Friday, June 27, 2014

THE RAINS CAME (2oth Century-Fox 1939) Fox Home Video

Widely regarded as the most prestigious year in motion pictures, 1939 remains a cultural touchstone in the annals of movie making and the standard bearer for Hollywood’s industry standards. With so much iconic entertainment being produced during this twelve month stretch it is almost forgivable Clarence Brown’s The Rains Came (1939) escaped the Oscar nomination for Best Picture.  Cribbing from Louis Bromfield’s celebrated novel, screenwriters, Philip Dunne and Julien Josephson managed a minor coup; faithfully adapting Bromfield’s dense prose into comprehensively enthralling cinema language. The Rains Came is book-ended by romance and tragedy; also by spectacle and sin – always a winning combination at the box office.   
The picture is permeated with some of the finest travelling matte special effects, and, exceptional performances throughout. For once, 2oth Century-Fox studio chief, Darryl F. Zanuck looked outside his own stable of stars, acquiring the loan outs of leading man, George Brent from Warner Bros. and Myrna Loy and director Clarence Brown from rival MGM. The machinations Zanuck must have gone through to secure these talents (in an era when stars remained indentured to one studio under ironclad contracts, and the cross-pollination of the star ‘gene pool’ was virtually unheard of) must have been considerable. The fruits of their participation in this movie are nothing short of commendable.   
The rights to The Rains Came had actually been acquired first by David O. Selznick. Alas, beginning in 1938, Selznick became embroiled in the many production delays incurred on what would ultimately become his opus magnum – Gone With The Wind. It is likely Selznick relinquished his stakes to Zanuck simply because he had neither the time, money, nor even the patience to produce another hefty adaptation. Whatever the circumstances, Zanuck acquired the rights to Bromfield’s book without much of a struggle, rumored to have paid a cool $25,000 for the honor.
Today, Louis Bromfield’s literary distinction has been all but mislaid. However, in his own time he was one of the most prolific authors of that rarified ilk with an uninterrupted streak of thirty best sellers, rivaling the prowess and popularity of such literary giants as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hollywood courted Bromfield like no other; writers considered a dime a dozen then - and paid almost as little for their wit and prose. But to Bromfield the gates to Tinsel Town were thrown open with great fanfare and admiration, affording the author unprecedented access to these movie-making empires, and, the opportunity to befriend some of the biggest and brightest names working in the industry; many of whom became lifelong friends (Greer Garson, Humphrey Bogart, Myrna Loy, Mae West, Lana Turner, and James Cagney among them). You know what they say about Hollywood: it’s all about the nepotism. 
Bromfield’s novels were among the very first to be adapted into feature-length films. By the mid-1930’s he was already a legend in his own time; considered something of a cultural mandarin in two forms; literature and the movies. Bromfield’s own celebrity extended well beyond these fabled walls. Indeed, his engaging personality, occasionally prone to fits of pomposity, had won him the respect of Indian maharajahs and British royalty. He would spend a lifetime torn between two great loves – writing and farming; his experimental concept of crop rotation (then considered brazenly unorthodox) eventually accredited with bringing about an end to America’s dust bowl. At the height of his affluence and influence on popular culture, Bromfield threw it all away to move back to Ohio and establish Malabar Farm – a conservationist preserve that continues to operate as both a functioning farm and state park to this day. It is here where he wrote his two most acclaimed novels; The Rains Came and Mrs. Parkington; each imbued with Bromfield’s inimitable brand of unvarnished critique and steeped in period and history.
In hindsight, The Rains Came is the beneficiary of Clarence Brown’s astute gifts as a storyteller. Like Zanuck, Brown worshipped great literature as his God; his back catalogue of accomplishments at MGM reveal a very fine array of screen adaptations, spanning the intellectual chasm from Leo Tolstoy to Eugene O’Neill, from Enid Bagnold to James Fenimore Cooper and beyond. Working very closely with Zanuck and screenwriters, Dunne and Josephson, Brown tempers Bromfield’s more unvarnished portrait of British colonialism with a warm rose-colored patina that harks even further back to England’s supremacy on the world stage; Bromfield’s fictionalized province of Ranchipur the beneficiary of Brown’s beloved valentine.
Today, we tend to forget Britain never ruled the whole of India, but rather principalities and provinces within its vast and socio-politically complex makeup; occasionally working with the Indian aristocracy to ensure a general continuity of culture, though not without infusing these newly acquired dominions with their own time-honored traditions and laws; often at the point of a gun, always at the expense of even the most basic understanding for whatever social etiquette already existed. This disconnect in imperial colonialism, and its inevitable resentment by the indigenous peoples, is completely absent from The Rains Came; Zanuck determined to open his film instead with that warm and fuzzy declaration of communal well-being, also adding his own prescient commentary on the looming European conflict soon to engulf half a hemisphere in flames. Our protagonist, Tom Ransome (George Brent) is thus seconded to the cause of instilling this sad-eyed clarity, made from the comfort of his veranda (an obvious reference to America’s own affinity for home and hearth) as he admiringly stares at a statue of Queen Victoria.  
“I’ve got faith in a lot of things…” Tom tells Major Safti (Tyrone Power cast as the copper Apollo of the piece), “For instance, Queen Victoria. To you she’s only a statue. But to me, she’s an old friend. A living reminder of the fine brave days before the world went to seed. When London Bridge did it’s falling to a dance step – not to the threat of tomorrow’s bombs. When every American was a millionaire…or about to be one…and people sang in Vienna. There she stands in her cast iron petticoat, unconcerned about wars, dictators and appeasement, as serene as ever. God bless her.”
Tom is a weary middle-aged romantic, misinterpreted by his contemporaries as something of a wanton, thanks to a series of discretions committed in his youth. But he is more clear-eyed and clairvoyant than any who surround him, able to see India for her innate value and beauty; also to appreciate the tenuous nature of his own presence – and that of the British consignment within her borders; telling his former flame, Edwina Esketh (Myrna Loy) “….in Ranchipur, the important things in life are the elemental things… crops, starvation, and weather. In Europe, when someone says ‘It looks like rain’, in all probability, he’s trying to make polite conversation. But here, where people die as easily as they’re born, they’re speaking in terms of life and death. You'll see what I mean, if you're still here when the rains come. You'll see them overnight turn the fields, the gardens and the jungles from a parched and burning desert, into a mass of green that seems to live, to writhe and to devour the walls, the trees and the houses.”
There is, of course, a sort of native prophesizing to Tom’s character, only possible when looking back on one period in history from the vantage – and advantage – of another considerably removed. But the Dunne/Josephson screenplay does more than its fair share of foreshadowing and rather successfully too. The Rains Came is imbued with all the exotic mysticism for this far off land. One of Hollywood’s great pictorial strengths has always been its ability to will verisimilitude from its own preconceived and glamorized notions about other cultures. There’s just enough of the ‘real India’ in The Rains Came to make one forget what we are seeing is not India, or even a reasonable facsimile, but the clever reconstitution of its finer points of interest, cleverly remade lush and idyllic on a back lot in Southern California. 

As many living in America then had never had the opportunity to see India firsthand, much less study it in any great detail in a book of pictures – this facsimile of Ranchipur both serves and satisfies the Anglo-Saxon/Judeo-Christian impression of another place worthy of our need to daydream; Zanuck’s re-education of America’s fascination for foreign cultures complimentary to Bromfield’s rich tapestry of melodrama and Zanuck’s own compellingly opulent pictorialization of the tragi-romance.   
The Rains Came was an important film for 20th Century-Fox; Zanuck committed to elevating the overall tenor of his still fledgling studio in direct competition with Hollywood’s big leagues; most notably, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Indeed, The Rains Came manages not only to hold its own in a year of bright, shiny baubles put forth by the other dream factories, but also to stand head and shoulders above most any of its competition; save Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz and, arguably, Gunga Din. Despite Zanuck’s zeal for nuggets of wisdom, the audience is never cheated out of the story’s intrinsic entertainment value. We get both style and substance; sumptuous visuals married to purpose and platitudes; all of it infectiously blended into one telescopically focused artistic mélange designed to impress, enthrall and, yes, entertain with a capital ‘E’.  
