Historical fiction on an epic scale, Henry King’s Captain from Castile offers a lush production and a host of stars enacting the personal story of a fugitive from the 16th century Spanish Inquisition told against the backdrop of Hernando Cortez’s conquest of Mexico.
The Production: 4/5
Historical fiction on an epic scale, Henry King’s Captain from Castile offers a lush production and a host of stars enacting the personal story of a fugitive from the 16th century Spanish Inquisition told against the backdrop of Hernando Cortez’s conquest of Mexico. Beautiful, evocative locations and fine acting distract from a spotty screenplay that runs hot and cold over the course of its 141 minutes.
Driven from his home in Spain when he becomes a wanted deserter from the Inquisition after its cruelty and unjustness caused the death of his twelve-year old sister and the wrongful arrest of his esteemed father Don Francisco De Vargas (Antonio Moreno) and mother, Pedro De Vargas (Tyrone Power) is persuaded by his hot-blooded friend Juan Garcia (Lee J. Cobb) to flee to the New World and join up with the expeditionary forces of Hernando Cortez (Cesar Romero) who is gathering forces presently in Cuba for an expedition to Mexico to uncover the truth about the alleged vast stores of wealth contained therein. Once in Mexico and faced with little to no resistance from its natives, Cortez, an infamous conquistador, changes his mission from exploration to conquering gathering as much gold and precious gems as his treasure chests can carry. In his journey across Mexico, Pedro falls in love with another fugitive from Spain, the beautiful Catana Perez (Jean Peters), and all thoughts of the maiden he left behind in Spain, Luisa De Carvajal (Barbara Lawrence), are forgotten. But he’s still a wanted man in Spain, and little does he know that his vengeful enemy Diego De Silva (John Sutton) is on his way to Mexico now with orders from the King to arrest Pedro and bring him back to Spain to face the consequences of his actions.
Producer-screenwriter Lamar Trotti spends the first third of the movie in Spain establishing the character of Pedro, his rivalry with De Silva, and his reasons for flight from Spain. The remaining two-thirds of the picture involve his various exploits in the New World, often finding himself unjustly accused of one crime or another until he can supply the proof of his innocence and evidence of the guilty parties. The romance with Catana comes and goes in the narrative, she a peasant girl unsure of the faithfulness of someone as exalted as Pedro De Vargas while more interesting complications come from his association with the unpredictable Juan Garcia and his devout friendship with Father Bartolome Romero (Thomas Gomez) who continually assures Pedro that his belief in God will see him through all the crises he continuously finds himself facing. Director Henry King makes certain that the expensive location work in Mexico is captured on screen as the vast seas of extras are often shown in elaborate sequences where they can spread out over the immense terrain (the triumphant procession that concludes the movie with Alfred Newman’s stirring score as accompaniment is the stuff of Golden Age Hollywood). There are sword fights (Power was a master dueler), an early chase across rough terrain, and a threatening live volcano smoldering in the background in many of the later scenes in the movie.
This kind of swashbuckling role was made-to-order for Tyrone Power, and production was held up until his military service in World War II was concluded. While as lithe and fleet as ever, his added maturity here gives the role a touch of sadness and gravitas that weren’t present in his pre-war epics. Lee J. Cobb is a hearty best friend and always a pleasure to have in any scene, even the ones where his drunkenness threatens to end his life and the lives of others. Cesar Romero is a stalwart and dominating Cortez even if he lacks just a touch of maniacal obsession that would give this cruel conqueror an edge. Thomas Gomez is a loving and reverent Father Romero, and Antonio Moreno makes the most of his few scenes early in the movie as Pedro’s violated father. Alan Mowbray has lots of fun with the slightly loony astrologer Professor Botello, and John Sutton is evil incarnate as the bullying yet cowardly Diego De Silva. Jean Peters offers quite an eyeful in her starring role as the servant girl Catana who wins the aristocratic Pedro and then is fearful she might yet lose him to the memory of her Spanish rival Luisa played rather blandly by Barbara Lawrence.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Fox has done another of its admirable salvation efforts to bring this once-Technicolored jewel back to something resembling its former glory with only the substandard Eastmancolor elements at its disposal. Colors are deeply saturated with reds and blues coming off quite well, but skin tones are on the brown side, and the greens of the trees and foliage in the New World never match the vividness of the other primary colors. Sharpness is excellent, and the image is remarkably clean and free from age-related problems. Black levels vary a bit from strong to more brownish than blackish, and there is some crush in the shadows of some of the darkest scenes. But overall, this is a valiant effort. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.
The disc offers two DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks. The first, the default track, is likely meant to be stereo, but it doesn’t come off and sounds rather anemic. A much more enjoyable effort is the track labeled as 1.0 on the disc menu (but it read 2.0 on my equipment), a clearly monaural soundtrack that features a strong mix of dialogue, that magnificent Alfred Newman score, and the ambient effects. There are moments of intermittent hiss and some attenuated noise on the soundtrack, but they aren’t pervasive and don’t last throughout the presentation.
Special Features: 4.5/5
Audio Commentary: ported over from the DVD release, this track features moderator Nick Redman, film historian Rudy Behlmer, and music expert Jon Burlingame. While their discussion is a bit unfocused, it covers all the major areas of interest with Behlmer providing valuable production information and Burlingame discussing Alfred Newman’s Oscar-nominated score. For those who haven’t heard it before, it’s a must listen.
Isolated Score Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono.
Tyrone Power: The Last Idol (45:01, SD): the episode of A&E’s Biography series focusing on the screen star.
Tyrone Power and His Leading Ladies (12:25, SD): four actresses who co-starred with the star recall what it was like to work with and kiss the screen idol: Jayne Meadows, Patricia Neal, Terry Moore, and Coleen Gray.
Theatrical Trailer (2:46, SD): surprisingly produced in black and white.
Six-Page Booklet: contains a welcome selection of color stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s detailed examination of the film.
Produced for $4.5 million in a period when most films were produced for half of that or less, Captain from Castile is a very watchable if a trifle less than rollicking historical adventure tale. Fox has done all it could do to bring the movie back to something resembling its original look, and Twilight Time offers it in a fine Blu-ray presentation. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.