Prince of Foxes (film)

Prince of Foxes is a 1949 film adapted from Samuel Shellabarger's novel Prince of Foxes. The movie starred Tyrone Power as Orsini and Orson Welles as Cesare Borgia. It was nominated for two Oscars during the 22nd Academy Awards: Best Black and White Cinematography (Leon Shamroy) and Best Costume Design, Black and White (Vittorio Nino Novarese). They lost the Cinematography award to Battleground (Paul C. Bogel) while they lost the Costume Design award to The Heiress (Edith Head and Gile Steele).

Prince of Foxes
Directed byHenry King
Produced bySol C. Siegel
Written byMilton Krims
Based onPrince of Foxes
1947 novel
by Samuel Shellabarger
StarringTyrone Power
Orson Welles
Music byAlfred Newman
CinematographyLeon Shamroy
Edited byBarbara McLean
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
December 23, 1949
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2,550,000 (US rentals)[1][2]


In August 1500, Andrea Orsini (Tyrone Power), an artistic minor nobleman who is equally skilled with the brush, the sword, words, and women, serves the Machiavellian Prince Cesare Borgia (Orson Welles) as a soldier. Pleased with Andrea's ability to "follow my mind and keep his eyes fixed on the ultimate goal," Borgia selects Andrea to accomplish an intrigue: arrange the marriage of his widowed sister, Lucrezia (whose husband he has just had assassinated for the purpose), to Alfonso d'Este, the son of the Duke Ercole d'Este of Ferrara. By doing so, Borgia will remove Ferrara as an impediment to conquest of central Italy. In being selected, however, Andrea earns the enmity of Don Esteban Ramirez (Leslie Bradley), an ambitious mercenary captain and rival.

Andrea travels to Venice to sell some of his paintings to raise money for expenses. He meets the lovely Camilla di la Baglione (Wanda Hendrix), young wife of the elderly Count Marc Antonio Verano of Citta del Monte, and smitten with her, gallantly gives her a painting he was haggling to sell for a hundred ducats. Soon after, an assassin attempts to kill Andrea, but he thwarts the attack and spares the assassin to learn who hired him: the Duke Ercole d'Este. He hires the assassin, Mario Belli (Everett Sloane), as part of his own entourage. Resuming the mission, Andrea stops to visit the farm of a blacksmith's widow, reputed to be hiding gold stolen by her bandit son. She is actually his mother (Katina Paxinou), and he is in fact Andrea Zoppo, not the noble Orsini he pretends to be. The reunion is a rocky one, because the mother does not approve of her son's evil ways. Belli spies on them through a window. Andrea continues to Ferrara, where he succeeds in arranging the marriage by intimidating the duke and flattering Alfonso.

Andrea's next mission, again chosen over Don Esteban, is as ambassador to Citta del Monte, with orders to help Borgia conquer the mountaintop city by spring, using a romantic conquest of Camilla to facilitate a "correct" elimination of the elderly count (Felix Aylmer). Borgia secretly hires Belli to spy on Andrea and report if his loyalty wavers. Andrea learns that when the old count has a problem to solve, he climbs to a high precipice looking out over the landscape. Belli is delighted because it would make it easy to kill the count, but Andrea is moved by the older man's wisdom and love for his people. Camilla, despite her suspicions of Andrea, grows to admire his artistic soul as he paints her portrait. When Borgia, through Don Esteban, orders the count to allow passage of his army and to supply troops for it, the count defies him with the support of his people. Andrea changes sides to join his cause but Belli, a self-professed "born traitor", gives notice to Andrea and returns to Borgia. The count reveals to Andrea that he married Camilla only to protect her after her father died, and has treated her as his own daughter. He is mortally wounded in an ambush and rout of the vanguard of Borgia's army and Andrea takes up the defense.

