Tyrone Power is one of the more difficult old movie stars to make sense of now. His good looks, an essential part of his stardom, are not quite modern. Pretty boys today look more like pretty women, with tiny features and lush mouths; Power was an old-fashioned, more manly-looking pretty boy. He seemed made for sex but also innocent—someone who needed to be taken care of, which is why he had so many older women as fans. There was an interesting contrast between his angelic, boyish profile and his surprisingly harsh voice: Power really pressed his voice lower and lower to sound tough, but he wasn’t really tough at all. Most of his films have Power stripped to the waist at some point for flogging, and he’s generally beaten down in the first half of his movies so that his leading lady can tend to him and he can rise up to fight back, with the help of a rousing musical score and expert swordplay. Reportedly bisexual, Power shamelessly showed off his sexy pear-shaped ass in plenty of his early movies, in tight bullfighter pants (Blood and Sand) and foppish tights (The Mark of Zorro), practically wagging his tail for the camera (it can be assumed he was the ultimate power bottom before such a phrase was coined). He promised to be somehow masterful in his submission, and this push-pull quality gave the essential passivity of his beauty its heat. After the war, his looks deteriorated, and by the mid-1950s, his beetle eyebrows and lined face suggested Bela Lugosi more than Errol Flynn.
This DVD set brings together two of his key films prior to WWII, and three costume clunkers afterward. Blood and Sand is definitely the best movie here, a cool, formal bullfighting story with stylized, painterly use of Technicolor from that cheerful experimenter Rouben Mamoulian. Power is set off with two women who more than compete with him in terms of allure: saintly brunette Linda Darnell, and a wicked, redheaded Rita Hayworth. Choosing between these two is a real dilemma, and this eternal triangle is observed by two great actors: Nazimova as Power’s weary mother, and Laird Cregar as an epicurean bullfighting critic (!) with the hots for Ty. Everything in the pessimistic story is expressed through Mamoulian’s use of shadowy color, and you could turn the sound off and still follow the film emotionally. Power sits around a lot in his bejeweled bullfighting pants with his legs wide open; like Hayworth, he seems to get a dirty thrill over displaying his body for the camera.
Son of Fury is a standard adventure story, but it’s stuffed with colorful performers: George Sanders, Kay Johnson, Elsa Lanchester, an exquisite Gene Tierney, and even Frances Farmer, in her last film before her crack-up. Farmer is haughty here, a blond beauty, and rather clearly unstable, the camera catching the lack of control she has over her moods. Son of Fury is well-designed and fun, which cannot be said of the three other films in the set. Captain from Castile must be one of the most boring adventure films ever made, running 141 minutes on Henry King’s ponderous religiosity. King is again at the helm for the drowsy Prince of Foxes, where Orson Welles plays Cesare Borgia and wonders how far his salary will go toward financing his own art. Welles reappears, fatter and even more bored, for Henry Hathaway’s The Black Rose, where he plays a minion of Kubla Khan. Power himself seems very disinterested in all three of these movies, rattling off his lines unenthusiastically. Edmund Goulding helped him give a fairly respectable performance in the interesting Nightmare Alley, but Power was no actor. He died early, in his 40s, and though many of his films are trying, he’s hard to dislike, and still remembered with some affection for his vulnerable exhibitionism.
There has been a substantial cleanup of Blood and Sand, and the dark Technicolor on Captain from Castile and The Black Rose is impressive. The black and white on the other films is handsome, and the sound is clear.
Several commentaries, one particularly informative one by cinematographer Richard Crudo, who explains the color effects on Blood and Sand. Of the featurettes, there's a nice one that interviews Power's surviving leading ladies (including Coleen Gray from Nightmare Alley) and another that brings together his three children and his widow, the worldly Linda Christian. A glance at his children confirms that the Power looks have been passed on.
A fine set of iffy adventure films from a limited but amiable star.