Ten ‘Powerful’ Films

I was in two minds about this list. Should it be a list of the ten best Tyrone Power films there are? As in ‘great’ films—the Nightmare Alley or This Above All category? Or should it be a list of ten films, even frivolous swashbuckling stuff in which all Power was required to do was romance a pretty heroine and wield a sword?
I decided on the middle path. These are ten films that starred Tyrone Power and are worth seeing—for whatever reason.

1. The Mark of Zorro (1940): In his first major swashbuckling role, Power stars as the young caballero Don Diego Vega, who returns to Los Angeles from Madrid to find that the local peons are being tyrannised by the greedy Alcalde and his cold-blooded aide. So Diego becomes the black-clad, dashing masked Californian Robin Hood, Zorro—while projecting himself, the caballero Diego, as a foppish and effeminate popinjay. Plenty of good entertainment, and Power excels as swordsman and fop.

2. Witness for the Prosecution (1957): Tyrone Power’s last full-length film before his death, this one’s one of the best courtroom dramas there is. Power as Leonard Vole, the man accused of killing a wealthy old lady, has a relatively small role. The film, however, is worth seeing for itself: for its superb screenplay, and for matchless acting by stalwarts such as Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich.

3. Blood and Sand (1941): A year after they starred together in The Mark of Zorro, Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell acted in this film, a very different one from the earlier light-hearted adventure. Here, Power is Spanish matador Juan Gallardo with Darnell as his wife, while Rita Hayworth plays the lovely and heartless Doña Sol, who draws Juan into her web… This is a tragic film, but worth seeing not just for Power’s acting (which is very good), but also for the composition and colour of the film: it’s a treat for the eyes.

4. The Black Swan (1942): One of my favourite swashbuckling films (non-Power) is Scaramouche, based on a novel by Rafael Sabatini. The knowledge that The Black Swan too was written by Sabatini probably prejudiced me in its favour, but even otherwise, this one’s a complete winner when it comes to entertainment. Power is a pirate named Jamie Waring, suddenly forced to turn to an honest living because that’s what his boss has decreed. Not a scintillating plot, but Power and his red-headed co-star Maureen O’Hara (as the glacial lady he’s fallen for) have great chemistry and look awesome.

5. The Razor’s Edge (1946): Power’s first film after his return from the war (he did active service at Okinawa, flying out wounded soldiers among other missions), this one was based on the novel by Somerset Maugham. Here, Power plays Larry Darrell, a young man who travels to France, India and into the Himalayas in search of truth. He returns to Europe, richer in spirit but unable to shake off his ex-fiancée Isabel Bradley (Gene Tierney) now married and a mother but determined that Larry will be nobody’s but hers. The highlight of this film is Tierney’s acting: she is unforgettable as the selfish, emotional and jealous Isabel.

6. Café Metropole (1937): One of Tyrone Power’s earliest films has him playing the sweet and charming American in Paris, Alexander Brown. Alexander loses a massive gambling bet and finds himself in debt to a wily restaurateur. The man, owner of the Café Metropole, blackmails Alexander into pretending to be a Russian prince and wooing an heiress (Loretta Young) for her money. Fluffy, funny, and thoroughly pleasant. What’s more, Power and Young are mind-blowingly beautiful.

7. Nightmare Alley (1947): Probably the best showcase there is of Power’s acting ability, this one stars him as Stanton Carlisle, a none-too-scrupulous worker in a carnival who manages to find a way to hoodwink a gullible public and make pots of money. His rise to fame and wealth, and his subsequent collapse, are portrayed excellently by Power. In fact, the acting in this little-known but haunting noir (also starring Joan Blondell, Colleen Gray and Helen Walker) is uniformly good.

8. This Above All (1942): Power acts Clive Briggs, a young man who is, in an England caught up universally in the fervour of war, a misfit who refuses to do his bit for the war effort. A man sometimes embittered, mysteriously cut off from the world—except for the girl he loves (played by one of my favourite actresses, Joan Fontaine)—and tormented by nightmares he will share with no-one. Good acting and a good script, though it does swing wildly towards propaganda (and who can blame them? This was 1942, after all).

9. Prince of Foxes (1949): Set in turbulent renaissance Italy, this is a typical Power swashbuckler. He plays the unscrupulous Andrea Orsini, who is deputed by his boss Cesare Borgia to undermine the defences—literal and otherwise—of a small mountainous city ruled by an aging lord and his young and beautiful wife. The costumes and the sets are fabulous, the story is pleasant old-fashioned adventure plus intrigue, Power’s acting is good, and Orson Welles—as Cesare Borgia—excels.

