Saturday, April 28, 2007

Power-Ful

I can highly recommend the new Tyrone Power DVD box set, containing a bunch of his costume adventure films (though not Zorro and The Black Swan, which have already been released separately). As the above review says, all the transfers are good except maybe the first couple of reels of Captain From Castile, and all the movies are good except the last of the bunch, The Black Rose (an example of the kind of product Fox was turning out as the studio system was just starting to crumble: it was made in England to save money, and it has a heroine who looks cross-eyed a lot of the time). Fox tends to produce more elaborate special features for classic films than most studios; the featurettes here include interviews with living actresses who worked with Power (Colleen Grey, Terry Moore, Jayne Meadows), making-ofs on some of the movies and commentaries on others.

Fox's costume adventures had less of a sense of humor than Warners'; in fact, they're often quite po-faced and take these absurd stories very seriously indeed. They seem to stick closer to the style and tone of the potboiler novels they're based on: the episodic structure, the faint pretensions to historical accuracy. But they look beautiful and they've always got something going on: Darryl Zanuck always wanted to excite moviegoers with something they hadn't seen before, and part of that was choosing a new and different place to shoot every time: Son of Fury has some underwater footage, Prince of Foxes is shot on location in Italy and Captain From Castile in Mexico.

I think my favorite of this bunch is Son of Fury, from 1942, which is pure hokum in every way. It's got Power as a dude who's the real heir to the fortune and title of his evil boxer uncle (George Sanders, natch). It's got some point to make about the wickedness of the class system. It has Sanders beating Power with a whip. It's got a masked ball. It's got Frances Farmer, in one of her last roles before being lobotomized, looking spectacular as Sanders' haughty daughter who looks down on Power but really pants after him. It takes Power to a mysterious South Sea island where he spends years with his shirt off and meets the ridiculously gorgeous young Gene Tierney, who wears a sarong and mostly speaks in a fake native dialect. It's got a courtroom scene where the judge allows last-minute evidence that no judge in any legal system anywhere would allow. Produced by Zanuck himself and directed by John Cromwell (Caged, The Prisoner of Zenda), it's an absolute blast. The other highlight of the set is Rouben Mamoulian's Technicolor bullfighting spectacular Blood and Sand, an amazing-looking movie, and not just because it features two more of the most beautiful women in movie history (Linda Darnell and Rita Hayworth).

Several of the movies have music-only tracks for Alfred Newman's scores, including his imitation Korngold score for Son of Fury (the main title theme is a blatant Korngold imitation). Newman was one of the busiest musicians in Hollywood; not only did he compose the scores for most of Fox's big-budget pictures, but he usually did the arrangements and background scores for their musicals, he conducted the orchestra (one of the best in Hollywood), and he brought other composers to the studio and supervised their work (he brought David Raksin to Fox and gave frequent freelance assignments to his friend Bernard Herrmann).

But, all in all, he was a better musician than he was a composer. Being a superb musician, he knew all the nuts and bolts of scoring a picture, and he knew exactly how to pick the right notes or the right style to get the effect a scene needed. But his music is rarely inspired. He wasn't a distinguished composer in his own right like Korngold, Franz Waxman, or Miklos Rozsa; he was more of a good all-purpose film musician like Max Steiner. But Steiner was a far better melodist; his tunes (like the themes from Now, Voyager or A Summer Place) just have a distinctiveness that Newman's themes don't. Also, Newman was too inclined to fall back on stale gimmicks like a chorus singing "ah" or singing in a foreign language. He was a wonderful musician, as I said, but the Fox scores that were written by other composers -- like Hermann and Raksin -- showed the individuality, the inspiration, that was missing in his own
work.





5 comments:

Mrs. R said...

Hi, glad to read that review, but I think you're referring to The Black Rose and not The Black Swan in the beginning.

I appear in one of the features of that set - I think the one with Richard Cromwell's son James Cromwell - it should be on the SON OF FURY disc - and am anxious to see how the entire collection came out. It seems to be selling well, which is great.

cold said...

I was under the impression that the Frances Farmer-lobotomy story was an urban legend...

Jaime J. Weinman said...

I was under the impression that the Frances Farmer-lobotomy story was an urban legend...

Yes, it was an urban legend. I'm just so used to talking about as if it were real that I forgot to say "supposedly." Ah, well, once you've watched enough of these movies, reality and fantasy kind of blur together anyway....

Manolete-je said...

It's been a while since I saw the film Blood and Sand- which as you know is based on a Spanish novel by Luis Spota- Más Cornadas da El Hambre. Blood and Sand is one of my favorites. I didn't know it was on DVD yet. I'll look for it. Thanks for the information.
Bullfighter and the Lady, is another bullfight film I like. I hope the upcoming film "Manolete" with Adrien Brody will be a good one. He does look like Manolete.

Andrew S said...

Wonder if anyone reads my comments, written years after the original posting? Anyway, regarding Alfred Newman, I feel many of his musical themes ARE very beautiful, and his music stirring, romantic, inspirational, whatever was needed for the films. As for him arranging music for musicals and for his other films as well, a lot of that work, quite probably most of it, was done by his "orchestraters". He was very versitile and utilized all sorts of musical styles and influences, so he may have written a main title that sounds like Korngold--what's better for a swashbuckler? Lots of the top film composers then and now write musical cues in the style of other composers, Waxman, Tiomkin, Previn, and Williams are a few that come to mind.