Prince Of Foxes - NotMonday, May 21, 2007
Cesare Borgia, Duke of Valentinois and Romagna, rose slowly from his chair, and slowly crossed to the window of that spacious chamber in the Rocca of Imola. He stood there in the autumn sunshine gazing down upon the tented meadow and the river beyond, and upon the long ribbon of road, the ancient via Aemilia, stretching smooth and straight with never a crease until it was lost in the distant hazy pile that was Faenza.
He was in the very flower of his youth; some seven and twenty years of age; tall, straight and lithe as steel. His father, Pope Alexander VI, had been accounted in early life the handsommest man of his day; of beauty and of countenance, it was said that acted upon women as the lodestone upon iron. - which had by no means helped him to the virtuous course that should be looked for in a church-man. That beauty Cesare had inherited, but refined and glorified by the graces of Madonna Vanozz de'Catanei, the Roman lady who had been his mother.
If there was sensuality in the full lips of the red mouth, half-hiden by the silky tawny beard, this was corrected by the loftiness of the pale brow; the nose delicately arched, the nostrils sensitive, and the eyes - who shall describe the glory of those hazel eyes? Who shall read their message, who shall depict the will, the intellect, the dreamy wistfulness, the impasiveness that looks out of them?
He was dressed from head to foot in black; but through the slashings of his velvet doublet gleamed the rich yellow of an undervest of cloth-of-gold; a ruby-studded girdle gripped his loins, and on his hip hung a heavy gold-gilted Pistoja dagger in a golden sheath of cunning workmanship. His tawny head was bare.
The Justice of the Duke
1912 - Rafael Sabatini
That description of Cesare Borgia matches in every way Orson Welles's appearance and performance in my favourite cloak and dagger film of all time, Prince of Foxes.
I have written here before of an experience I had about 29 years ago from my counter job at Tilden Rent A Car one winter Sunday afternoon. I was on Alberni Street and across was the moribund Ritz Hotel. On a Sunday, in those days, our downtown was as a quiet as a ship-of-the-line in the doldrums. There were two parked cars and the owners had switched on the four-way flashers. I watched how in some apparently unpredictable intervals the flashers of both cars coincided. It was then that I equated this phenomenon with that rare human relationship between two persons when everything seems to be right, if only for a while. I remembered enough of my school math to figure out that the mathematical formula that would predict a coincidence (the cars, who knows about people) would involve a couple of sine waves in phase.
For about 5 years my relationship with my granddaughter Rebecca (now 9) has been that rare "Ritzian Sine Wave Coincidence". We have hit it off in just about everything: from photography to gardening, from music to dance. But those two sine waves seem to be now out of phase.
Part of the problem could be the unstopable influence of television and my inability of preventing her from watching it when she comes to visit us on Saturdays (and this week end, Sunday, too). She watches that program with the boy twins who live in a Ritzy New York City hotel, Hilary Duff's program (before she grew up) and those terrible programs featuring terrible scenes of poverty in Africa, Mexico and Central America where Canadian celebrities like Karen Kane make you feel guilty enough that you get up to send a check in the mail that same day.
30 years ago when I was teaching high school in Mexico City it was fashionable to explain that teen agers did everything in 30 minute intervals. 30 minutes represented Stephen J. Cannell's "three act play method". In 30 minutes a hero was introduced, a conflict with a villain came in within minutes and by the end of the half hour a resolution was found. This meant that when dad convinced Jr. to help him paint a room, Jr. would throw in the brush after 30 minutes.
It was about 30 minutes into Henry King's 1949 Prince of Foxes (with Tyrone Power, Orson Welles and the inimitable Felix Aylmer) that Rebecca got up and disappeared. I put the DVD machine on pause and after a few minutes I knew Rebecca was not going to return.
I first saw Prince of Foxes when I was 9 so I thought Rebecca might warm up to it. My friend Paul Leisz says children are different now. I wonder exactly how. I had been saving with interest and special affection the day that Rebecca and I would sit down to see Gary Cooper in Beau Geste. It would seem, if Paul Leisz is right that Rebecca just might be and adult by then.
I told Rebecca to turn off the TV, earlier in the day. She shouted at me and threw some warmed up (in the microwave) tortillas. I lost my temper, too and threw the Sony remote on the floor. It shattered.
A few minutes later I had somehow put all the pieces back and the remote worked. I wonder if I should have kicked in the screen? The whole day was a strange one. Walking down the path by our pond with a rake in hand, Lauren (4) asked me, "What the hell are you doing?"
It was with relief and comfort that in the evening I finished Prince of Foxes, and in spite of the boilng oil being thrown down the ramparts of Citta' del Monte on Cesare Borgia's sceaming soldiers all was well with the world.
And this afternoon by a strange coincidence (as it rained outside) I enjoyed Robert Taylor and Kay Kendall in the Technicolor film Quentin Durward based on Walter Schott's novel. Would Rebecca have enjoyed it?