Black Rose: Hathaway’s Adventure, Starring Tyrone Power and Orson Welles

Henry Hathaway directed Black Rose, a British adventure film, starring Tyrone Power and Orson Welles.

Black Rose is a quote from the book by Thomas B. Costain. “I speak of lady, this lady different from others. She has great spirit, a tang like the black rose.” ‘Black Rose’ being another name for cloves.

Talbot Jennings’ screenplay was loosely based on a 1945 novel of the same name by Canadian author Thomas B. Costain, including an anachronistic Saxon rebellion set against the Norman aristocracy as a vehicle for launching the journey to the Orient.

Two hundred years after the Norman Conquest, during the reign of Edward I, Saxon scholar Walter of Gurnie, the illegitimate son of the deceased Earl of Lessford, returns from Oxford and hears the reading of his father’s will.

He receives only a pair of boots, but Walter recognizes it as a token of his father’s love for him. The earl’s Norman widow takes Saxon hostages against possible unrest. Walter joins a group of Saxons who free them, but is forced to flee England when he is recognized.

Walter, accompanied by his friend Tristram Griffen, a Saxon archer, sets out to make his fortune in Cathay (an alternative European historical name for China) during the time of the Pax Mongolica. The pair join a caravan of gifts being sent by the merchant Anthemus to Kublai Khan, who is preparing to invade China. The caravan is under the protection of Mongol general Bayan of the Hundred Eyes. Impressed by Tristram’s archery skill and his English longbow and Walter’s scholarship, Bayan takes an interest in the Englishmen.

Lu Chung, the head of the caravan, blackmails Walter into assisting the escape of Maryam, Anthemus’s half-English sister, nicknamed the “Black Rose”,[a] being sent as one of the gifts. Maryam loves Walter, but he is too interested in his adventure to pay her any attention. Tristram does not like all the killing and decides to get away. He takes Maryam with him because she wants to go to England.

Bayan sends Walter on mission to see the Song dynasty Empress of that part of China not yet under Mongol rule. Upon arrival, he is told that he must stay in China as a “guest” for the rest of his life.

He soon finds that Tristram and Maryam had also been captured and imprisoned. During this time, Walter realizes he loves Maryam. The three of them decide to escape, but Tristram dies. The small boat in which Maryam is waiting for Walter drifts away before Walter can catch her, forcing Walter to return to England alone.

Walter is welcomed back by the Norman King Edward, based on the cultural and scientific knowledge (including gunpowder) he brought back from China. The king then knights Walter and grants him a coat of arms.

In the end, two Mongol emissaries from Bayan bring the Black Rose to England to join Walter there.

The Black Rose was the first film Henry Hathaway directed after an operation for cancer.  Hathaway felt the movie was badly cast, Jack Hawkins was “too old” for his role (“it should have been played by someone like Van Johnson”) and that Cécile Aubry “didn’t have a lick of sense. I tried to get Leslie Caron but Caron said she loved ballet and didn’t want to be in pictures.” He and Orson Welles got along “terrible” because Welles would not follow direction. “It pleased him to outwit people. That was the trouble with him throughout his career.”

It was shot partly on location in England and Morocco, which substitutes for the Gobi Desert of China.

The film was conceived as a follow-up to the 1949 movie Prince of Foxes, and reunited the earlier film’s two male leads.

Oscar Nomination

British costume designer Michael Whittaker was nominated for an Oscar for Best Costumes-Color.

 

Cast
Tyrone Power as Walter of Gurnie
Orson Welles as Bayan of the Hundred Eyes
Cécile Aubry as Maryam
Jack Hawkins as Tristram Griffen
Michael Rennie as King Edward I
Finlay Currie as Alfgar
Herbert Lom as Anthemus
Mary Clare as Eleanor, Countess of Lessford
Robert Blake as Mahmoud
Alfonso Bedoya as Lu Chung (voice by Peter Sellers, uncredited)
Gibb McLaughlin as Wilderkin
James Robertson Justice as Simeon Beautrie
Henry Oscar as Friar Roger Bacon
Laurence Harvey as Edmond