The Rains Came is also unique among the studio’s output for its rather superficial gloss. Zanuck was generally interested in stories that explored some sort of moral, social or political crises. The Rains Came does touch upon all of these factors at varying intervals. But never do any of the aforementioned become ‘the issue’ of the picture; in hindsight, allowing the audience their own refreshingly original perspective, while affording them the opportunity to bask in the supreme artifice of this doomed triumvirate of lovers; Edwina – newly widowed and caught between her past as a malicious mantrap, and future happiness never to be with the more altruistic, Major Rama Safti; who might have embraced Edwina’s reborn piety, if only she had lived to see the day.
The movie’s strength is, of course, encapsulated within these sexual intrigues; some more seriously handled than others; Edwina’s spurious former life given more critical merit and weight than Ransome’s carousing, viewed within the sexual politics of its day and context of the film and its’ even more Puritanical code of ethics, from an almost playfully screwball perspective, particularly George Brent’s scenes played opposite, Brenda Joyce, making her screen debut as the winsome – if gingerly sly – ingénue, Fern Simon.  Despite her youth, Fern is already a woman, and on par with Ransome’s predilections for sultry gals who know the score and aren’t afraid to keep a running tally besides, though it will take the better half of the movie – two natural disasters (an earthquake and a flood), and, a national crisis (the death of the region’s beloved Maharajah, played by H.B. Warner) - for Ransome to realize as much.
Our story begins at Tom Ransome’s home; Ransome, something of a disgraced – although highly eligible – aristocrat, lazing around his front porch on a stiflingly hot afternoon, content to pick off playful monkeys from a nearby tree with his slingshot. At once we sense Ransome is a dabbler; bored with life and its shallower pursuits, finding himself the best company of all – except perhaps for Major Rama Safti, who in short order arrives for his afternoon call; the car driven by nurse Mac Daid (Mary Nash). Noticing the half-completed portrait of the Maharani resting on a nearby easel, Safti questions whether Tom has plans to ever finish anything he starts. In reply, Ransome offers Safti a drink, the men enjoying each other’s company until the unwelcomed intrusion of enterprising, Mrs. Simon (Marjorie Rambeau) and her daughter, Fern.  Simon has come with an invitation to a party she is giving at the British Colonial Club later in the afternoon for the newly arrived, Lily Hoggett-Egburry (Laura Hope Crews).
Ransome attempts to disentangle himself from this invite but to no avail. A short while later he attends under duress, but not before making a momentary stop at Mrs. Phoebe Smiley’s (Jane Darwell) modest abode facing the club. Smiley, who is also Ransome’s aunt, runs a small missionary and school house. In short order, we are introduced to her better half, the Rev. Homer Smiley (Henry Travers). Alas, duty calls and Fern is flung at Ransome’s head, much to her father, Rev. Elmer’s (Harry Hayden) displeasure. Elmer is a pious man. Moreover, he’s apt to believe the wild rumors about Ransome; dead certain his daughter will not be among Tom’s future conquests. To stave off the inevitable, Elmer elects to send Fern away to school.
Ransome is spared Elmer’s penetrating glare and Fern’s fawning by a royal invitation to the palace. Dressing for the occasion, Ransome arrives early and is heartily greeted by the Maharajah and Maharani (Maria Ouspenskaya); also by Victor Bannerjee (Joseph Schildkraut) an Indian desperate to fit in and who has adopted British customs as his own. It seems the party is being given for Lord Albert Esketh (Nigel Bruce) and his bride, Edwina (Myrna Loy).  Albert is an arrogant snob. Moreover, he’s boorish toward Edwina, who seems perfectly content to have married ‘a title’ rather than the man. Unhappy circumstance for all, Ransome and Edwina were once lovers; or rather, Tom was desperately in love with her once upon a time. Albert senses their transparency of lingering emotions but is unable to pinpoint the true significance of their past relationship.
On advice of the Maharani, who can plainly see there is something more between Tom and Edwina, Ransome is asked to take Edwina on a private tour of the palace. In private, these two old flames exchange cordial stories about what has happened in their lives since; Ransome rather dolefully hoping Edwina might still be the girl he remembers rather than the woman she has since become. It’s no use. Time and experience have had their corrupting influences. Moreover, upon rejoining her husband and the group in the main ballroom, Edwina is instantly attracted to Major Safti whom she nicknames the ‘bronze Apollo’. Ransome quietly discourages Edwina of her infatuation. Safti has important work to do as a newly graduated physician, recently ensconced at the local hospital. Moreover, it is hinted the Maharajah and Maharani, though childless, have been contemplating making Safti their heir apparent.
The next day Albert falls ill with malaria. Bedridden and unable to keep tabs on his wife, Edwina exploits this opportunity to invite Safti to their home – presumably to gain his physician’s expertise on a diagnosis for Albert; but later, plying Safti with a polite cup of tea and some fairly obvious hints she would like him to show her around the city. At first, Safti declines. He has heard something of Edwina’s reputation from Miss Mac Daid. Moreover, he is a very busy man. Still, Edwina is charming, and quite persuasive. So Safti elects to make time for Edwina, showing her various points of cultural interest, including the hospital and a music conservatory where famed Rajput singer of songs, Jama Singh (Lal Chand Mehra) entertains them with an old chant. The mood is mysteriously dark and foreboding, sending a sudden chill down Edwina’s back. Meanwhile, Fern has run away from home in the pouring rain to pledge her love to Ransome. He is, understandably, taken aback by her impetuosity and sends her home almost immediately. 
As the monsoon season approaches, Edwina is invited to Banerjee’s home for cocktails, along with Miss Mac Daid, Safti, Ransome and a few other locals. Alas, the evening will take a harrowing turn; an earthquake leveling Ranchipur and causing its nearby damn to collapse, decimating the village. Safti and Miss Mac Daid make it to higher ground before the bridge is washed out behind them. But Lord Esketh is doomed; caught in the raging flood waters. At the palace, the Maharani feverishly works to free her husband from fallen debris. Mortally wounded, the Maharajah is moved to more comfortable quarters. The Maharani calls upon Ransome and Safti to mobilize the rescue efforts; Safti dedicating himself at the hospital while Ransome goes in search of survivors. Mercifully, his Aunt and Rev. Smiley have been spared, taking refuge in the mission along with many children who are now orphaned by the disaster.
As plague rips through Ranchipur, Fern and Ransome’s bond of reunion is strengthened, growing into sincere love. To prove hers to Safti, Edwina enlists at the hospital. Miss Mac Daid sets an itinerary of mostly appalling tasks for Edwina to complete, certain she will fail and thus discrediting her in Safti’s eyes. Instead, Safti is disturbed by Mac Daid’s lack of compassion and has Edwina reassigned to nursing duties where she dutifully tends to the sick and the dying with never a selfish thought for herself. Even Ransome is impressed by Edwina’s newly discovered sense of duty and propriety; coming to believe she is, at last, the sort of woman who might make Safti a noble wife.
Tragically, it is not to be. For Edwina, pulling double duty at the hospital, and momentarily made forgetful with exhaustion, drinks from a contaminated glass belonging to a dying patient instead of her own, thus infecting herself with a lethal dose of the plague. A short while later, Edwina collapses while on duty, dying with Ransome, Fern and Safti at her side. Tortured by the sudden loss, Safti momentarily slips into self-despair; stirred and spurred on to assume his rightful duty as the heir apparent to the throne of Ranchipur; the movie ending with the Maharajah’s passing and Safti’s coronation.
Made in any other year, The Rains Came not only would have been nominated for Best Picture, it almost certainly would have won. Although Zanuck’s supremely entertaining disaster classic was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Cinematography and for Alfred Newman’s Original Score, the singular statuette went to Fred Sersen and Edmund H. Hansen for their special effects, beating out Buddy Gillespie’s formidable efforts on The Wizard of Oz (no small achievement). Viewed today, The Rains Came has lost none of its appeal. Perhaps most startling of all is Tyrone Power’s stoic performance as an East Indian; able to convince – or at least bamboozle – the audience in all its faux glamorization, and, in a way Richard Burton’s Safti in Fox’s 1955 remake ‘The Rains of Ranchipur’ never even comes close to achieving.
Still, it’s George Brent’s compassionate charmer who steals the show, and – to a lesser degree – Myrna Loy’s sinful cum self-sacrificing fallen woman, redeemed only to be martyred to the cause in the end. We tip our hats too to Brenda Joyce; a novice among these ripened talents, but an undeniably effervescent presence; also, Maria Ouspenskaya – an ensconced and beloved character actress and acting coach; one of Hollywood’s ‘fixtures’ who is more indelibly etched into our collective memories in a small role than most actresses have become in much bigger parts.  In the last analysis, The Rains Came is ‘boffo’ big-budget/big-time box office entertainment. It excels, as so many films from 1939 did, in telling its’ human saga. The movie’s message is potently clear and ultimately life-affirming. Try as they might – the rains cannot wash away the inevitable march of mankind. No doubt, today’s environmentalists will scoff and say, “Pity that.” Bottom line: an absolute must!
Fox Home Video’s DVD transfer is mostly marvelous. Although age-related artifacts are present, the gray scale is perfectly rendered. Solid blacks, clean whites and some very sharp contrast levels are all to the good. On the negative side, there is some light sprocket damage, noticeable in infrequent gate weave and the occasional flicker. We also have some damage in the second reel, looking faintly reminiscent of ‘Technicolor mis-registration’ if only The Rains Came were not shot in B&W!  Distracting halos suddenly appear around Fern and Tom in the scene where she skulks off to his home in the pouring rain to profess her love. It’s a brief sequence; the anomaly briefer still. Otherwise, the image is fairly refined and with a goodly amount of fine detail that will surely not displease. 
The audio has been remixed to faux stereo. I’m not a huge fan of this, since the effect is not all that impressive; sound re-channeled to come out of all the speakers instead of one, but with no ‘discrete’ channeling between sound effects, music and dialogue. Thankfully, we also get the original mono, which is more than adequate. The only other extra of merit is an interesting audio commentary by film historians, Anthony Slide and Robert Birchard. The stills gallery is little more than an excuse to slap together a handful of movie poster art and a few B&W photographs taken on set. We also get a severely worn theatrical trailer. Bottom line: very highly recommended for content. Recommended for presentation. Now, if we could only get Fox Home Video to commit to a Blu-ray...hmmm.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)


Monday, June 23, 2014

SUEZ (2oth Century-Fox 1938) Fox Cinema Archives

The year 1938 marked a decided turning point in Hollywood’s output; the dream factories churning out lavish entertainments with greater frequency and success than ever before. The crippling circumstances of the Great Depression and the looming threat of another World War had driven audiences into the air-cooled theaters; Hollywood only too eager to capitalize on their careworn necessity for escapism. Alas, Darryl Zanuck’s Suez (1938) could hardly be considered a worthy contender among them; distinguished only by the presence of 2oth Century-Fox’s latest star; heartthrob, Tyrone Power whom Zanuck had elevated to A-list status with this lavishly appointed costume drama. Suez is reported to be a retelling of how the canal connecting Suez to Port Said was built. In the late 1930’s Hollywood’s verve for colonialist adventures and Far East exoticism took precedence at the box office. Obviously, it filled a need. Hence, Suez seemed to suggest an intriguing blend of the two, peppered with historical significance.  And the picture did not disappoint – at least, not Zanuck or the studio who reaped rich rewards from its distribution.
Alas, the Philip Dunne/Julien Josephson screenplay veered wildly from the truth into an obtuse action/adventure yarn peppered in tragi-romance: Power’s dashing Parisian architect/engineer, Ferdinand de Lesseps twice denied devoted companionship from not one, but two of Fox’s leading ladies; frequent costar, Loretta Young (cast in the ephemeral part of the Countess Eugenie de Montijo) and France’s latest import, Annabella (as Toni Pellerin). Power and Annabella were carrying on a hot and heavy affair behind the scenes of this faux epic, whose other claim to fame remained its adrenaline-charged sandstorm, in which Annabella’s winsome ingénue risks - and loses - her life to save her beloved from flying debris. Power and Annabella would wed a year later, the marriage lasting barely a decade.
At 24, Tyrone Power was far too young to play De Lesseps, who was actually 64 at the time construction on the canal was completed. But what did such inaccuracies matter when Power’s star was ascending faster than Jupiter? Still, his name above the title had yet to prove its worth. But Zanuck was confident Power’s looks alone could sell tickets, especially among female fans. Thus, he was willing to gamble a good deal of time and money on Suez, gussying up its absurd back story with vintage accoutrements. As such, Suez decidedly looks the part of the grand Hollywood epic without actually excelling as one. Indeed, Suez was as much a source of pride for Zanuck as he intended it to compete on the same level with MGM’s pictorial lavishness.
Unlike the other majors, who had begun production during the silent era, maturing to prominence through the last ten to fifteen years of Hollywood’s infancy, 2oth Century-Fox was a relative newcomer, amalgamated only since 1935. Three short years later, thanks to Zanuck’s management, it was a force to be reckoned with; a major without ever having started out as a minor. Alas, on Suez, Zanuck’s reach for greatness exceeded his grasp; the Dunne/Josephson screenplay a silly mishmash; Allan Dwan’s direction strangely void of that necessary visual spark to show off Bernard Herzbrun and Rudolph Sternad’s gargantuan sets to their best advantage.
Worse for the film, the romantic element at the crux of the story is sorely lacking; the love-making between Power’s enterprising young buck and Loretta Young’s bedeviled Miss more haughty and exclusive than anything else, while Power’s flirtations with Annabella, miscast as the uncivilized ingénue, fairly reek of incongruously slapped together screwball comedy. Finally, there is Allan Dwan’s lackluster direction to consider; the movie lumbering along a series of disjointed vignettes, periodically fading to black whenever Dwan can think of no better logic or visual device to string together his story. Suez is extremely episodic, and such a shame too, since Zanuck has obviously lavished his studio’s tangible assets on a showcase immaculately lensed by J. Peverell Marley.
Suez opens in the French court of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte III, Emperor of France (ineffectually played by Leon Ames). Bonaparte is attending a tennis match between Ferdinand de Lesseps (Tyrone Power) and his best friend, Vicomte Rene De Latour (the marvelous Joseph Schildkraut, who is utterly wasted in a nothing part). The wily Bonaparte is late to the game and only marginally interested in De Lesseps’ prowess. Moreover, he becomes star struck at the first sight of Countess Eugenie de Montijo (Loretta Young) whom he will later pursue at a court ball. Alas, Bonaparte is interrupted in his romantic pursuits by reoccurring affairs of state pressed to him by his trusted advisor, General St. Arnaud (Alphonse Martell); returning unannounced to surprise Ferdinand, Eugenie and Rene as they are having their fortunes told. The Swami (Frank Lackteen) foretells of a ‘troubled life’ for Eugenie with ‘a crown upon her head’ and predicts De Lesseps will endeavor to ‘dig a ditch’. Amused by these seemingly meaningless predictions, Ferdinand undertakes to continue the prophesizing, poking fun at their host until Bonaparte makes his presence known. Seemingly unmoved by Ferdinand’s insult, the enterprising and vengeful Bonaparte later instructs Arnaud to find De Lesseps a diplomatic post far removed from the court of France, thus separating him from his betrothed.
Ferdinand is sent (or rather, politely exiled) to the blistering Egyptian desert where his father, Count Mathieu de Lesseps (Henry Stephenson) currently resides as France’s Consul-General. Before departing, he impulsively asks Eugenie to be his wife. Alas, she turns him down, a decision each will live to regret. In Egypt, Ferdinand is introduced to Sir Malcolm Cameron (Nigel Bruce), a close friend of his father and the British consul to the Viceroy, Mohammed Ali (Maurice Moskovitch). He also befriends Ali’s son and heir, Prince Said (J. Edward Bromberg) to whom Ali has entrusted with mentoring the young prince in the ways of becoming a young man of qualities. During one of Ferdinand’s routine treks across the desert he happens upon the tomboy, Toni Pellerin (Annabella), bathing nude in a pond. She implores him to recall her stubborn mule that has wandered off with her changing room cart. Regrettably, in returning the ass to the water’s edge, both Ferdinand and the now fully clothed Toni are thrown into the water when the mule bucks and rattles the cart.
