You'd be hard-pressed to find a film packed with more adventure than The Black Rose. It starts in England, 200 years after the Norman Conquest, with Saxons and Normans still at each others' throats. Our two Saxon heroes, Tyrone Power and Jack Hawkins, find it advisable to vamoose, and decide to pay a visit to Cathay (their name for China).
First stop is the land of the Crusades, where they join a caravan delivering gifts to Kublai Khan, the grandson of old Genghis. Commanding the caravan is the bombastic Mongol warlord, Orson Welles, who's out to conquer the world, starting with China.
The storyline, I'll admit, is a bit weak. Power and Hawkins flail about for a good reason for going to Cathay, but never seem to find one. Once they get there, they sort of find a reason to return (to bring back the eastern secrets of gunpowder and printing) but even that is pretty wishy-washy. But with all the great scenery - the castles, the desert, the Great Wall and the palaces of China - the journey makes up for what the story lacks.
The co-stars help, too. Orson Welles, dressed up as a Mongol, is still Orson Welles, and chews up the landscape. Robert Blake, three years after his last performance as Little Beaver, is a rascally Arab servant boy. And Michael Rennie, as King Edward of England, is playing Klatu with a crown. Every time I saw him I expected Gort to march out and disintegrate somebody.
The "Black Rose" of the story is Cecile Aubry, a 21-year-old French actress who looks like a toothy, 15-year-old version of June Allyson. She actually has nothing to do with the story - or the adventure - and exists only for the obligatory romantic subplot. This was her first American film, and also her second-to-last.
One surprise: This was a big-budget 20th Century Fox film, but they cut corners on the lobby cards. The film was shot in Technicolor, but instead of using color photos for the cards, they added color to black and white stills. The effect is pretty cheesy. Each card retains elements of black and white, and the colors don't match those in the film. Fox also took some large liberties with the 1-sheet poster (above) and the title card (below). Each shows Tyrone on a horse, clutching a lissome babe. In the film, he rides a camel, and doesn't clutch the babe (if you can call her that) until the final scene.
More Overlooked Films at SWEET FREEDOM.