It is rare that a swashbuckling movie can also be a suitable Lenten meditation, but Prince of Foxes (1949) accomplishes this difficult feat. A magnificent portrayal of Renaissance Italy at the time of Cesare Borgia, the film is also a compelling indictment of treachery, deceit and the lust for power. The realpolitik of Machiavelli is matched against the True Faith of Christ, and found wanting.
Orson Welles gives the performance of his career as Cesare Borgia, a figure whose ambition and failure is not unlike Welles’ own career where youthful promise and brilliance were ultimately defeated, mostly by the tragic flaws of each man. Tyrone Power is the essence of the Renaissance man: artist, warrior and seeker after earthly wealth, power, and, above all, fame. Everett Sloane, a veteran of Citizen Kaine, is a standout in the cast as an assassin, who, much to his own surprise, finds that he has a conscience! The theme of redemption is not played out as skillfully as it is in the novel of the same name, but for a movie it is done well , and the final confrontation between Andrea Orsini, the character portrayed by Tyrone Power, and Cesare Borgia is a perceptive contrast between a master sinner and his pupil who realizes, before it is too late, the futility of a life based on self-love, treachery and a ruthless striving for domination.
When Welles lay dying one of his last requests was that “Turner and his crayons,” be kept away from his films. Normally, I vehemently agree with him, but I would love to see a well-done colorized version of this film. Black and white does not suit the feel of the Renaissance which the film otherwise delivers to the full.
If you haven’t seen the film, it is available on DVD, and I heartily recommend it to all.