Toni is the granddaughter of French Sergeant Pellerin (Sig Rumann) whose vanity persists in having his graying mane dyed jet black. Toni is immediately smitten with Ferdinand. But she is uncouth and common; even crude in her assessment of Eugenie’s portrait occupying an honored place on Ferdinand’s desk. Furthermore, she is uneducated and cannot even read. Nevertheless, Ferdinand takes pity on her chronic needling to be near him and to help in his work. He makes Toni a promise; that upon his return to France to pitch the idea of the canal to Bonaparte, Toni will commit herself to school; also, to learning the social graces of a young lady. To satisfy Ferdinand, Toni reluctantly agrees.  In Paris, Ferdinand discovers Eugenie has become Bonaparte’s mistress. Having lost the only women he ever truly desired, Ferdinand also fails in his impassioned bid to raise the necessary funds to build the canal, encountering a stalemate from Bonaparte, who suggests his advisors have forewarned about such an endeavor flooding the Mediterranean.
The Dunne/Josephson screenplay badly mangles the historical record herein, using France’s looming civil war as mere backdrop. Toni runs away from school yet again. Count Mathias and Rene, both part of the French Assembly that Bonaparte is looking to crush, place their faith in a letter of guarantee Eugenie presents to Ferdinand. The letter presumably assures no reprisals after the assembly agrees to temporarily disband, with the understanding it will be allowed to reconvene once the threat of civil war has been defused. Alas, the guarantee is a political ruse, Bonaparte sending his military escorts to promptly arrest the various members of the assembly, including Ferdinand’s father, who dies of a stroke brought on by a broken heart.
As something of compensation – though not really – Bonaparte now invests in Ferdinand’s canal construction project, thus making him a state-sanctioned puppet and social pariah in Rene’s eyes. In the meantime, Bonaparte assumes the throne of the newly revived French Empire just as Mathias had feared. Embittered, though driven to succeed, Ferdinand embarks upon the canal’s construction with Prince Said committing his forces to the cause. Invariably, this leads to Turkish sabotage. A bomb is detonated high in the rocks, triggering a landslide of epic proportions. Many are crushed in the falling debris; the project put on hold while Said investigates the cause.
\When Bonaparte withdraws his support Ferdinand is forced to go to England to appeal his case before the British Prime Minister (George Zucco) who is vehemently opposed to the project. However, the leader of the opposition, Benjamin Disraeli (Miles Mander), is wildly enthusiastic for the canal to continue. With the election nearing, Disraeli encourages Ferdinand to return to Egypt and sincerely pray England’s parliament will vote him into office instead. Disraeli all but guarantees his backing for the canal should he win the election.
Back in Egypt, Ferdinand optimistically renews his dreams of completing the canal and discovers, in the interim and his absence, Toni has matured into a young woman of quality. Moreover, she shares his passions and, God willing, desires to partake in a life together. Ferdinand encourages Toni to reconsider her love for him. She ought to settle down into a steady and committed marriage with a man who is not as ambitious or starry-eyed. Even so, Ferdinand has, by now, begun to harbor sincere affections for this waif who has ostensibly morphed into a woman overnight. Tragically, his discovery of Toni’s unerring devotion comes too late for happiness to take hold. A brutal sandstorm overtakes the work camp. In this violent assault from Mother Nature, Ferdinand is knocked unconscious by some flying debris and Toni, who has rushed into the storm to secure her beloved to a pillar to save his life, is swept away by the horrendous wind, her lifeless body discovered a short while later by Ferdinand and a very tearful, Sergeant Pellerin.    
We fast track through Disraeli’s victory and his commitment to the canal; Ferdinand completing the project and returning to France where Eugenie, now the Empress, confides in him that she too has made sacrifices. A short while later, Ferdinand returns to the desert sands, overseeing an armada of ships sailing through the canal with echoes of Toni’s promise to remain at his side ricocheting about his memory.
Suez is a fairly unimpressive would-be epic; never entirely satisfying in its storytelling, despite Zanuck’s very best efforts to will a colossus from the treacle of its rank fiction. Following a formula, Suez is only superficially biographical, more interested in spectacle and costumes, in gushing romance and some extremely fine special effects, than in preserving the historical record. It worked for the picture then – audiences flocking to see it; making Tyrone Power the number one box office draw of the year. To be fair, Suez’s action is incontestably elaborate and first rate, and with a good solid cast.  Alas, too many of these marvelous talents are given precious little to do except look their parts.
Suez has a waxworks appeal to it; history eclipsed by its’ eerily conceived Madam Tussauds’ moving tableau. The movie’s best moments are steeped in catastrophe. Allen Dwan’s superb staging of the landslide and sandstorm hold up remarkably well under closer scrutiny today. But the rest of the film is a series of unconnected ‘incidents’ entirely robbed of any dramatic urgency.  At the time of its release, Zanuck found himself being sued by De Lesseps’ descendants, who rightfully pointed out Ferdinand was 54 when work began on the canal and furthermore, adamantly insisted France's heroine engineer never had an affair with the Empress Eugenie. A French court eventually dismissed these charges; perhaps suggesting Suez’s homage to French ingenuity outweighed any egregious – if practically unintentional – dishonor to the De Lesseps family.
Suez arrives to DVD via Fox’s Cinema Archive. I confess: of the first three titles undertaken to critique on this blog, Suez is the least offending to the eye and ear. Though hardly perfect, the B&W elements have miraculously survived the ravages of time, and Fox’s own cost-cutting measures along the way. The B&W image is relatively solid, with only a few scenes exhibiting a slight wobble. Age-related artifacts are everywhere but rarely do they significantly distract.  The grayscale is mostly good; although, on occasion, it appears to suffer from lower than average contrast levels. Scenes photographed at night register a thicker patina of grain and suffer from a loss of fine detail. 
All and all – and considering the travesties experienced elsewhere in the archive collection - Suez wasn’t a half bad presentation. The mono audio exhibits minor hiss and the occasional pop, but otherwise is still in very good shape with dialogue sounding crisp. The film’s score, at intervals credited to virtually every composer working at Fox - save Alfred Newman (Robert Russell Bennett, Charles Maxwell, Cyril J. Mockridge, David Raksin and Ernst Toch) also sounds quite good. Like other titles in Fox’s Cinema Archive, we get NO extras on Suez. Forbearingly, I wasn’t expecting any.  
My decision to critique Suez, Forever Amber and Wilson as the first three Cinema Archive titles to herald such an honor on this blog was only partly influenced by my desire to see these movies once again. Aside: I remember them fondly from my childhood. But I also wanted to see if Fox Home Video was ready to pay its own respects to some of their A-list titles from yesteryear. Sadly, the overall report card is not good, leaving me to reconsider why other ‘lesser’ titles like Home in Indiana and Apartment for Peggy since released via the archive, continue to debut with marginally below average to atrocious quality (if that word can even be used to describe what I am seeing herein). In no way has Fox even made the attempt to approximate the visual/aural integrity of these movies for future generations to collect and appreciate.
So, I’ll just go on record as saying I am ashamed of the corporate decisions thus far made regarding Fox’s Cinema Archive. With one of the richest histories in all of Hollywood at its disposal, Fox Home Video has managed to turn 24kt movie gold into forgettable excrement.  It gives me no pleasure to state as much. I’m a film lover and a classic movie buff. 
But if Fox isn’t embarrassed to offer the consumer these unmitigated travesties and pretend they’ve done their duty, simply by making these titles available in disc format, then I certainly will endeavor to hold absolutely nothing back in my contempt for their gross shortsightedness and negligence! Fellas – you’re archive is a joke! A bad one!!!
