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    Power Surge

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    "He said many times, he became a movie star long before he became an actor. So he sort of hit the jackpot at a very early age and instead of just riding the roller coaster, he kept trying to get better and better and better and really put a lot of work into it.” That was Tyrone Power Jr.’s appraisal of his famous father, when interviewed by the Los Angeles Times’ Susan King in November 2014 on the occasion of a centenary of the actor (1914-1958), who would have turned 102 today. The scion of acting parents, he grew up in community and stock theater learning his craft. Catching the eye of the fabled stage luminary Katharine Cornell, he was a featured player in two of the actress’ Broadway productions in 1935. When given an opportunity to screen-test for Twentieth Century Fox, the lady encouraged him to make the jump to Hollywood, where practically out of the gate in Lloyd's of London and In Old Chicago, the striking young leading man became a star whom audiences adored. In nearly 50 films across all genres – romantic comedies, disaster epics, Westerns, swashbucklers, wartime actioners, musicals, biopics, even a startling noir that his studio didn’t want him to make, Nightmare Alley, but which the actor himself judged his favorite – Power held the screen with dedication and alertness. Those qualities served Power well for yet another role he executed with distinction: World War II fighter pilot. Explore that four-year pause from moviemaking here: Twilight Time serves up two sturdy examples of the actor’s screen legacy in gorgeous Technicolor on hi-def Blu-ray. Pony Soldier (1952) casts him as a neophyte Canadian Mountie who in 1876 must balance action, diplomacy and cleverness on the fly to free white hostages captured by the Cree tribes raiding Montana from their Canadian reservation while persuading the invaders to return home without triggering more bloodshed. At a trim 82 minutes, it is a brisk and scenic action tale that benefits greatly from Power’s charismatic leadership and provides solid supporting roles for up-and-coming Cameron Mitchell and Robert Horton, veteran Thomas Gomez and a handful of Native American actors. [As he was wont to do in his later career between movies, Power was touring on stage in an acclaimed production of John Brown’s Body when Pony Soldier opened.] 

    Four years later, Power’s cosmopolitan charm shone at full wattage – with a 30-song smorgasbord of enduring standards – in the title role of the immensely popular musical biography The Eddy Duchin Story (1956), recounting the café society career of the revered pianist and bandleader who overcomes personal heartbreak to triumph on the music scene before being tragically felled by leukemia. Though there are tears amid the tunes, the Cinemascope pleasures of romantic New York City location filming, the allure of co-stars Kim Novak and Victoria Shaw, and Power’s dexterous keyboard fakery (to the masterful soundtrack playing of Carmen Cavallaro) all help seal the deal for this lush production from formidable director George Sidney. Power’s persistent presence is also felt – if spectrally – in another TT title, King Vidor’s ambitious Super Technirama 70 Biblical epic Solomon and Sheba (1959), the film he was shooting in Spain when he died of a heart attack in November 1958 at a tragically young 44. The picture was reshot with Yul Brynner taking over the role of Solomon, but Vidor would later say of Power: “I felt he was giving his best performance; I also thought the completed picture would have been his best.” Power can still be glimpsed in some long shots and rear views in the final reworked film. Blazing so early, felled too soon, the actor lived true to his son’s words by “trying to get better and better and better.” In her 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival interview, Sophia Loren confessed that of all the movie stars who bewitched the future actress watching movies in her hardscrabble adolescent years in World War II-wracked Italy, Tyrone Power was her favorite. Who are we to disagree? The Eddy Duchin Story and Pony Soldier are respectively available here and here