Typically lavish Hollywood biography that bears even less relation to the truth than usual for the genre. Power is Ferdinand de Lesseps, the son of nobility and an engineer. For a time he romances Young, but she is desired by French president--later emperor--Louis Napoleon (Ames). Power
goes off to Egypt, where his father is French consul. Power is enchanted with the country and one of the friends he makes is Annabella, the half-Egyptian, half-French daughter of a French soldier. She falls in love with him but he still loves Young. One day, while walking across the desert, Power
is struck with an idea, that of a canal connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. He returns to France to seek government backing for his project, and there runs into Young, who by this time has become Ames' mistress. She agrees to help him approach Ames with the idea, if he in return will
convince his father to help dissolve the Assembly. Young swears, of course, that the government would be recalled as soon as possible. Power agrees, but once the government is out of the way, Ames declares himself emperor and makes Young his empress. Power's father dies from the shock of his
betrayal and Power abandons his canal idea. The backing comes through, though, and Power starts work, fighting the heat and the Bedouins. With only 10 miles remaining to be dug, the French cut off the finances and Power is forced to approach the British to underwrite the rest of the canal. The
prime minister-elect, Mander, agrees to consider funding it, and Power returns to Egypt once again. A desert windstorm known as a Black Simoon comes up and Power is injured, but Annabella manages to lash him to a post before she herself is picked up and carried off to her death by the wind. The
storm having subsided, word comes from England that Power will be able to finish his dream.
Inane dialog is the biggest culprit in this ridiculous view of 19th-Century French politics, but Power somehow pulls off the feat of making lines like "I wanted to do something for France, but now I think I can do something for the world!" sound like something a person might actually say. Young is
impressively cool and detached as she trades love for position and power, even lying to her former lover in order to become empress. Annabella makes a good impression, too, as she must have on Power, who married her soon after the filming. Director Dwan later admired her professionalism,
especially during the sandstorm sequence, and told Peter Bogdanovich for his book on Dwan, The Last Pioneer:"I got about a hundred of those huge airplane prop fans we used to make a wind and lined them up, but I had to discard them because the sand would cut the skin off the cast. Instead we used
ground cereal that we threw in front of the blades. The people had to move through that all day long, and I'm telling you, that was an ordeal. Everybody got beaten up good--particularly Ty Power and Annabella. In one scene, he was supposed to be unconscious and she is whipped away by the wind
while trying to save him. We had to put her on a wire and fling her through the air. It was drastic."
When the film was shown in France, the descendants of de Lesseps sued Fox, claiming that the engineer had been 54 when he first went to Egypt, and never had an affair with the Empress Eugenie. A French court threw out the case, determining that the film brought more honor to France than dishonor
on the family. The film follows the formula of the other biographical bowdlerizations over which Darryl F. Zanuck presided as executive producer: smart sets, great costumes, romance, fine special effects, and complete disregard of fact. Original release prints were sepia tinted. The film earned
Academy Award nominations for Best Sound, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Score.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Typically lavish Hollywood biography that bears even less relation to the truth than usual for the genre. Power is Ferdinand de Lesseps, the son of nobility and an engineer. For a time he romances Young, but she is desired by French president--later empero… (more)