I've never seen an American adventure film from the 40s feature more wonderful locations than 1949's Prince of Foxes
. Set at the beginning of the 16th century, the filmmakers made extensive use of many structures that had endured for centuries. It's a shame the screenplay is one of the most vapid pieces of dreck I've come across, its blunt morality making it seem like it was entirely a product of the Hays code. But gods, the visuals in this film almost make up for it. The locations are matched by intricate costumes and interiors. The film also has some talented actors and a few untalented but attractive actors.
The film stars Tyrone Power as a man named Orsini, an agent of political machinations for Cesare Borgia who's played by Orson Welles. Welles elevates the whole film whenever he's on screen, managing to make his insipid, stock villain dialogue sound almost genuinely devious. Power, though, has nothing to compensate for his thoroughly unimpressive character.
Basil Rathbone said Tyrone Power was a better swordsman than Errol Flynn, and Prince of Foxes
has one decent sword fight, but Power has nothing on Flynn's charisma. He's interesting in a few films--Nightmare Alley
actually kind of makes use of his typewriter guilelessness. But he's no prince of foxes, he's scarcely a page. As the scheming courtier Orsini he's about as convincing as Natalie Portman would be playing Stalin.
Things are made worse when he's turned from the dark side apparently because somehow people are only mentioning to him for the first time that it's wrong to do wrong. He stops in for a clandestine visit to his peasant mother who right in front of him prays to the Madonna for him to be punished for associating with Borgia. Orsini looks terrified and flees before his mother's righteousness.
Later, he's sent on a mission to murder an old count (Felix Aylmer) and marry his young wife, Camilla (Wanda Hendrix), who already seems to be falling for Orsini.
But through the power of their virtue alone the two of them have Orsini figured and constantly preach to him, telling him he'll be nothing unless he turns from his evil ways. The dumb oaf evidently finds this persuasive. Some fox.
Then there's this dopey Carnival scene where Orsini and his cohort are transported with delight by confetti and puppets. Watching the crafty fox giggling like a baby I had to wonder just what the hell the filmmakers thought they were doing.
Everett Sloane--Bernstein from Citizen Kane
--has a big role as an assassin who becomes Orsini's assistant. Orsini and others gratuitously comment on how his facial features exemplify evil. Sloane must have been a hell of a good sport. Anyway, he gives a decent performance, he and Orson Welles make this film go down a lot easier. But gods, the locations. I don't think there were any matte paintings used. The smoke coming from this castle is there just as a backdrop for Camilla's melancholy wanderings in the garden.