Based on Thomas B. Costain’s novel, Henry Hathaway’s The Black Rose (1950) is an absurd and wholly unconvincing epic. It starts in England where Saxon bastard, Walter of Gurnie (Tyrone Power) has returned to his father’s house for the reading of his will, only to discover that he has been left nothing but his father’s boots and a last request to join the alliance of the new Normand king of England, Edward (Michael Rennie). At least, that’s how things appear on the surface. Bitter, Walter vows to leave England forever with fellow social outcast and superb archer, Tristram Griffin (Jack Hawkins).
Together, the men journey all the way to the Far East where they encounter the ruthless marauding desert pirates overseen by the Bayan (Orson Welles). Impressed with Walter’s gallantry – though nevertheless not understanding it – the Bayan employs Walter as his scholarly guide to aid in his crusade of conquering China after Tristram wins an archery contest in the Bayan’s camp.
If you think the story is already weird, it gets positively ridiculous with the introduction of Maryam (Cecile Aubry); a white girl who speaks broken English and is imprisoned by the Bayan; known only to others in the camp as ‘the black rose.’ Impersonating a servant boy, Maryam escapes the Bayan and hides in Walter and Tristram’s tent; a move that will spell certain death for all if she is discovered. But who has time to go searching for an errant girl when there is the whole of China to conquer?
Tristram and Walter quarrel and part company, the former leaving with Maryam while Walter pursues the Bayan’s campaign of slaughter across the Chinese countryside. Eventually, the Bayan sends Walter on a mission to enter the Forbidden City. But Walter is apprehended by the Chinese and imprisoned along with Tristram and Maryam in the palace by the Empress, who believes that their white skin is an omen of sacred protection for her people against the Bayan’s forces.
The narrative, such as it is, is condensed so that no time is allotted for explanation of any of its individual threads. Instead, the audience is moved through a rapid succession of vignettes that are episodic at best and really do not make much sense when strung together.
As the Englishman who renounces his country, then miraculously comes to his senses and rejoins his people and his king back home, Power looks quite silly and unconvincing in his Arab garb. Orson Welles is barely recognizable as the Bayan, overplaying his hand with charismatic, though overwhelming aplomb. Cecile Aubry is not a very compelling heroine. There is virtually no sex appeal to the scenes she shares with Power and their on-screen chemistry is practically nonexistent. Quite frankly, there’s more of an emotional attachment between Walter and Tristram than there is between Walter and Maryam.
Fox Home Video’s DVD is a tad disappointing. Little has been done to restore or preserve the film’s original lush Technicolor palette. Colors are inconsistently rendered and can appear quite blocky and thick at times. Flesh tones are either garishly pink or overly orange. The image fluctuates from reasonably sharp and nicely contrasted, to darkly rendered with clotted up colors and an inherent loss of fine detail. The audio has been rechanneled to stereo. The original mono is also represented. A brief featurette with the surviving members of Tyrone Power’s immediate family, a stills gallery and theatrical trailer are the only extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)