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)


Thursday, June 19, 2014

TYRONE POWER: MATINEE IDOL COLLECTION (2oth Century-Fox 1936-1951) Fox Home Video

In retrospect, the undeniably, and at times, impossibly handsome Tyrone Power seemed like a natural for the movies; dark-haired, flashing eyes, pretty boy good looks from the chin up, married to a fairly chiseled male torso, frequently on display in some rather effete moments a la Rudolph Valentino. Indeed, Power’s public image was perceived – or rather, conceived – by 2oth Century-Fox studio mogul, Darryl F. Zanuck as something of a valiant successor to Valentino’s mantel as the dragon slayer of women’s hearts.
Power’s romantic life off screen was something of a patchwork of failed marriages, racy affairs and rumored bisexual liaisons with Caesar Romero; the latter, unfounded and arguably, untrue. Let’s do the math; eighteen hour days and two or three movies a year…it’s a wonder Ty’ had enough time and/or energy to unbuckle his belt, much less perform the sort of wanton sexual escapades penned in ‘tell all’ biographies written long after his death. It stands to reason that when you’re as sinfully sexy as Tyrone Power rumors will fly. But it’s best to leave them behind: especially when Power – the legend – is so much more appealing, even at a glance.
Tyrone Power wasn’t particularly adverse to rumors. After all, they helped secure and perpetuate his popularity as the most sought after male pinup of Movieland and Modern Screen fan magazines – surpassing even Clark Gable’s reputation as a lady’s man. And Power’s randy ways didn’t seem to hurt his public image either, but rather added to his mystique; a curiosity since he ran the gamut in love-making at a time when ‘moral decency’ was paramount and stringently adhered to (at least on paper) by Hollywood’s self-governing Production Code of Censorship.
This boy who would be king eventually made good on Zanuck’s promise; rising like cream to eclipse the legacy of his father, Ty Senior; even in his heyday nowhere near as stunning a male beauty as his son. Personally, I’ve always found something curiously off putting about Tyrone Jr., particularly in Zanuck’s endeavors to remake him into an Errol Flynn knockoff with some fairly leaden, though undeniably glossy and extravagant Technicolor melodramas and adventure yarns: Blood and Sand (1941) and Captain from Castile (1947) immediately come to mind. For my tastes, there’s never been another – or better – swashbuckler than Errol Flynn, and Power, in codpiece and tights just looks marginally uncomfortable to downright ridiculous; especially when one recalls the glories of Flynn in Captain Blood (1935) or The Sea Hawk (1940).
Yet, to simply dismiss Tyrone Power as the ‘Flynn-light’ or Valentino wannabe is doing the actor a great injustice. Indeed, Power proved to be fairly adept in the studio’s gristmill of projects churned out at an alarming rate throughout the 1930’s and 40’s; leaping from comedy to drama to musical to action/adventure and historical melodrama, seemingly without a single misstep along the way. In the heady days of the studio system, actors were subjected to such artistic trials by fire. Some excelled – others tanked.
Only in retrospect can we recognize Tyrone Power keeping his head above the high water mark consistently. It should be pointed out that anyone can have a fluky success in one or two genres, perhaps even back to back. But Power displayed a sincere knack for virtually all of the aforementioned and held tight to these reins as Fox’s undisputed…well…fox or nearly three decades. His untimely death in 1958 at the age of 44 left female fans heartbroken and Fox holding the bag on Solomon and Sheba after almost seventy percent of the picture had been completed.  But it also created a void in that bygone era of the ‘matinee idol’ – never entirely satisfied since. Tyrone Power was one of a kind, or rather of an ilk the movies no longer cultivate and will likely never see again; dashingly fine-looking and accomplished in his craft; a guy’s guy if not entirely an actor’s actor, but someone who respected others and enjoyed life and his work with equal aplomb.  The English would undoubtedly label him “one splendid bugger”. I prefer to think of him as one hell of a man.
Officially, there’s no weight to Fox Home Video’s Tyrone Power: Matinee Idol Collection. In fact, I’ll wager a guess most reading this review will have never heard of the ten titles brought together herein. Ah, but entertainment value – now that’s quite a different story. While some may question the absurdity in some of these scenarios (The Luck of The Irish, as example, is particularly fanciful) there’s no denying Zanuck and Power are giving even the most feather-weight nonsense their utmost commitment and class; as such, elevating the work to a whole other level we call artistry. Tyrone Power’s career is extremely well represented on DVD, and not just in this collection, with Fox’s Archive MOD program filling in some of the more glaring gaps. It would be prudent of Fox to give us more hi-def offerings of his work. To date, there’s only The Black Swan (1942) on Blu-ray.  But I digress.  
Tyrone Power: The Matinee Idol Collection begins inauspiciously – at least for Power – with Irving Cumming’s Girl’s Dormitory (1936), Power barely in it as Count Vallais; a sinfully handsome bon vivant on the prowl for Simone Simon, the real star of the picture, despite the fact she’s a newcomer too.  Interestingly, the film plays to Simone’s limited range, and even more ironically, makes it seem much grander and infinitely more accomplished than it actually is; Simone’s intuitive personality conquering her genuine shortcomings as an actress to suggest she’s not merely playing, but rather inhabiting the part of lovelorn schoolgirl, Marie Claudel - body, heart and soul.
Marie harbors a crush on the headmaster of an all-girls school in Switzerland, Herr Direktor Stephen Dominik (Herbert Marshall, his usual noble self). Actually, he’s too absorbed in writing his textbooks on ancient history to appreciate either Simone’s rapturous amour or the more prescient adoration of Professor Anna Mathe (Ruth Chatterton); who sincerely loves him. However, when a rather passionate love letter is discovered in the waste basket, obviously penning by one of the girls – and eventually (and rather clumsily) traced to Marie – she is ordered under a faculty examination to identify the object of its affections; instead, confessing to its incendiary artistry, though only as an exercise in creative writing. It’s a quick save by Marie, one bungled a short while later when she takes Anna into her confidence about its origins and intended purpose.
Sincerely touched by Marie’s confession, Anna vows to keep what she knows a secret.  Not everyone is as altruistic in their motives; particularly Professor Wimmer (Constance Collier) and Dr. Spindle (J. Edward Bromberg). Rumors spread throughout the campus and soon it is suggested Marie’s invalid mother be told of her daughter’s naughty daydreams. Heart sore, desperate and, frankly, embarrassed, Marie takes flight into the real world where anything can – and likely does happen – with Dominik discovering the truth, pursuing the girl to save her from herself. It all ends blissfully enough, with the heavy-handed convention of ‘the happy ending’ tacked on for mediocre measure.
What ought to have been an affecting parable of youthful fixation and ephemeral gloom gets badly mangled in Gene Markey’s screenplay, based on Ladislas Fodor’s play. Here is a tale begun as fresh as springtide optimism, turned sad and saccharine before the final fade out. If I haven’t mentioned Ty at all, it’s because he’s given precious little to do in this picture, and absolutely afforded no way to distinguish himself in his toss-away part as the Count. Frankly, it’s a wonder Zanuck saw anything in Power from this performance to press on with his career. Mercifully, he did and we are almost immediately rewarded for his efforts with Tay Garnett’s Love Is News (1937); the second movie in this collection.
Ty is cast as Steven Layton, a slick newshound onto the real scoop about $100 million heiress, Toni Gateson (Loretta Young). Toni’s love life has been the press’ piñata for far too long. So, she decides to get sweet revenge by announcing to the competition she and Layton are engaged to be married. Obviously, a total surprise for Layton, he and his editor, the cantankerous, Martin J. Canavan (Don Ameche) are doubly chagrined being the only news outlet in town not to have grazing rights to the story of the year. The two reminisce about the awful jams they’ve been in and the wicked schemes each has put the other through over the course of their…uh…friendship. But there are certain assumptions Steven made about Toni’s life that he will now live to regret as the highly publicized man of the hour; the pair eventually winding up in adjacent jail cells, thanks to another unwitting prank gone wrong.
