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The Prince and the Pauper (1937)

download (2)The Prince and the Pauper feels something like a warm up for the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood:  both movies were made by Warner Bros., both scores were composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and both films share four prominent actors, with Claude Rains trying to steal with throne, while Errol Flynn tries to stop him. But The Prince and the Pauper is not really a Robin Hood-type story. It’s based on Mark Twain’s novel published in 1882 and is a reasonably accurate adaptation (though I haven’t read the book since I was a child).

Born on the same night are two boys in very different circumstances, though nearly identical in appearance. Edward (Bobby Mauch) is the son of Henry VIII and destined to be king. Tom Canty (Billy Mauch – the actors are identical twins) is born in poverty with an abusive and criminal father (Barton MacLane). Perhaps twelves years later, Tom has grown up a beggar in the streets, while Edward lives in his castle, indulged, slightly bored and unaware of the world outside.

Henry VIII (Montagu Love) knows he’s dying and plans to make the Earl of Hertford (Claude Rains) regent while his son is still young, even though he knows Hertford is a scheming, ambitious and sycophantic nobleman, but he can’t stand the truly noble and good Duke of Norfolk (Henry Stephenson), who Edward likes much better. Montagu Love is quite good as the debauched, corrupt, but dying king who nevertheless has a soft spot for his son. His advice to his son about being king is to never trust anyone and never like anyone so much that he is unwilling to “betray them with a smile.”

Bobby Mauch, Errol Flynn, and Billy Mauch

Bobby Mauch, Errol Flynn, and Billy Mauch

But when Tom Canty wanders near the castle and is beaten by the Captain of the Guard (Alan Hale), Edward interferes and invites Tom into the castle to play with him, since he’s so bored. They exchange clothes and realize that they look like each other and when Edward goes outside, he is mistake by the Captain of the Guard for Tom and thrown out of the castle grounds.

The next day, everyone thinks both boys are mad. The only person who believes Tom’s protestations that he’s not the prince is Hertford, who pieces the truth together after interviewing the Captain of the Guard. Henry VIII is dismayed, but determined to ensure that his son will rule, mad or not, but dies before he can appoint Hertford as regent. Meanwhile, Edward runs about London proclaiming that since Henry VIII is dead, he is now the king, but people just laugh at him and he finds himself in a street fight until he is rescued by roving soldier of fortune, Miles Hendon (Errol Flynn), who at first also thinks he’s a bit nuts, but comes to believe him.

Court intrigue ensues for poor Tom, who is told by Hertford that he must appoint him regent and do whatever he says or else Hertford will expose Tom and have his head cut off. Oliver Twist-like adventures ensue for Edward, who gets an education on how his subjects really live. He runs into Tom’s father (who plays him like a Bill Sykes character) who wants to use him as a retriever of stolen goods by lifting him through windows. Meanwhile, Hertford has sent the Captain of the Guard out to look for Edward and kill him. Miles Hendon chases after Edward, rescues him several times and has a sword fight with Alan Hale. Meanwhile, Hertford plans to have Tom coronated as king while Edward tries to return in time with the aid of Hendon.

Billy Mauch, as Tom, and Claude Rains

Billy Mauch, as Tom, and Claude Rains

It’s actually quite interesting to see Alan Hale in a straightforward role, where he is nobody’s sidekick and does not ham it up and is actually the tool of the villain. He doesn’t want to kill Edward, but he fears for his job and life because he unknowingly turned him out of the castle. It’s one of two films – out of 12 movies they made together – where Flynn and Hale are enemies. The other is The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. But in this one they get a sword fight.

Claude Rains is always excellent (I’d watch him in a film if all he did was sit in a chair and stare at the wall), duplicitous, shrewd and scheming. Errol Flynn is almost hyper-jaunty in this film, perhaps because he has too much energy for the role he is playing. Miles Hendon is not in the film that much and does not even show up until perhaps thirty minutes into the story. Originally, the studio executives were not going to put Flynn in the role because it would cost so much to have him in such a comparatively small role, but after testing Patric Knowles (Will Scarlet in The Adventures of Robin Hood) and George Brent, they realized that only Flynn would do, and he does bring a much appreciate zip and sparkle to the story. One just wishes, perhaps inevitably, for more of him.

The Prince and the Pauper was released in 1937, around the same time as the coronation of George VI of England and there must have been great interest in royal coronations because the one near the end of the film where Tom nearly gets crowned king goes on for a very long time. We get all the oaths, the various postures of humility the king must assume, the prayers, the costumes and the various interjections by the choir. But I suppose if you’re going to take the trouble to pay for a good choir, you might as well have them sing as much as possible.

