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) - 4
Café Metropole (1937) - 4
Second Honeymoon (1937) - 2
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– 4
Johnny Apollo - 4
This Above All – 4.5
The Luck of the Irish - 3
That Wonderful Urge - 3
I'll Never Forget You – 3