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Lloyd's of London (1936) was Tyrone Power's first starring role. Twenty-three and at the height of his good looks, he turned in a star-making performance which solidified his position in Hollywood. He is billed in the film as "Tyrone Power, Jr.", his father having been the famous stage and screen actor Tyrone Power, who had died in his son's arms of a heart attack in 1931. The Powers were a famous stage family going back centuries but movies would make Tyrone the most famous of all.
Lloyd's of London, produced by 20th Century-Fox, was directed Henry King and co-starred Madeleine Carroll, Sir Guy Standing, C. Aubrey Smith, Virginia Field, and George Sanders (in his first American film). Top billing went to Freddie Bartholomew, who plays Power's character as a child. Young Bartholomew was at the height of his fame and Power at the beginning of his, so the latter only rated fourth billing. This would be the last time Power was anything but the star.
Ernest Pascal and Walter Ferris wrote the script, based on a story by Curtis Kenyon, and it is pure Hollywood of the 1930s, mixing historical fact and total fiction, and somehow making the insurance business appear interesting. Fox seemed anxious to give validity to the film by opening with the following lines: "We acknowledge with appreciation the assistance of the official historian of Lloyd's of London in the preparation of the historical background for this production."
The story begins as two boys, Horatio Nelson (later Admiral Nelson) and Jonathan Blake, learn of a plot by pirates to scuttle a ship and ransack the goods. The boys set off to inform the insurer, Lloyd's of London, but Blake is the one who finishes the journey and saves the day. Rather than take a reward, Blake asks to become an apprentice, and spends years rising up in the ranks.
While the now grown-up Blake (Power) is insuring British warships for Lloyd's during England's battle against Napoleon, Nelson (John Burton) is at the head of the Navy. The Navy's security is threatened when a request is made that the British fleet protect merchant ships (to enable continued insurance coverage on cargo). Blake knows this will weaken Nelson's defense and does everything he can to prevent this. Lloyd's is nearly bankrupt and cannot afford to insure the fleet any longer, and it falls to Blake to find the money.
There has to be romance, of course, which is provided by Madeleine Carroll as Lady Elizabeth Stacy, an Englishwoman Blake rescues from France. When she disappears on her return to England, Blake, deeply in love, learns she is the wife of Lord Stacy, his rival. Stacy already hates Blake for his position at Lloyd's, which has turned Stacy down for a loan to pay his gambling debts. Since Stacy is played by George Sanders, the audience can guess where this is headed. Sanders made portraying cads and villains an art form (his autobiography was entitled, Memoirs of a Professional Cad) and Stacy is, without a doubt, a cad of the first order.
Shot during August - October 1936, with a budget of around $850,000, Lloyd's of London was the start of two important friendships for Tyrone Power: Henry King and George Sanders. It was director King who took the fight to studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck, insisting that Power, who at the time was only a contract player, take the lead role of Blake. Power had been fired by director Sidney Lanfield the week before on Sing, Baby, Sing (1936). Lanfield felt he wasn't right in the role of the reporter. King didn't know this when Power walked into his office, saying he'd heard King was making Lloyd's of London and wanted to take any part King thought might suit him. King had worked with Power's father in Hell Harbor (1930) and was very impressed with the younger Power's poise and self-confidence. Don Ameche had been the frontrunner for Lloyd's of London and King had attended the screening of Ameche's test for the role. Zanuck asked King his opinion, and King said that while Ameche was good, he wanted to test someone else. Ameche was a big star at Fox but Zanuck trusted King and allowed the test. When it was screened, the other executives still thought the role should go to Ameche, but King insisted on Power and Zanuck agreed.
The other important friendship Power made on the film was with George Sanders. They acted together in five films, and ironically, Sanders was shooting a dueling scene with Power in Solomon and Sheba (1959) when Power suffered his fatal heart attack. Sanders wrote a eulogy for his friend, which was read at his funeral in Hollywood (Sanders was stuck in Europe filming). He also wrote very movingly about Power in Memoirs of a Professional Cad.
Ameche wasn't the only star replaced in the cast of Lloyd's of London. Loretta Young was supposed to play Lady Stacy, but thought her part was being reduced as King was building up Tyrone Power, and she angrily refused the role. This resulted in a battle of words between Zanuck and Young's attorney. Zanuck fired back, "Doesn't it seem peculiar to you that anyone, after receiving the treatment that she has received, after receiving the roles that we have given her in her last three productions, after accepting the lenient working conditions that we have given her, could now suddenly decide that she no longer desired to discuss production matters with us? I am frank to say that the entire situation bewilders me, and so, as before stated, I can only come to the conclusion that someone is giving her bad advice, as certainly nothing has been done by us which in any manner or form justifies her present attitude or her refusal to play in our production Lloyd's of London, or any attitude except absolute cooperation or unquestioning compliance with our every request. [...] You are no doubt aware of the fact that on two specific occasions recently, Miss Young has failed to appear at our studio wardrobe department for fittings in connection with Lloyd's of London, and you are also aware, no doubt, of the fact that she wrote me a letter refusing to play the role of 'Lady Clementine' [Lady Elizabeth in the film]." The "leniency" Zanuck refers to is, no doubt, Young's secret pregnancy from her affair with Clark Gable during shooting on The Call of the Wild (1935). While the letter sounds dangerously like blackmail ("any attitude except absolute cooperation or unquestioning compliance with our every request"), Young was too big a star for Fox to ruin, and she knew it. The studio knew it, too. They backed down and Young was replaced with Madeleine Carroll.
Lloyd's of London was a big hit for Fox and for Power. The critics agreed that the film itself was historically questionable, but Power commandeered the screen with his charisma and his good looks. The New York Times critic J.T.M wrote that the film "is a pleasing photoplay, crammed with authentic detail of the Georgian England where its scene is laid, reverent and restrained if occasionally original in its presentation of historical incident, and threaded by a semi-fictional story of romance and business daring. Under the graphic direction of the veteran Henry King, a cast that is capable down to its merest fishmonger and chimney sweep brings alive to the screen the London of the waning years of the eighteenth century and the early years of the next....As the vital Jonathan Blake, Tyrone Power, Jr. plays a much more varied role than any he has had previously for the screen. Where sheer action and character delineation are concerned, he is excellent."
Lloyd's of London would earn two Academy Award® nominations, Best Art Direction for William S. Darling and Best Film Editing for Barbara (Bobby) McLean, who would work with Henry King on nearly thirty films.
Director: Henry King
Screenplay: Ernest Pascal, Walter Ferris (screenplay); Curtis Kenyon (story); W.P. Lipscomb (uncredited contributor)
Cinematography: Bert Glennon
Art Direction: William Darling
Music: R.H. Bassett, David Buttolph, Cyril J. Mockridge (all uncredited)
Film Editing: Barbara McLean
Cast: Freddie Bartholomew (Young Jonathan Blake), Madeleine Carroll (Lady Elizabeth Stacy), Sir Guy Standing (John Julius Angerstein), Tyrone Power (Jonathan Blake), C. Aubrey Smith (Old 'Q'), Virginia Field (Polly), Douglas Scott (Young Horatio Nelson), George Sanders (Lord Everett Stacy), J.M. Kerrigan (Brook Watson), Una O'Connor (Widow Blake).
by Lorraine LoBianco
The AFI Catalog of Feature Film
Behlmer, Rudy, Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years at Twentieth Century Fox
Guiles, Fred Lawrence, Tyrone Power: The Last Idol
The Internet Movie Database
"Lloyds of London' Pleases at the Astor" The New York Times 26 Nov 36