Zanuck frequently paired Ameche with Power. Despite this being their first time together, there’s genuine on screen chemistry between these two affable men; also between Power and Loretta Young who is utterly luminous.  Alas, even Young’s translucent beauty takes a backseat to Power’s ‘pretty boy’. A cue from the way MGM marketed Robert Taylor, Zanuck’s edict to exploit Power’s obvious physical attributes reveals the dawning of his Adonis complex. At twenty-three he’s lovingly photographed by Ernest Palmer; the musical play of light and shadow upon his fine-bone features creating glycerin gorgeousness usually reserved for women. Young would bitterly regret Zanuck’s attention to his male stars, believing she was being cast aside as the second fiddle in their frequent onscreen teaming. 
Edward H. Griffith’s Café Metropole (1937) may not be high art, but like Love Is News it is a highly enjoyable yarn; a comic soufflé actually, playing on the time-honored cliché of mistaken identities; a commoner impersonating royalty and vice versa. Cast as fake Russian Prince, Alexis, Power balances equal portions of the well-heeled aristocrat with the penniless heel forced into this impersonation by the café’s crooked nightclub owner, Monsieur Victor (Adolph Menjou) in order to con, American beauty, Laura Ridgeway (Loretta Young again) and her wealthy industrialist father, Joseph (Charles Winninger) into a scandal that will help cover up Victor’s tax evasion.   
Pleasantly seasoned with comedic performances from Gregory Ratoff (the real Prince Alexis, exiled after the revolution and forced to work as a common – and fairly caustic – waiter at the impossibly posh Café Metropole) and Helen Westley (utterly superb as Joe’s ‘old beef’ of a sister, Margaret, sufficiently tenderized with astute observations on love and sex); Café Metropole winds its way through an impossibly silly plot; all pistons firing in unison. Ratoff, who remains one of the underrated and underused talents in Hollywood, wrote the story, later fleshed out by Jacques Deval. It isn’t original, but again, it hardly matters when the spicy situations and zingers begin to fly.
The ruse begins innocently enough with Power’s intoxicated fop making a damn nuisance of himself at the café after it has already closed, demanding a roasted eagle be brought to his table.  Victor lances the situation with his usual oily tact, encountering Alexis – whose real name is Alexander Brown – a short while later at the baccarat tables at the casino. Told by his perpetually befuddled accountant, Maxl Schinner (Christian Rub) they are doomed if the auditors discover they’ve been embezzling funds from the café’s safety deposit box, Victor has come to the casino to win back the 960,000 franc shortage. Alexis calls his bluff at the tables, then confesses he is penniless and cannot pay the tab. The casino’s management offers to call the police. But Victor thinks better on the situation, exploiting his upper hand by forcing Alexander to impersonate the Crown Prince Alexis of Russia. The plan: woo and win Laura and, by extension, her father’s money to pay Victor’s debts. It all ends rather predictably: Brown briefly imprisoned for nobly stepping away; Laura rushing to his side because she’s already figured out the scheme and really doesn’t care; Joseph resigning himself to his daughter’s happiness, and, Victor pocketing a cool million francs.  Voila! Success!  
Zanuck’s workman-like gristmill was to feature its newly christened heartthrob in his hat trick performance of 1937, Walter Lang’s Second Honeymoon; a fairly charm-free, occasionally exhausting comedy loosely based on Noel Coward’s trend-setting London play, Private Lives. The plot concerns a minor brouhaha when Vicky (you guessed it, Loretta Young again), a gorgeous divorcée and newly remarried, inadvertently bumps into her first husband, Raoul McLiesh (Tyrone Power) while on her ‘second honeymoon’ with hubby #2, Bob Benton (Lyle Talbot). Both men are congenial to a fault and begin to enjoy one another’s company.  In true Hollywood fashion, everyone is immaculately quaffed and dressed; no career aspirations but plenty of disposable cash to indulge in this sort of exotic escapism.  
Curiously, it’s the supporting players who continue to linger in the memory after the houselights have come up; Stuart Erwin as Raoul’s devoted valet, Leo MacTavish, and Claire Trevor as Marcia, the society gadabout.  Second Honeymoon is a marginally joyful as slapstick but utterly vacuous and substandard as a comedy. Even at 85 minutes, it felt too long, its tired warhorse of a plot given to wordy exchanges but precious little action to motivate these dulcet and frequently intoxicated characters into worming their way into our hearts.
There’s an uncharacteristic – and unwelcome – shrillness to the exercise, Raoul and Vicky denying their former feelings for each other, even as milquetoast Bob refuses to believe anything devious might be going on in the present. The plot is fairly ridiculous. Other notable screwball comedies (Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth and Garson Kanin’s My Favorite Wife immediately come to mind) have toyed with the premise of marrieds split by their own stubbornness, only to be fatefully drawn back together before the final fade out. But Second Honeymoon just seems forced and not terribly prepossessing.
Better luck all around with Gregory Ratoff’s Day-Time Wife (1939); screenwriters Art Arthur and Robert Harari’s sendup to MGM’s superior Wife Vs. Secretary, made three years earlier. While the latter is undeniably more concerned with extoling the implications of an extramarital affair, this feather-weight comedy is decidedly all about the wife having a very good time in her revenge against a philandering spouse. Power is cast as Ken Norton, the no good so and so who, after only two short years of marriage to the spectacularly fresh-faced and ever-devoted Jane (Linda Darnell) is already well on his way to stepping out with Kitty (Wendy Barrie); his tart of a secretary. On the eve of their wedding anniversary, Jane gets her wake-up call when Ken – who has all but forgotten the day – also skips out on the grand party their mutual best friend, Blanche (Binnie Barnes) is giving at her posh penthouse apartment; presumably because he’s loaded down with work and staying late at the office. Blanche encourages everyone to crash Ken’s office, thus surprising him. Alas, the jokes on Jane, the office empty; Jane quickly deducing her man is up to something other than advancing his career.
Surprisingly, she’s not bitter or vindictive. Instead, under Blanche’s influence, Jane decides to get a job as secretary to the notorious womanizer/architect Barney Dexter (Warren Williams) who also happens to be an associate of her husband. Despite Blanche’s cynical advice Jane manages to stays three jumps ahead of Barney’s amorous advances, exploiting them just enough to incur Ken's jealousy. Why jealous, when he’s been just as liberal – perhaps even more – in playing the field? Ah, but Ken doesn’t subscribe to the analogy of ‘what’s good for the goose…’ So, when Ken elects to seal a deal with Barney over a dinner engagement at a swank nightclub, Barney inadvertently brings his secretary along for the party. Jane and Kitty meet for the first time. But Jane isn’t angry at her or even upset. No, she’s just getting ready for the big finale.
Everyone retires to Barney’s penthouse; Barney pulling Ken aside and encouraging him to get lost at the first opportunity so he can be alone with Jane. Of course, Barney doesn’t realize Jane is Ken’s wife and neither does Kitty, leading to all sorts of riotous misperception and baited glances along the way. Too bad for Barney, his wife (Joan Valerie) – suspecting her man is up to no good – decides to crash their little private party. Ken saves the day, pretending the whole night has been dedicated to business. Under duress, Barney reluctantly signs Ken’s contract – which he otherwise would never have done. But Jane isn’t ready to retire; inviting Ken and Kitty to stay at ‘her place’ for the night to save themselves from the long commute home.  In the dead of night, Kitty overhears Ken’s confession of love for Jane, knocking him unconscious with her high heel shoe before departing in a huff. In tending her husband’s wounds, Jane and Ken predictably reconcile, each hopefully the wiser for their brief encounters outside the marriage.
By 1940, Tyrone Power had grown tired of playing the male equivalent of the ingénue. Moreover, with the declaration of war in Europe, the tide of popular tastes in cinema had decidedly shifted away from frothy comedies. And Zanuck – eager to capitalize on his star’s potential – decided to give Power his break with a seedy melodrama; Henry Hathaway’s Johnny Apollo (1940). A fairly standard ‘crime doesn’t pay’ anecdote, the screenplay by Philip Dunne and Rowland Brown treads lightly on the gangster milieu. This had once been the bread and butter over at Warner Bros. But by 1940, crime stories were effectively gone, thanks to the Production Code of Ethics that forbade explicit exaltations of the underworld element. Nevertheless, and despite the code, Johnny Apollo has its moments.
