Tyrone Power: One of the Best

Tyrone Power was one of the greatest stars of the classic film era. His spectacularly good looks were such that at times it's overlooked that he was also a fine actor whose skills grew more impressive with the passage of time. He was highly effective starring in everything from swashbucklers and Westerns to musicals and romantic comedies to film noir and costume dramas. His early death at the age of 44 was a great loss to all who love the movies.

Power has always been my favorite actor. He combined charm with a bit of the rogue; at the same time, his performances conveyed a thoughtful intelligence. In many of his roles he radiates integrity, yet he was also effective in portraying more troubled -- or troubling -- characters. Power's admirable desire to improve and stretch as an actor is reflected in a number of his postwar roles, including The Razor's Edge (1946), Nightmare Alley (1947), Abandon Ship (1957), and Witness for the Prosecution (1957).

Tyrone Power was born into a highly regarded acting family on May 5, 1914. Power's great-grandfather, also named Tyrone Power, was a famed Irish actor, and his father, known as Tyrone Power Sr., appeared in over 40 films, including Raoul Walsh's The Big Trail (1930). Tyrone Jr., as he was billed in his first few films, started out playing bit parts in a handful of movies, catching some notice in a small role in Girls’ Dormitory (1936). Within a very short period of time 20th Century-Fox gave Power the lead in Lloyds of London (1936) and he was catapulted almost overnight to major stardom. Power was cast opposite many of Fox’s most popular leading ladies, including Loretta Young, Linda Darnell, Betty Grable, Sonja Henie, and Gene Tierney.

Power was popular with fans and coworkers alike. As Fred Lawrence Guiles wrote in his 1979 biography Tyrone Power: The Last Idol, 'Tyrone Power was admired and loved by nearly everyone in the film colony.' Director Joseph Newman was quoted in the book Just Making Movies as saying 'Tyrone Power was such a magnificent man and such a great person to work with,' while director Henry Koster was quoted in the same volume saying that Power 'was a perfect gentleman.'

Power's Nightmare Alley costar, Coleen Gray, echoed Koster’s comment, telling me in a recent interview 'He was such a gentleman… He had a good nature... He was definitely a lovely man, kind.' Alice Faye was once notably quoted as saying, 'He was the best looking thing I've ever seen in my life. Kissing him was like dying and going to heaven.'

Here are a half-dozen favorite Tyrone Power titles which illustrate both his acting ability and the variety of films in which he appeared; all are available on DVD.

\*The Mark of Zorro (1940) - One of my favorite films of all time, Power does it all in this film, crossing swords with Basil Rathbone, playing comedic scenes, and courting lovely Linda Darnell. One of the most enjoyable films ever made, I consider it the definitive Tyrone Power movie.

\*Son of Fury (1942) - This historical drama/South Seas fantasy/swashbuckler is 98 minutes of black and white movie heaven, as Power romances lovely island girl Gene Tierney and battles villainous George Sanders. It’s fantastic ‘40s escapism.

\*The Razor’s Edge (1946) - Power returned from his service in WWII ready for more challenging roles, and his first postwar film was the all-star drama The Razor’s Edge, based on the novel by Somerset Maugham. Power plays Larry Darrell, a man shaken by his experiences in WWI who is no longer content to do the expected thing and settle down to earn a living, despite the disappointment this causes his beautiful fiancée (Gene Tierney); instead, Larry embarks on a quest for understanding the meaning of life.

\*Nightmare Alley (1947) - This film contains what is today widely regarded as Power's best performance. He plays Stan, a carnival worker who finds fame and success as a 'mentalist' in nightclubs, only to plunge to the depths of destruction in an alcoholic nightmare. This is a dark role Power insisted on playing; his transformation in the last section of the film is so startling that it's believable when he's not recognized by his friends.

\*I’ll Never Forget You (1951) - Like Larry Darrell of The Razor’s Edge, Peter Standish is searching for happiness, but instead of traveling the world in search of meaning, Peter travels back in time. Peter falls in love with sweet Helen (Ann Blyth) but finds life in the 1700s isn't quite what he expected. This remake of Berkeley Square (1933), filmed in England, is deeply moving.

\*Rawhide (1951) - This is a tough, gripping Western directed by Henry Hathaway. Power plays a man training to manage a stagecoach station which is taken over by a ruthless gang of outlaws, including Hugh Marlowe and Dean Jagger. Power and stage passenger Susan Hayward pretend they are married, as it seems to strengthen their mutual chances to stay alive, and work together to defeat the outlaws. This is one of at least three films Power filmed in Lone Pine, California, where locals have told me he was a friendly, popular visitor.

The above is but a short list of highlights which omits many other well-known Power titles such as Café Metropole (1937), In Old Chicago (1938), Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938), Jesse James (1939), Blood and Sand (1941), The Black Swan (1942), Captain from Castile (1947), Prince of Foxes (1949), The Long Grey Line (1955), and Witness for the Prosecution (1957). Fortunately the vast majority of Power's films are available on DVD.

On November 15, 1958, Tyrone Power was in Spain, filming a dueling scene with longtime colleague George Sanders for Solomon and Sheba, when he collapsed and died of a heart attack. Power’s sudden death at the age of 44 shocked Hollywood and filmgoers around the world. Such was Power’s popularity that annual memorial services continue to be held at Hollywood Forever Cemetery to the present day. It's hard not to wonder about the great performances which might have been, but the work Tyrone Power left behind will continue to be enjoyed for as long as movies exist.

Laura Grieve is a lifelong film enthusiast whose thoughts on classic films, Disney, and other topics can be found at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, established in 2005.