THE BLACK ROSE , rather unceremoniously consigned to the also-ran pile of adventure epics, is an example of how Hollywood began to extend their reach by sending crews, stars and money abroad after WW2, partially as a counter to that darn television gizmo, and to coincidentally make use of funds outside of the country for tax purposes. If they could score a hit and please the crowd, more’s the better.
A few years before he shrewdly bet on CinemaScope, Darryl F. Zanuck, the canny and flamboyant cigar-chomper who ran 20th-Century Fox, cut into the passport-stamping line and sent linchpin idol Tyrone Power to globe-trot, first to Mexico in Captain From Castille, then Italy for Prince Of Foxes, finally sweating out across the Pacific with An American Guerrilla In The Philippines. Sandwiched in was this large-scale 1950 adaptation of popular novelist Thomas B. Costain’s 1945 book, which sent a footloose pair of 13th-Century Saxon rascals (scholar Power and archer Jack Hawkins) seeking fame and glory in Far Cathay.
Before they get to China, they have to serve Mongol warlord ‘Bayan of The Hundred Eyes’, played with gusto by a seemingly amused Orson Welles. En route there are deserts to cross, bravery to prove, battles to fight, and of course a damsel to contend with. She’s played—and not well— by gamine French actress Cecile Aubry, who was 22 but looks about 14 in the film.
Filming in Morocco and England, director Henry Hathaway handles the big scenes of pageantry well enough, but the script hamstrings the project with logic vs. continuity holes and over-talking. It runs a rather slow 120 minutes. Power is not helped by having to play callow as someone younger than he was, though if you’re a fan and just like watching and listening to the guy, that won’t matter much. Colorful supporting players abound: Michael Rennie, Finlay Currie, Herbert Lom, Bobby (Robert) Blake, Alfonso Bedoya, Laurence Harvey, James Robertson Justice, Torin Thatcher.
Two ornaments really shine: Jack Cardiff’s rich color photography and Michael Whitaker’s often dazzling costume design, which drew him an Oscar nomination. Critics were lukewarm, but it pulled in $5,830,000 though that had to contend with a cost of $3,700,000.
One more jaunt abroad to The Philippines and Power would stay working stateside for six years; Welles used the money from this to finance his version of Othello; Hawkins dutifully toiled mostly in England until greater international recognition later in the decade. Ms. Aubrey made a handful of French films, married a Moroccan pasha and went on to write childrens books.