The plot concerns a father/son relationship soured after wealthy Wall Street stockbroker, Bob Cain (Edward Arnold) is indicted for embezzlement and sentenced to 5 to 10 years. His Princeton-grad son, Bob Jr. (Tyrone Power) knows nothing of the sacrifices dear old dad’s made along the way to ensure his cushy lifestyle and forsakes the family name. After Bob Jr. learns his father’s attorney, Jim McLaughlin (Lionel Atwill) is just as corrupt and unwilling to do anything to file an appeal on his dad’s behalf, Bob takes it upon himself to clear his father of all charges, pursuing Judge Emmett T. Brenner (Charles Grapewin); once a prominent lawyer, reduced to little more than a boozing mouthpiece for underworld kingpin, Mickey Dwyer (Lloyd Nolan).  In short order, Bob also meets Mickey and Lucky Dubarry (Dorothy Lamour); the Mickster’s hard-edged gal pal with a soft center, who gradually shifts her affections from Mickey to Bob.
Rechristened Johnny Apollo, Bob gets in good with Mickey and his rackets, determined to raise enough dough to spring pop from the pen. When Bob Sr. learns the truth he is unwilling to partake; utterly disappointed the apple hasn’t fallen all that far from the tree. He publicly declares he has no son. Bob – or rather Johnny – isn’t willing to give up and Lucky proves instrumental in a forced reconciliation between father and son, but not before Dwyer and Johnny are pinched and imprisoned on racketeering charges.  Dwyer plots a daring prison break. At first, Johnny is in on the plan.
But when Bob Sr. attempts to foil their escape – and is ruthlessly shot by Mickey – Johnny reevaluates his true loyalties, coming to dad’s aid. Alas, the warden plans to execute Johnny for shooting Bob who is slipping in and out of consciousness in the prison infirmary. If Bob dies, Johnny will surely be hanged. The ending to Johnny Apollo is disgustingly optimistic. After a laborious near death scene, Bob Sr. makes a miraculous recovery. In the final moments, Bob Jr. is seen being released from prison to a waiting car containing his father and Lucky: presumably, this trio set to begin their lives anew and for the better.
Ty’s increasing dissatisfaction with the parts he was being offered, coupled with his enlistment in the war effort resulted in a sporadic period in his movie career. Zanuck would continue to expand Power’s range, thrusting him into lavish costume swashbucklers and more comedies and melodramas, every once in a long while endeavoring to craft a heavy-weight hitter for his biggest star. The trick isn’t entirely achieved in This Above All (1942); in retrospect, a dry run for Zanuck’s other lavishly appointed melodrama, The Razor’s Edge (also starring Power at a crossroads in his career). Regrettably, Zanuck and his screenwriter, R. C. Sherriff have concocted mostly dreck from Eric Knight's exhilarating novel; the story given over to tedious platitudes, mostly espoused by Joan Fontaine’s pro-English heroine, Prudence Cathaway, a buffer between Power’s Clive Briggs; a soldier gone AWOL and his former life, herein embodied in Sergeant Monty (Thomas Mitchell), Clive’s devoted friend and fellow officer.
“Why fight?” Clive cynically asks. “For England!” Prudence declares. “Why love?” “Why for England too?” “And why die?” You get the picture. This Above All is mired in its heavy-handed ‘onward Christian soldiers’ mentality; also hampered by some fairly rank sentimentality intruding on this otherwise solidly crafted tale of romance between a devote WAC and conflicted ex-military unable to rid himself of some deep-seeded angst and shell shock. Empathetic to his daughter’s suffering over the man she obviously loves, Pru’s dad, Dr. Roger Cathaway (Philip Merivale) remains devoted to finding a common ground for the pair, especially after Clive, who was all set to surrender to a court martial and/or return to active service, is severely wounded in the London blitz; clinging to life and vowing never again to question his loyalties – either, to England or Prudence, come what may.
While other wartime propaganda movies like Mrs. Miniver (1942) and The White Cliffs of Dover (1944) chose to extol the glories of that merry ol’ England that never was – but hopefully would rise up to be again…or rather…anew – there is a distinct chord of cynicism running through most of This Above All; queerly at odds with the movie’s nobler romance and sacrifice. The chemistry between Tyrone Power and Joan Fontaine is awkward at best; he unable to bring himself to the pyres of lust witnessed opposite costars, Loretta Young, Sonja Henie or even Linda Darnell, while Fontaine is majestically hampered by an inadequacy to ever relay her passions beyond a panged puppy-dog expression of remorseful guilt for loving England more than she does her man. It doesn’t work, and This Above All never achieves its place as a finely wrought piece of wartime propaganda.       
Perhaps part of the problem is the novel itself; a remarkably intuitive reflection of England’s aberrant feelings about the war, contrasting the characters’ social impulses with the nation’s need for survival, but also, grappling with distinct changes in its ensconced caste system. Movies in general and this one in particular are ill equipped to evoke that which cannot be tangibly photographed for the screen. Hence, we can only guess at these characters by what they tell us; Prudence prone to speeches about a fine and valiant England, destined to triumph over seemingly insurmountable adversity, even as Clive endeavors to get as far away from the innate love of God, country and this ‘good woman’ as his conflicted heart will let him. Blunting the novel’s social overtones emasculates the story and, in the end, distills the novel’s purpose into rank melodrama about love nearly lost among these smoldering ruins.
At war’s end Tyrone Power was eager to jumpstart his movie career. As though to remind audiences of the star Power had once been, Zanuck recast him in Robert B. Sinclair’s That Wonderful Urge (1948); a sluggish remake of Love Is News, this time with Gene Tierney in the role of frustrated heiress, Sarah Farley, whose private life has been under the press’ microscope and who exacts her revenge by spreading the fictitious story she has married one of their own, investigative headline grabber, Thomas Jefferson Tyler (Power). Jay Dratler’s screenplay brings nothing fresh to this effervescent pre-war milieu, now decidedly creaky, listless and having dated badly.
Worse, the film seems to have caught the vapors of Gene Tierney’s downward swing in popularity. The glamor girl who only a few years earlier had commanded the screen nearly single-handedly and riveted audiences to their chairs in such stellar studio-bound product as Laura (1944) and Leave Her To Heaven (1945) had fallen to co-starring status with Fox’s pretty boy past his prime. Indeed, a great deal of Tyrone Power’s appeal was physical. So long as youth endured he was guaranteed a certain percentage of adoring female fans. But the war changed Power – as it did all soldiers; also, a good many male stars from the 1930’s who came back to the movies matured/aged in their outlook on life. That Wonderful Urge is the woeful recipient of Power’s newly acquired humanitarian girth. Regrettably, it does not serve the story or his character well at all.
By 1948, both Power and movie goer tastes had changed; mercifully not quite enough to turn audiences off of Henry Koster’s The Luck of the Irish (1948); an ethereal romantic comedy with its heart firmly linked to Broadway’s smash, Finian’s Rainbow; or at least, in its theatrical cut-up of ‘the little people’ herein embodied by Cecil Kellaway as Horace, the leprechaun. Like most other moguls, Zanuck really did not see the end of the golden age; endeavoring to return Power to his stable with the same sort of feather-weight comedies that had launched his career. The Luck of the Irish works mostly because of Kellaway’s sublime performance. Alas, Tyrone Power is not the same man as before; neither physically nor emotionally, and, there is a queer unhappiness running throughout most of this film.
Power is Stephen Fitzgerald; again, a newshound who is abandoning editor, Bill Clark (James Todd) for a bigger fish in the sea, David C. Auger (Lee J. Cobb). Actually, Auger’s been trying to land Stephen for his newspaper for some time; even encouraging a romance with his affluent and seductive daughter, Frances (Jayne Meadows). Frances would like to land Stephen for her own, also to help shape his career as the lady behind the throne. Too bad, a trip to Ireland puts a decided crimp in both their plans when Stephan and Bill get lost. Stephen stumbles upon Horace, cobbling his shoe in a grotto. Unaware he is a leprechaun, Stephen asks Horace for directions to the nearest village where he meets the peasant girl, Nora (Anne Baxter), toiling for her benevolent father, Tatie (J.M. Kerrigan) who is the innkeeper.
