An unscrupulous agent for the Borgias suffers a change of heart when asked to betray a noble count and his much younger, very beautiful wife.
The all-powerful Cesare Borgia (Orson Welles, perfectly smarmy and sinister) is ruling over most of the Italian regions with all his glory, but he sees a little region on his tapestry map that he doesn’t have yet: a countryside presided over by the elderly Count Antonio Verano (Felix Verano) and his comely young wife Camilla (Wanda Hendrix). Cesare sends a spy named Andrea Orsini (Tyrone Power from The Mark of Zorro) to cozy up to the Verano family and assassinate them to pave the way for an easy takeover, but things don’t go as planned: Orsini quickly falls in love with Camilla and learns to respect and admire the Count, making his task impossible. He decides to turn coat and join the Count in preparing for a war with the powerful Cesare and his limitless armies. And war does indeed come! Cesare sends his hordes to overtake the Count’s castle and keep, but with Orsini there to lead them in defenses, Cesare’s armies are kept at bay … for awhile. Eventually the sieges become too exhausting for the Count and Orsini to withstand, and after the Count is killed in battle, Camilla takes charge of the armies, but she concedes defeat to Cesare, who demands the head of Orsini, the traitor. Orsini goes willingly as a prisoner under the condition that no harm will come to Camilla or the people of the realm. And thus begins a whole other saga of intrigue as Orsini and the people of the realm help Orsini to escape certain death at the hands of Cesare’s torture mongers!
Lavishly produced on location in Italy, Prince of Foxes is similar to any number of Robin Hoods or other swashbucklers of the era, but it’s distinct simply because of where it was filmed and under the direction of Henry King (David and Bathsheba with Gregory Peck). The costumes, sets, and big battle scenes are really convincing, and Welles is great in his supporting role. There’s plenty of action, although the movie has deep dips into melodrama, but if you’ve ever enjoyed classic swashbucklers or historical romances, then Prince of Foxes should fit the bill.
Kino Lorber’s recent blu ray release of Prince of Foxes looks and sounds wonderful in beautiful black and white (why this wasn’t shot in color perplexes me). There’s an audio commentary by film historian Troy Howarth, an isolated score track, and more.