Saturday, May 5, 2007

CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE (20th Century-Fox 1947) Fox Home Video

Director Henry King’s Captain from Castile (1947) is a sumptuously photographed but woefully mismanaged would-be epic. Lamar Trotti's lumbering screenplay makes a valiant – if misguided - effort to present Spanish conqueror, Hernando Cortez (Cesar Romero) as a benevolent and heroic figure.

Originally budgeted and planned for a lavish ‘road show’, complete with intermission and fanfare, production chief, Darryl F. Zanuck eventually scrapped these ideas and curtailed his spending when road shows suddenly fell out of favor with the public. The result; a lengthy and laborious 141 minute excursion, based on Samuel Shellabarger’s novel, first serialized in Cosmopolitan Magazine.

The film stars resident Fox heartthrob, Tyrone Power as Pedro De Vargas, a courtier accused of heresy by Diego De Silva (John Sutton) after Pedro helps one of De Silva’s tortured slaves escape to the ‘new world’. Murdering Pedro’s younger sister and imprisoning his father and mother under laws of the Spanish inquisition, De Silva is challenged to a duel by Pedro, at the end of which Pedro mis-perceives that he has mortally wounded his arch enemy.

Forced to flee Spain with the aid of the lusty Juan Garcia (Lee J. Cobb) and peasant girl, Catana Perez (Jean Peters), Pedro journeys to Mexico where he becomes embroiled in Cortez’s plans to conquer Montezuma’s Mexican Empire and bring back the wealth and riches of its untapped lands.

The film, a magnificent spectacle photographed in lurid Technicolor, is nevertheless full of loose ends that are never entirely resolved. For example; after rescuing his mother and father from prison, Pedro and Catana and DeLora (John Burton); a man who has bartered to help save the De Vargas family in trade for being allowed to take Catana as his slave girl are pursued on horseback by a regiment of Spanish soldiers dispatched from the prison.

DeLora, Pedro and Catana head off in one direction to misdirect the soldiers while Pedro’s mother and father go off in another – presumably to safety in Italy. It is the last time we see Pedro’s mother or father, though Pedro is constantly referring to them as though he knows they have made it to Italy. Also, after plummeting from a cliff on horseback, only Pedro and Catana survive – though, we are never quite told what became of DeLora’s corpse.

Furthermore, the entire focus of the narrative seems to shift from Pedro’s personal plight – to avenge his family’s honor – to the quest for jewels under Cortez’s expedition. Pedro, who is love struck with Luisa De Carvajal (Barbara Lawrence) in the first act, never sees her again after that, and by the middle of the story has instead made a child with Catana who has loved him ever since he rescued her from the fate of two of De Silva’s henchmen. 

In the end, director Henry King becomes engrossed - or perhaps, overwhelmed, with his cast of thousands, providing endless footage of warriors and tribesmen trekking across the Mexican countryside – even capturing the natural phenomenon of a volcanic eruption, which has absolutely nothing to do with the story.

Fox Home Video has provided a rather inconsistently rendered DVD transfer. Colors on the whole are richly saturated, perhaps at times overpowering. There are, however, brief inserts which appear quite faded. Flesh tones are garishly orange throughout. Night scenes suffer from a considerable loss of fine detail. Digital anomalies are not an issue, but age related artifacts are present throughout. The audio has been rechanneled to 2-channel stereo. The original mono is also provided.

Extras include a thorough and informative audio commentary by Rudy Behlmer, Jon Burlingame and Nick Redman; an isolated score, magnificently presented in full stereophonic splendor and with cue notes from composer Alfred Newman heard before and after each track; a very brief set of stills divided into two separate galleries and the film’s original theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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