In 1500, Duke Cesare Borgia hopes to marry his sister (widowed by poison) to the heir apparent of Ferrara, which impedes his conquest of central Italy. On this delicate mission he sends Andrea Orsini, his sister's lover and nearly as unscrupulous as himself. En route, Orsini meets Camilla Verano, wife of the count of Citta' del Monte (Borgia's next intended conquest); and sentiment threatens to turn him against his deadly master, whom no one betrays twice...
Tyrone Power ... Andrea Orsini
Orson Welles ... Cesare Borgia
Wanda Hendrix ... Camilla Verano
Marina Berti ... Angela Borgia
Everett Sloane ... Mario Belli
Katina Paxinou ... Mona Constanza Zoppo
Felix Aylmer ... Count Marc Antonio Verano
Just this weekend I stumbled across this lovely film on American Movie Classics (AMC)while fiddling around with the old remote. I was absolutely astounded by the realism of the sets: one felt transported to Renaissance Italy. Castles, palaces, towers were all faithfully replicated. The costumes were gorgeous. The armor and weaponry appeared accurate and deadly. Even the catapults were genuine; they did not appear to be models.
The acting was superb! You take for granted that the performances of Welles and Sloane would be excellent. But the very pleasant surprise came with Tyrone Power's portrayal of Orsini. I never considered Power more than just a pretty face (and an excellent swordsman). However, this film changed my opinion of his acting talents completely. In fact, all the supporting cast turned in satisfying performances.
This is a true gem of a film, I would love to see it on the big screen.
Once again, Welles astounds with his talent. Even though he is not listed in this film's credits as director or writer, the great Welles has left indefatigable stamp of genius on this film. His fascination and artistic absorption with great, unbridled power, moral resistance to that power and the response of the artist has once again propelled him to greatness.
His is a fascinating, swaggering, bemused, sly (as the title implies) impression of the all-powerful Borgia and his near success at corrupting the artist, Orsini. Shades of Citizen Kane and Harry Lyme..?
Naturally, there is a weaselly accomplice (Sloan), and he is terrific too. I found Tyrone Power's performance more than adequate -- for once. Production values were good, too.
But the keynote of the entire production is the masterful Welles. His portrayals are a joy to encounter, maybe because he finds the rich and powerful entertainingly evil, while the rest of us poor mortals find them too intimidating to even acknowledge.
Who cares about Welles' "troubles with Hollywood"? Skip the gossip, people, and THINK about his characters' motives and behavior. And their relevance.
(Talk is cheap. It is easy for the American Film Institute to call Citizen Kane the number one movie of all time, but which side were they on when Welles was being persecuted by his Hollywood peers? And where are they now, when talented independent filmmakers are trying to get their "dangerous" films shown -- or recognized)?
The fact is, with or without support or financing, Welles was in a class by himself. His brilliant mind, rampant creativity, sheer acting ability, courage, originality and artistic integrity have yet to be matched.
There will never never be another Welles...
Back to Prince of Foxes. This is an underrated film. See it for Welles' sake, see it for a Renaissance flash, or just see it for Everett Sloan's eyeballs...
I seem to recall reading somewhere that one of Darryl F. Zanuck's reasons for not bestowing three-strip Technicolor on this otherwise all-the-amenities production was that he was peeved at Tyrone Power, still under contract to 20th-Century Fox at the time, for turning down numerous scripts. That's probably an apocryphal bit of trivia since it wasn't very easy for contractees to turn down very many scripts without a dreaded (and costly) suspension, and also one might guess that the amount of frozen lira available for the extensive location shooting of this stunning swashbuckler wasn't as munificent as would have been needed to ship those cumbersome three-strip Technicolor cameras to Italy and to complete the expensive process of photography and the preparation of final release prints. But there's no doubt that color cinematography would have enhanced the final result.
Nevertheless, as other comments on this title attest, the completed film is one that repays repeated viewings. When I first saw it on a TV broadcast I was especially impressed with Henry King's direction, somehow more flexible and attuned to his actors' capabilities than many of the productions which he helmed on U.S. soundstages. I'll certainly add my praise to other IMDbers' encomiums for the male members of the cast, but there should also be a word of thanks for the lovely Wanda Hendrix's portrayal, convincing as a devoted wife of a much older husband, and the brief appearance as the treacherous Angela Borgia by Marina Berti, whose beauty was soon to grace the Technicolored screen as Eunice in M-G-M's "Quo Vadis?" two years later.
And this film also boasts one of my favorite scores by Alfred Newman. From the main title's opening bars, one knows that this is one of his best achievements, with an exciting sweep and, as the film unfolds, a masterful enhancement of the script's many nuances.
# This is the only film whose producer ever rented a country. The tiny country rented to become "Citta del Monte" in Samuel Shellabarger's well-plotted "Prince of Foxes" was actually the real country of Andorra.