In the few short days Stephen is forced to spend in this tiny hamlet he will fall in love with Nora, though deny these feelings repeatedly before returning to Manhattan where Auger has plans to employ him as part of his new political campaign. However, before his leave, Stephen becomes intrigued when Tatie claims the man he met in the grotto was one of the fabled ‘little people’. To satisfy his own curiosity, Stephen ambushes Horace, forcing him to reveal his hiding spot for the proverbial pot of gold. However, after learning its whereabouts, Stephen returns the gold to Horace, incurring his eternal gratitude and unanticipated intervention. For upon returning to New York, Stephen’s plans to marry are repeatedly upset after Horace arrives and, under the guise of a man servant, begins to wreak havoc on his personal life. Eventually, good sense prevails thanks to a happy and unexpected reunion with Nora, who has come to the Big Apple to watch over an ailing relative.
Cecil Kellaway’s Horace is a leprechaun straight from Vaudeville by way of County Kerry; fairly joyful, exuberant and brimming with blarney stone blather. When all else fails, his is the performance to watch and appreciate. Power and Baxter are less compelling on the whole; mostly because neither is as young or innocent as the protagonists they’re attempting to portray. Baxter in particular seems to know far more than she’s willing to disclose; the common girl prone to fitful bouts of mid-town savvy and sarcasm than even Jayne Meadows uber-uptown sophisticate can dole out with a straight face. At the time of its release, the noted film critic Bosley Crowther astutely pointed out the only flaw with The Luck of the Irish is its dénouement; Power’s sharp-witted reporter tossing personal prosperity and romance with Meadow’s flashy bauble out for bucolic amour with Baxter’s backwoods babe. There’s something to it; the lovemaking between Frances and Stephen more genuinely and mutually felt than any moment Stephen shares with Nora. 
The formulaic supernatural romance, only marginally hinted at in The Luck of the Irish, is given over to excess in Roy Ward Baker’s I’ll Never Forget You (1951); a flimsy and faltering fable about American physicist, Peter Standish (Power) who inherits a flat in Berkeley Square, unchanged since the 18th century. Naturally, the place is rife with history – also, spirits and the luxury of time traveling to the past. In a premise vaguely reminiscent of Somewhere in Time (1980) - more directly derived from Henry James ‘The Sense of the Past’ – reconstituted by John Balderston as ‘Berkeley Square’, I’ll Never Forget You uses a lightning strike as its teleportation device to send Peter back in time.
Disillusionment comes quickly, mostly from Peter’s thwarted expectation to find a jolly ol’ land of merry revelers wearing powder-white wigs and doing the gavotte. Unfortunately, the social conditions of these times are deplorable; the age of reason not yet accustom to Peter’s outbursts that everyone, but especially Helen Pettigrew (Ann Blyth) find rather disturbing. In the past, Peter discovers he is expected to marry Helen’s sister, Kate (Beatrice Campbell). But before long, Peter begins harboring affections for Helen instead, confiding in her his secret; that he is a time traveler from the distant future. Exploiting his wellspring of scientific knowledge, Peter engineers a litany of prototypes for the modern day camera, steamship, storage batteries and even the incandescent bulb. Unluckily, he is dealing with minds that cannot comprehend such inventions, who instead view him as a perpetrator of witchcraft or worse; the devil’s minion destined to bring destruction upon the human race. To spare such an apocalypse, a sinister plan gets underway to commit Peter to the asylum.
Despite Zanuck’s decision to have all of Peter’s time-travelling adventures photographed in blazing Technicolor (presumably to heighten their sense of the surreal – also to take full advantage of C.P. Norman’s production design) little remains of the lithe poetry that kept John Balderston’s play so magically alive. Indeed, the movie seems to suffer from the onset of elephantiasis; Norman’s sets crushing the wistful pathos under their beguiling accoutrements. For someone who spent at least half his movie career in period costumes, Tyrone Power getd lost under Margaret Furse’s opulent clothes; his performance stiff and starchy, completely lacking an air of sensitivity necessary to make the character more than just a moody fop in codpiece. Worse, Roy Ward Baker’s direction tramples the light comedy scattered throughout, the artifice of the piece taking precedence in this eye-popping parade of Technicolor.
After I’ll Never Forget You, Zanuck would reinvest and redouble his efforts to resurrect Tyrone Power’s career with varying degrees of success. By the mid-1950’s Zanuck tired of Fox and left to pursue other interest in Europe. Power’s contract expired and was not renewed. He freelanced for the other majors, distinguishing himself in films like The Eddy Duchin Story (1956) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957); his last – and widely regarded as his most accomplished performance. A year later, he was gone; much too soon and far too abruptly for even his closest friends to properly mourn his untimely passing. I often ponder of what stars of Tyrone Power’s magnitude would think, if somehow they could be magically resurrected for only a day to see what has today become of that fanciful playground they once knew as Hollywood. To misquote a line from The Luck of the Irish; Power ‘offered us gold’…it’s not his fault we perversely surround ourselves with ‘the pebbles’ of talent that decidedly pale next to his inestimably fine and vastly superior gifts.
Fox Home Video has given us an uneven slate of transfers on DVD. These are flipper discs; one feature housed per side – two per disc. None of the transfers are perfect, although a fair number have survived in better than average condition. With the exception of The Luck of The Irish (with its Ireland sequences tinted a bilious green) and I’ll Never Forget You, dividing its time between pro and epilogue sequences shot in B&W and a middle act exploding in the studio’s trademark luridness of vintage Technicolor, the rest of the movies included in this box set are B&W. The best looking of the lot are Girl’s Dormitory, Café Metropole, Day-Time Wife and This Above All. Here, the B&W image reveals exquisite amounts of fine detail, superbly rendered contrast and a light smattering of naturally reproduced grain; also negligible amounts of age-related artifacts. Johnny Apollo is almost as good, though artifacts are marginally more obvious and the image infrequently looks hazy around the edges.
Second Honeymoon and I’ll Never Forget You suffer from a slightly greenish tint, presumably the result of failing telecine. The disappointments are The Luck of The Irish and I’ll Never Forget You. Fox gives us the option to view ‘Luck’ either with its green tinted sequences in tact or entirely in B&W; although turning off the color on one’s monitor would have achieved the same effect. The middle portion of Luck appears to have been sourced from second generation elements. Contrast is overly boosted and there is an intermittent problem with haloing and edge enhancement that is, at times, distracting. As for I’ll Never Forget You – the Technicolor seems off; lacking the robust hues of Fox’s landmark productions and occasionally exhibiting three strip shrinkage, thus creating annoying color halos.
The audio on all the films in this collection is mono and, remarkably, sounds very good; albeit with predictable hiss – amplified more so on ‘Luck’ and Johnny Apollo during quiescent scenes. Extras are limited to ‘galleries’ of publicity photos on most of the features, also theatrical trailers. Occasionally, we get a featurette on Power, including one where his three children talk about their father; another with actress Jayne Meadows reminiscing about her friendship with Ty. Good stuff, though hardly comprehensive.  Bottom line: recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
Girls' Dormitory (1936) - 3   
Love Is News (1937) -   
Café Metropole (1937) - 4
Second Honeymoon (1937) -    
Day-Time Wife (1939) – 3.5   
Johnny Apollo (1940) - 4
This Above All (1942) - 3   
The Luck of the Irish (1948) - 3    
That Wonderful Urge (1948) - 2
I'll Never Forget You (1951) – 1


Girls' Dormitory – 3.5   
Love Is News - 4   
Café Metropole - 4
Second Honeymoon - 3    
Day-Time Wife–   
Johnny Apollo - 4
This Above All – 4.5   
The Luck of the Irish -   
That Wonderful Urge - 3
I'll Never Forget You – 3