After three months of repelling assaults, the city is at its last extremity. Don Esteban offers Camilla terms that are generous to her and her people, but would require her to surrender Andrea to Borgia. In love with Andrea, she rejects the terms, but Andrea gives himself up to Don Esteban at the price of putting the terms in writing. At a triumphal dinner with Camilla, who has begged him to spare Andrea's life, Borgia hauls in Andrea, tortured by Don Esteban, and exposes "the noble Orsini" as a peasant. He brings Andrea's mother to confirm it. Borgia orders his death by starvation but Belli, now a lieutenant in Borgia's service, protests and demands to gouge out Andrea's eyes in front of everyone and make him a blind beggar. However, Belli has secretly remained loyal to Andrea and fakes the disfigurement, and Mother Zoppo takes her son home. After Borgia moves on to another campaign, Andrea and Belli plot to free the imprisoned Camilla and help the people retake their city. Belli aids Andrea in entering the castle to rescue Camilla, but the signal for the citizen uprising is given before they can make their escape. Andrea kills Don Esteban in single combat, but is about to be killed by another officer after Andrea stumbles over Esteban's corpse. However, Balgioni, an officer, weary of killing for Borgia and an admirer of Andrea's, recognizes and spares him. The uprising sparks widespread resistance to Borgia, and after his fall, Andrea and Camilla are married.


Production notes

Original Novel

The novel was published in 1947.[3] It became a best seller.[4]

In February 1948 the film rights were bought by 20th Century Fox for a reported $200,000. They intended it to be a vehicle for Tyrone Power. It was thought the novel would involve censorship challenges because the Pope, Pope Alexander VI was a major character.[5]


Sol Siegel was assigned the job of producing, Henry King was to direct and Milton Krims to write the script.[6]

Censorship issues were resolved by removing the character of Alexander VI so the Borgias had no father. As long as the script made no mention of religion of the church, the Catholic Church gave their undertaking that they would not protest.[7]

King left for Italy in April 1948 and the others followed in June.[8] Orson Welles signed in July.[9]

Zanuck says the film was mostly financed with "frozen" funds in Italy, but the studio had to provide an extra $1.5 million.[10]


Most of the scenes were shot on the exact locations in Italy and San Marino, with all the studio work done at Cinecittà Studios.[11]

"It was worth every dollar it cost and it cost plenty," said Zanuck of location filming.[12]


  1. 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1950', Variety, January 3, 1951
  2. Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century-Fox: A Corporate and Financial History Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 p 223
  3. PRINCE OF FOXES. By Samuel Shellabarger. 433 pp. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. $3.: A Novel of Italy in the Grip of the Borgias By CHARLES LEE. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]13 July 1947: 148.
  4. BEST SELLERS: HOW THEY ARE MADE: Vital to the Publisher's Economy -- Ominous Portents for Tomorrow Analyzing Present-Day Best-Sellers -- and How They Are Made By HARVEY BREIT. New York Times 4 Jan 1948: BR1.
  5. GALLUP POLL FINDS 'JOLSON' BEST FILM: Bergman and Crosby Leading Players in 1947, According to Photoplay Survey By THOMAS F. BRADY Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. New York Times 11 Feb 1948: 35.
  6. ALAN LADD TO STAR IN PARAMOUNT FILM: Will Play Part of a Reporter in 'One Woman,' 1933 Novel by Tiffany Thayer By THOMAS F. BRADY Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]17 Feb 1948: 32.
  8. Paul Douglas Likely 'Four Wives' Opus Star Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]22 Apr 1948: 23.
  9. Orson Welles All but Set as Cesare Borgia Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 24 July 1948: 9.
  10. DEVALUATION MOVES 'PROBLEM' TO ZANUCK New York Times 21 Sep 1949: 39.
  11. DIRECTOR'S MEMO: Henry King Lists Some Amusing Incidents In Making 'Prince of Foxes' in Italy By HENRY KING. New York Times 4 Dec 1949: X8.
  12. Darryl Be Some Changes Made: LOOKING AT HOLLYWOOD WITH HEDDA HOPPER Chicago Daily Tribune 17 Apr 1949: B3.
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