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Classically tall, dark and handsome, Tyrone Power (1913-1958) was a classically trained stage actor who punctuated his film roles by working onstage with the likes of Katharine Cornell, Charles Laughton, Judith Anderson and Raymond Massey. He bridled at the fact that on film he was just another pretty face - usually with a sword in his hand. Many of his hits were swashbucklers - The Mark of Zorro (1940), Blood and Sand (1941), The Black Swan (1942), Captain from Castile (1947), Prince of Foxes (1949) and The Black Rose (1950). (His dueling skill was the real thing. He was widely acknowledged to be one of Hollywood's best swordsmen.) Power, who served in the Pacific as a US Marine transport flier during WW II, had fought against typecasting and finally amassed enough clout to pressure Fox studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck to star him as a carnival sideshow geek in the now cult fave, Nightmare Alley (1947). His last completed film role was one of his best, as the accused murderer in Billy Wilder's Witness for the Prosecution (1957).
In 1958, shortly after completing a public service commercial about the importance of medical checkups, he headed to Spain to film Solomon and Sheba (1959) with King Vidor, Gina Lollobrigida, and his old friend and colleague, George Sanders. After having filmed most of his scenes, he collapsed with a heart attack during a swordfight with Sanders. He died on the way to the hospital, replaced by Yul Brynner (you can spot Power in some of the long shots). Power's end eerily echoed the circumstances of the death of his actor father, who died in his son's arms while filming The Miracle Man (1932) in 1931. The Powers had been an acting family since the early 19th century, when the first Tyrone Power, from a landed family in Ireland, worked his way to prominence. The subject of this article, although professionally known as Jr., was actually the third member of his family to bear that name. The family and its relations were extensive. Among this Tyrone Power's distant relatives were Tyrone Guthrie and Laurence Olivier. The latter read a poem at Powers' burial in 1958. Flying overhead in tribute to their mutual love of aviation was director Henry King.
Which brings us to the eleventh film in which King directed Power, The Sun Also Rises (1957). With a cast headed by Power, Ava Gardner, Mel Ferrer, Errol Flynn, Eddie Albert and Juliette Greco, Ernest Hemingway's breakout novel of 1926 was given the CinemaScope treatment. It's a dubious asset, even if it might have succeeded in prying a few audience members away from their TV sets. Power had experience playing an existential hero trying to make sense of life in The Razor's Edge (1946). But he's defeated by the material - as are the others. Power's Hemingway stand-in, Jake Barnes, is, like all these WW I-traumatized characters, damaged. The book's reputation rests on Hemingway's chiseled prose, with its intended iceberg quality of making us feel the presence of much more beneath its surface. The film is almost all surface. In its day, it gained fame by supposedly capturing and defining the so-called Lost Generation, who couldn't go back home and resume their lives, and so lived the disconnected lives of expatriates spinning their wheels. Here, though, they don't muster much pulse or tone, much less style.
The mood among the desperate partiers isn't fizzy. It's sullen, irritated, deflated. Power's stoic Jake, although left impotent by a war wound (we won't go into its significance in view of Hemingway's preoccupation with his masculinity!), is the only morally sound one among them. That's because he works, churning out articles conscientiously for the Paris Herald-Tribune. The rest, unanchored, are weighed down by ennui. Their collective substitution of desperation for real energy creates problems. Jake's impotence guarantees frustration with Ava Gardner's war widow of a British aristocrat. Because she can't sleep with Jake, she sleeps with everyone else. Power's air of exhausted forbearance indicates that he wasn't in the best of health during filming. And as the others careen around looking to refresh their lives, the film perhaps inevitably mirrors their lack of real energy, even the energy of submerged, unexpressed tension.
Most of the action in The Sun Also Rises takes the form of men over-boisterously indulging in various forms of chest-thumping while they take turns being undone by Gardner's Circe-like Lady Brett Ashley. The book opens with the sentence, "Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton." He's the saddest of the lot, even though the film tiptoes around the anti-Semitism that made him put the gloves on and climb into the ring. He spends the film being told what a fifth wheel he is and asked why he doesn't just go away, especially by Errol Flynn's wasted Scotsman, Mike Campbell, who believes he's engaged to Lady Brett. Mel Ferrer's Cohn does finally leave, worse off than ever, having lost Jake's friendship and never enjoying a repeat of his brief fling with Lady Brett, who tells him she can't stand his air of suffering. At least he gets to punch out Flynn's boor (a performance that's funnier than it ought to be!). If Ferrer's character tries too hard, though, the film doesn't try hard enough.
The book's real subject is hollowness and emptiness -- not the stuff of absorbing films. And so as they flail about with what seems more petulance than passion, the film fizzles. In the absence of real dramatic or emotional crackle, we find ourselves snatching at bits of enjoyment from the edges of the film - Gregory Ratoff's wolfish nightclubbing count, putting moves on Gardner; Marcel Dalio's maitre d' looking like something out of La Boheme; and Robert Evans (yes, that Robert Evans) as the young bullfighter Gardner plays with after his triumph in the corrida. When members of the cast and crew wanted him fired, Zanuck, reminding them who was boss, said, "The kid stays in the picture," furnishing producer-to-be Evans with the title of his eventual autobiography. Zanuck also made sure Juliette Greco, whom he was dating at the time, was in the picture, in the inexplicable role of a sullen streetwalker, inexplicable because one wonders why Jake, given his impotence, secured her services.
Time has not been kind to the bullfight sequences so dear to Hemingway. Before Bogart and W.C. Fields became the poster boys of mid-century college dorms and frat houses, bullfight posters were the dcor of choice. But does anyone take this stuff seriously today? It plays like self-parody, not the quintessential expression of male existential purity Hemingway thought it to be. Is it any wonder one invariably finds oneself rooting for the bull? Although most of the Spanish sequences were filmed in Mexico, the Pamplona scenes and the running of the bulls are the real thing. So are the Pyrenees (where Jake goes fishing with Albert's crony). Ditto for Biarritz and the Paris sequences. What's surprisingly anachronistic, even more than the odd automobile, is that so few of the clothes say Paris, 1922, when the story unfolds. One understands the temptation to go with a feather cut instead of bobbed hair for Gardner. One understands even more fully the impulse to costume her in various scoop necklines and A-line ensembles. As usual, she's easy to look at, but this is not one of her memorably sexy roles. Nor anyone's, really. In this Spain, everyone becomes an instant Spaniard with the addition of scarlet sashes and berets. And don't get me started on the use of Cole Porter's "You Do Something to Me," written in 1929, as its theme song! This take on The Sun Also Rises is much more about the time it was filmed than about the time it's supposed to be taking place. With its wall-to-wall compositions, it's more about wideness than about Hemingway.
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Director: Henry King
Screenplay: Peter Viertel (screenplay); Ernest Hemingway (novel)
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Art Direction: Mark-Lee Kirk, Lyle R. Wheeler
Music: Hugo Friedhofer
Film Editing: William Mace
Cast: Tyrone Power (Jake Barnes), Ava Gardner (Lady Brett Ashley), Mel Ferrer (Robert Cohn), Errol Flynn (Mike Campbell), Eddie Albert (Bill Gorton), Gregory Ratoff (Count Mippipopolous), Juliette Greco (Georgette Aubin), Marcel Dalio (Zizi), Henry Daniell (Doctor), Bob Cunningham (Harris).
by Jay Carr