Orson Welles as Cesare Borgia in PRINCE OF FOXES
PRINCE OF FOXES (1949) Twentieth Century-Fox.
Directed by Henry King; Produced by Sol C. Siegel; Screenplay by Milton Krims; Second Unit Director: Robert D. Webb; Based on the novel by Samuel Shellabarger; Director of Photography: Leon Shamroy; Editor: Barbara McLean; Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler and Mark-Lee Kirk. Costume designer: Vittorio Nino Novarese; Music by Alfred Newman. Special Photographic Effects: Fred Sersen. Sound: Roger Heman. 107 min.
The Cast: Tyrone Power (Anrea Orsini), Orson Welles (Cesare Borgia), Wanda Hendrix (Camilla Verano), Felix Aylmer (Count Antonio Verano), Everett Sloane (Mario Belli), Katina Paxinou (Mona Constanza Zoppo), Marina Berti (Angela), Leslie Bradley (Don Esteban), Eduardo Ciannelli (Art dealer) James Carney (Alphonso D’Este).
By Lawrence French
In honor of Orson Welles' 92nd birthday earlier this month, Fox Home Video has released three of Welles early fims as actor on DVD. Given the amount of work Welles did for Fox, perhaps we will eventually see a complete box set of Orson Welles' Fox films. Since Welles delivered the oration at Darryl Zanuck’s funeral, which presumably was filmed, that might be a great supplement to include on any future Fox-Zanuck-Welles releases. The three current Fox titles featuring Welles are Jane Eyre, The Black Rose and Prince of Foxes.
Firstly, Fox is to be congratulated for not only providing DVD’s that are beautifully restored, but also come at an agreeably low price and are handsomely packaged, with slip case covers and include a set of four miniature lobby cards showing scenes from the film. Also, as noted on the message board, some of the great scores done by Bernard Herrmann (on Jane Eyre) and Alfred Newman (on Foxes) are available as isolated tracks.
On re-viewing Prince of Foxes, I was quite pleasantly surprised, since I had almost no memory of it from a screening caught nearly 30 years ago at a Henry King retrospective held at the Museum of Modern Art. But in Fox's luminous new transfer, you can now enjoy the film for all it’s purely fun aspects, including Welles gleeful performance as the scheming Cesare Borgia, along with Everett Sloane providing much delight as a double-crossing sidekick, who sadistically offers a Lear-like moment at the Borgia court, by gouging out Tyrone Power's eyes and then squishing them like grapes. It's literally eye-popping!
The real star of the film, however, is the beautiful cinematography, done on location in Italy by Leon Shamroy, who was nominated for an Academy Award. Shamroy would go on to become something of an expert in shooting Italian locations, working in the sixties on Preminger's The Cardinal, the Taylor- Burton Cleopatra, and Carol Reed's The Agony and the Ecstasy. Also impressive are the incredibly orate costumes of Vittorio Nino Novarese (also Oscar nominated) and the work of former Welles collaborator Mark-Lee Kirk, who provided the art direction, along with Lyle Wheeler. In retropect, I now can't help but view this film as Welles’ doing research for his upcoming version of Othello, which he would shortly begin filming in Italy. And at one point, Everett Sloane was even going to join Welles in Othello, playing Iago.
However, what I found most impressive in Prince of Foxes, was the use of real castles and locations, primarily in Siena, Italy, but also the magnificent 12th century Mount Titano castle in San Marino, which stands in for Citta del Monte, which in the movie, comes under seige by the army of the Borgia's. So, although Welles may not have had much influence in terms of actually directing Prince of Foxes, it seems clear that Henry King has certainly been influenced by Welles camera style, as he uses numerous deep focus and ceiling shots throughout the film.
Strangely, despite the reservations expressed by King and others about not being allowed to shoot in color, the movie seems to work fine in glorious high contrast black-and-white. Black-and-white is something that Welles certainly may have advised Zanuck on using, and if the film had been shot in vivid Technicolor, it obviously wouldn't recall Othello to mind nearly as much.
At the 1978 Museum of Modern Art Henry King retrospective, these rememberances by King of working with Orson Welles were handed out:
HENRY KING: One of the sad mistakes Zanuck and (Sol) Siegel made with Prince of Foxes was to insist we do it in black-and-white. Leon Shamroy and I went to Italy and I photographed a lot of the locations in 16mm color, and it seemed that we got too much detail in the very places we didn't want it – the old buildings looked like ruins. So they decided for economy's sake to do it in black-and-white. The moment we started working over there, we knew we were wrong. Imagine, in Siena we were working in the big municipal building that has a room about 300 feet wide and about 400 feet long. There's a mural all the way across and about 15 feet high. In black-and-white it just looked like somebody had just hung it up there. It was one of those economical mistakes that costs you in the end. The picture did well, made money and all that, but at the same time, a picture of that kind just screams for color.
Orson Welles was notorious for trying to direct the things he is in, but Orson was wonderful. His first day was in that big hall in Siena. I walked in and heard somebody off in a corner rehearsing lines. It was Orson at 8:30 in the morning, in make-up and costume. I said, “What are you doing here? You don't work until noon. He said, “Oh Henry, you know I just love to get the atmosphere and the feeling and I want to see how you work.” I said. “That's wonderful — more power to you. I just hoped no one had made a mistake, calling you for nine o'clock.” “Oh no. My call is for noon but I want, to get the clothes right, the feel and the atmosphere.” Any time he was called he was always an hour or two ahead. Always. We got over to Florence, and I had all the nobility of Florence in a scene. All their salaries were donated toward rebuilding of the Ponte Rosso that had been bombed out. I had Counts, Countesses, Princes and Princesses working in this big garden party. Orson loved to make a dupe out of somebody else – I think it was his hobby. (Leon) Shamroy and I were up on a high platform and down on this patio were all these people. Naturally as a courtesy to Borgia, who was the ruler, everybody bowed to him as he went by. They always did it from the waist and I had explained this. “When you are pleading in this way, you merely make a slight bow, not a deep bow.” Orson's idea was a little bit different. Finally, Tyrone Power ran up to me and said, “He feels that these people are not bowing enough to him.” I said, “You get back over and play your part, and let him play his.” Finally, Orson said in a very loud voice, “I can't do anything unless these people bow to me and give the respect that I deserve.” I said, “You're getting a damned sight more respect than you deserve. Just play the part. The people will do as I tell them not as you.” Gee, they looked up at me. I'd let this go right from the camera platform. So from then until the end of the picture Orson was the sweetest guy I ever saw in my life. But he just loves to get you to the edge if he can.
From an oral history interview with Henry King: Darryl F. Zanuck Research Project, The American Film Institute, The Louis B. Mayer Foundation, 1970-71: