Tyrone Power and The Eddy Duchin Story (1956)

June 24, 2014 | By

For once the ad pap is right – you *should* see The Eddy Duchin Story!

When Elwy Yost was hosting TVOnatrio’s Saturday Night at the Movies and Magic Shadows (yeah, I’m that old), there was no shortage of Twentieth Century-Fox films from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, and it was on that network where I caught some of Tyrone Power’s classic films.

I’m an unashamed fan of Fox’ catalogue – be it the glossy CinemaScope productions, or classic dramas, noirs, and thrillers from the 40s – and I could easily rattle of names of their top stars, but perhaps the most charismatic was Power.

Superficially, he was a pretty boy – Power’s striking looks and physique made him a natural for swashbucklers (The Black Swan), period adventures (Captain from Castile, The Mark of Zorro – the former still one of, if not the best Zorro film made), comedies (A Yank in the R.A.F.), and later dark dramas (Nightmare Alley, where he proved he could handle grim drama) – but he had a range and onscreen charisma which Fox rightly exploited to support their top star.

His peak period was the forties – there’s much to enjoy in his easy blend of comedy and drama, comedy and adventure – but it’s clear that when he entered his final decade, the projects that lay before him weren’t as grand. The Pony Soldier (1952) feels like a B-movie that happens to headline an aging star, The Sun Also Rises (1957) has a strange aimless quality enhanced by the advanced wear & tear on stars Power and Errol Flynn, and although he was extremely successful as the central figure in Columbia Pictures’ The Eddy Duchin Story (1956) – you can see how much Power had striven to mimic the pianist’s style to the point where director George Sidney could confidently swish-pan and tilt-up in shots to make it clear Power was tickling the piano’s ivories – it wasn’t the kind of material that exploited Power’s full talent.

He was a fine Duchin – his performance is quite underrated, especially the subtle details which make the impact of Duchin’s death at 41 so moving – but Power the actor really needed better scripts, offering the kind of roles and risk deserving of a mature actor. The lucky chance came in 1957 when Billy Wilder cast him as the male lead in Witness for the Prosecution, and yet a year later, Power would literally drop dead of a heart attack while filming the Biblical epic Solomon and Sheba, in a hot desert location.

For Power to die at 44 was truly a loss, because good actors have the innate talent to survive long past their more flamboyant classics. Power should’ve been able to achieve that through further projects like Witness, but fans can at least revel in the quantity and quality of his filmography, much of it for home studio Fox.

Bogart, Gable, Brando, and Dean came from different generations of actors and Hollywood film history, and there’s little doubt some stars will fade faster within a studio’s deep back catalogue as newer generations of film fans seem to find less reference points in current films, industry overviews, and ‘top films you should see’ penned by pop culture hipsters and icons because the spotlight is slowly moving away from the 70s to the 80s, making anything older seem arcane and irrelevant.

There’s old, and there’s really old, and that regard may befall many stars of Power’s generation, especially when their work falls out of circulation on hard media, and must compete on specialty cable channels with things less aged that are pegged as more sexy, risqué, and visually kinetic.

I hope I’m wrong, but when the name Barrymore is dropped, most think of Drew, rather than the family tree which include striking John Barrymore, and character actor Lionel Barrymore (and sure, Ethel, too). With Power, things kind of end with Tyrone in spite of a few kids having brief film and TV careers. (Daughter Taryn appeared in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, and son Tyrone Power, Jr. had a small role in Cocoon.)

As Eddy Duchin, Power proved how well he could transcend clichéd material, and as formulaic as the film may be, there are small moments which impress, and reveal the talent and affable persona of this overlooked star.





Mark R. Hasan, Editor
Big Head Amusements

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