10. Rawhide (1951): A very good Western suspense film, this one has Tyrone Power as Tom Owens, who works at a mail coach station out in the wilderness. His life takes a sudden and dramatic turn when he ends up trapped at the station (along with a young woman—played by Susan Hayward—and a toddler), held captive by four gangsters who intend to hold up the gold-laden coach due to stop by the next day. Good suspense, a taut script, and highly recommended for lovers of Westerns, suspense, or both.

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12 thoughts on “Ten ‘Powerful’ Films

  1. He is powerfully good looking, isnt he? And has a name that can be punned endlessly. Sigh…

    Of this list, I’ve only seen The Black Swan (last weekend!) and in spite of Power’s glowing good looks, I just couldnt take to it. For one thing, its very hard to like a hero who manhandles the heroine and kidnaps her because “her eyes say yes” when she says no. And then, most of the “English” pirates spoke with distinct American accents, which kind of killed some of the magic… But I definitely need to see more of Power – in some his less Petruchio-kind of roles.

  2. Yes, Jamie Waring isn’t exactly one of those likeable heroes: too caveman-like for my taste! My main reason for putting it on this list was the eye candy: they look gorgeous.

    If you don’t want the Petruchio-like roles, try any of the others… Blood and Sand, Rawhide and The Mark of Zorro are probably my favourites of these. Nightmare Alley too, though it’s pretty grim.

    Oh, and one Tyrone Power film I wouldn’t recommend: A Yank in the RAF. If you think his character in The Black Swan isn’t likeable, wait till you see this one! (or rather, don’t see this one). Horrid.

    • Thank you, Maria!

      Coincidentally enough, India Post have just – 4 days ago – released stamps honouring six of India’s leading actresses from the good old days. I’ll be publishing a post on that in a couple of days’ time, so will put in this request there too. Hopefully we’ll be able to get some people to sign the petition through there!

  3. Coming to the party a bit late, but…Excellent choices. I agree with all except “Rawhide” (which I haven’t seen) and “Prince of Foxes” (which I haven’t seen for years and years). I might include “The Rains Came” for its spectacular special effects, the irresistible “white mischief” melodrama” and – of course – Ty’s gorgeousness as a “pale copper Apollo.” Mostly, he must be noble and unattainable, but I think he’s very good in the scene where he seeks out Myrna Loy while she is working on the hospital ward. She is very good throughout, as is George Brent + great supporting cast with the exception of Brenda Joyce. Or “Love is News,” a good little screwball that holds up well. I might also pick “Jesse James” mostly for Ty’s Technicolor splendor but also because I love him as an outlaw. Plus Henry Fonda is a great Frank James. The downside: Ty gets shot in the back in the end. And then there’s “Love is News,” for which I have a soft spot. Ty was very good but underappreciated at screwball comedy.

    • Thank you for the appreciation!

      Yes, I would probably have picked Jesse James too, if it hadn’t been for him getting killed in the end… that spoiled the entire film for me (I know I’m being silly, since it’s history, and I would’ve been the first to cry foul if history had been tampered with too much). I’ve never got around to watching The Rains Came because I’m Indian, and somehow, Hollywood’s interpretation of India has invariably been so patently fake (much like Hindi cinema’s interpretation of the West), that just the thought of what I might find passed off as ‘Indian’ makes me cringe. But if you recommend it, I shall certainly look out for it. I haven’t seen Love is News, but I’ve watched the remake, That Wonderful Urge (which was all right, not great). I must go looking for Love is News, again.

      • Since “The Rains Came” was shot on a back lot in Hollywood with American, English, Russian and German actors in all the key roles – most notably Tyrone Power, Maria Ouspenskya, Joseph Schildkraut and H.B. Warner as Indian characters – you probably wouldn’t much care for it. If you’re interested in seeing the scene I mentioned, it’s available on YouTube and is titled “the rains came T rc 10.” The scene mentioned begins at approx. 5:00 (min.) into the clip. If you watch the clip from the beginning, you’ll see Americans George Brent and Myrna Loy – who are playing British aristocrats. Ah, Hollywood! By the way, sorry I repeated myself in my first comment.

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