GW370H303Part costume drama, with a dash of swashbuckling spirit, a little bit of Dickensian social sensibility (Edward learns that it is okay to use the royal seal often, despite his father’s warning not to, so that he get rid of so many of the silly and oppressive laws), good humor and a fantastic cast, The Prince and the Pauper is quite fun. I try not to think too much about real history when watching the film. In reality, Edward VI was crowned at nine years of age (the Mauch twins were sixteen), but ruled for only six years and died at fifteen, after a somewhat tumultuous reign featuring war and rebellion. But Twain’s story is more fantasy than history and so leaves room for imagining a happier ending.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2015 in Movies

 

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The Mark of Zorro (1940)

Mark_of_Zorro_1940In some ways, The Mark of Zorro looks an awful lot like 20th Century Fox was attempting to garner a little of the success achieved by the 1938 Warner Brothers’ The Adventures of Robin Hood. Both are swashbuckling adventures with an outlaw on the side of the oppressed, sword fights, horse chases, a little romance, a little politics, general adventure with a good dose of humor, the hero climbing the balcony to woo his beloved, a confrontation between hero and Basil Rathbone. It even has three of the same actors: Basil Rathbone, Eugene Pallette and Montagu Love. But I must confess that as much as I have always enjoyed The Adventures of Robin Hood, I love The Mark of Zorro. It is a film that, despite many similarities, stands on its own as one of the most fun swashbucklers ever made.

One of the things I especially like about the film is the scope it gives Tyrone Power to play two different characters: dashing hero and lover, and affected fop…and they don’t skimp on the fop, either.

Don Diego Vega (Tyrone Power) is at a military academy at Spain, but is called home by his father (Montagu Love), who is the Alcade (governor?) in California. But when he arrives home, he is shocked to find everything changed. His father has been forced out of office and replaced by the weaselly Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg) and his bodyguard/enforcer Captain Estaban Pasquale (Basil Rathone), who is very fond if his sword and likes to swing it around for dramatic affect while speaking.

When Diego sees what has happened, he comes up with a quick plan not to reveal that he is actually a fine swordsman and instead pretends to everyone that he is a fop and dandy, too worried about his clothes and slight of hand tricks to concern himself with all the oppression and high taxes enforced by Quintero and Pasquale. His father, and especially his priest, Fray Felipe (Eugene Pallete, in a role nearly identical to the one he play in The Adventures of Robin Hood) are disgusted with him, but Diego has a plan. Disguising himself as a bandit, he begins to prey on Quintero and his soldiers and to take back some of the stolen wealth from the peons (the name for the people at the bottom rung of society). However, his plan is not so much about helping peons, as it is about making California so hot for Quintero that Quintero will eventually leave for fear of his life.

Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell

Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell

And that’s what I really liked about The Mark of Zorro. The story not only gives him scope to ride about and fight, but also to scheme and machinate. Don Diego is fighting a two-front war single handed. While he is robbing, leaving his signature Z on every convenient surface, terrorizing Quintero and his cohorts, he is also trying to convince him, in the role of Don Diego, that the masked bandit is probably a madman who will end up cutting his throat. Meanwhile, he is flirting with Quintero’s wife, Inez (the magnificent Gale Sondergaard), who despises her uncouth husband and longs for the glamour and elegance of Madrid, a longing happily fueled by Don Diego.

At the same time, he has fallen in love with Quintero’s niece, Lolita (a very young Linda Darnell, still only 17 or 18), who has developed a crush on the masked bandit, but can’t stand the prissy and languid Diego.

One of my favorite scenes is at a small family party at the Quinteros to celebrate the arranged engagement between Diego and Lolita. Pasquale, a man who prides himself on his swordplay and virility and who has definitely been carrying on with Inez (one suspects they are the ones who propelled Quintero to his current position) is jealous of Diego, who has fascinated Inez with his talk of Madrid, court, fashion and pretty speeches. Inez is jealous of Lolita, because she is younger and engaged to Diego. Diego is trying to keep his flirtation with Inez up, while surreptitiously wooing Lolita (especially through a dance) and Lolita can barely tolerate to even sit next to him (except when they dance and he shows a spark of virility himself).

Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone

Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone

The inevitable sword fight between Power and Rathbone is also excellent (poor Rathbone lost so many fights, one can’t help feeling a pang of sympathy and wish that he’d win one, just once, since he really is the superior fencer). The fight occurs  in a much smaller space than The Adventures of Robin Hood, less bouncy, but more personal, more face-to face and quite exciting.

