wasn't expecting it to be as good as it was. The film is a knot of plot twists and turns that play out effectively as both an adventure movie and as a period drama. Kino Lorber has done a fine job with this release giving it a solid image transfer, a flawed but still very good audio mix, and some decent bonus features. Fans of the film should absolutely consider a purchase. For the newcomers, all I can say is that this Blu-ray of 'Prince of Foxes' comes recommended.