The Mark of Zorro is a remake of the silent 1920 The Mark of Zorro with Douglas Fairbanks, but I do not know to what extant the 1940 version owes to the original. Does it have more in common with the silent film or The Adventures of Robin Hood? Does anyone know? The silent film is on my list of films I most want to see next.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Movies

 

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The Master of Ballantrae (1953) – Errol Flynn’s Final Pirate Outing

the-master-of-ballantrae-movie-poster-1953-1020250173The Master of Ballantrae is not technically a pirate movie, but I think Errol Flynn’s character is a pirate long enough for it to count, making this movie his fourth pirate film and him the indisputable king of swashbuckling piracy (his other pirate movies were Captain Blood (1935), The Sea Hawk (1940), and Against All Flags (1952)).

The movie was adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale, which I have not read, but understand to be a bit more grim than the film, about two feuding brothers during the Jacobite Rebellion. In the movie, the feuds more of a misunderstanding than anything else. Errol Flynn is Jamie Durie, the Master of Ballantrae. He is engaged to the love of his life, Lady Alison (Beatrice Campbell), but also visits local girl Jessie Brown (Yvonne Furneaux) on the side. His brother, Henry (Anthony Steele) is a much more phlegmatic, quiet and responsible man.

When Bonnie Prince Charlie arrives in Scotland (Charles, grandson of the deposed James II, of the House of Stuart), much of the country takes up arms with him in an attempt to invade England and put Charles on the throne. However, Jamie and Henry’s father decides that in order to ensure the survival of the estate, only one son should fight for the Stuarts and the other should stay home as a ‘loyal’ subject of King George II. Jamie wins the coin toss and sets out to fight the English.

It all goes very badly, however, and he is on the run and runs into fellow another fugitive, the flamboyant Colonel Francis Burke (Roger Livesey). They become bosom friends on the toss of a coin. If the coin had turned up the other way, they would have fought to the death for the roast chicken. But when the two of them return to Ballantrae, things really go south. The British are crawling over the countryside and Jamie is betrayed by Jessie Brown out of jealousy over his love for Lady Alison. Jamie, however, believes that Henry did it so he could be master and marry Alison himself.

The plaid pants are even worse in color - Beatrice Campbell, Errol Flynn and Roger Livesey

The plaid pants are much worse in color – Jamie makes love to Lady Alison while Burke is anxious to be off

After Jamie is shot and stabbed and such, the friends leave England, get shanghaied on a ship to the West Indies, meet up with the dandy pirate Captain Arnaud (Jacques Berthier), contrive to steal a Spanish Galleon, contend with piracy and betrayal, and finally return to Scotland to deal with brother Henry.

It’s not a terrible movie at all. In fact, it’s rather fun, if you can overlook the extremely annoying and intrusive narrator who breaks into the story every twenty minutes to explain things that are readily apparent even to the most casual viewer. Did we really need to be told Arnaud was a dandy? You can see the moment he first comes into view!

The Master of Ballantrae came later in Flynn’s career – he would only live another six years – and he doesn’t have the dash and energy of his youth (there appears to be a stunt double used often), but he still brings an enthusiasm and sense of fun to the role as only he can. He fights in castles and on pirate ships, makes love to several different women, joshes with Burke, schemes, escapes from a castle and broods on revenge. He also has a pretty rough movie, getting knocked out at least three times, shot, stabbed with a knife and run through with a sword several times… and almost hanged. I don’t recall Robin Hood having nearly this much trouble.

Annex - Flynn, Errol (Master of Ballantrae, The)_01Roger Livesey (The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and I Know Where I’m Going!) as Colonel Francis Burke, the “talkative Irishman,” is a hoot and he appears to be having nearly as much fun as is possible. He fights with elan, grins and makes comments, and is devoted to his friend Jamie. It’s almost a buddy picture, really. He’s also the only person who sounds faintly like he could be Scottish, even if he is playing an Irishman and is actually Welsh. Everyone else sounds either American or British (though technically Flynn is Australian).

The most entertaining part of the film involves the pirates, their time on the ships and at Tortugas Bay, where they meet another flamboyant pirate called Captain Mendoza (Charles Goldner) who has a red beard. I occasionally get a craving to see a swashbuckler or pirate movie, but am leery of beating the few I have to death by too much viewing, so it is fun to see something new and Master of Ballantrae fits the bill. Everyone seems to having a good time (according to the article on TCM, everyone was having a good time and it was an unusually happy and stress-free set), the action is exciting enough and the camaraderie between Flynn and Livesey is great.

Master of Ballantrae was the first movie Bob Anderson worked on and all the fights are choreographed by him, as in this fight between Jamie and the treacherous Captain Arnaud, with help from stunt double Flynn.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2015 in Adventure

 

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