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Stars Tyrone Power, Jean Peters, Cesar Romero, Lee J. Cobb, Thomas Gomez.
There’s no shortfall of goodies to carry Captain From Castile, and fairly easily at that, over the lumps you might expect from a 140-minute epic directed by Henry King, who in his day was probably the most prized house director at 20th Century-Fox (at least after the more freelancing John Ford left). The down side: King was also known for one the greatest disparities I can think of between the really good movies he made and the clunkers, of which there were many.
All components considered, my take has long been that you have to weigh Castile, and in not insubstantial ways, somewhat toward the former grouping — which would include Twelve O’Clock High, The Gunfighter and Margie for personal starters. And a lot this is due to Alfred Newman’s durably famous and oft-recorded score for this shot-on-location 16th-century Technicolor epic, which is one of my three or four favorites screen compositions of all time. For the record, No. 1 would be Newman’s score for How the West Was Won, whose LP version I wore out even more in 1963 than Rat Pack vocals and the early Bob Dylan. As for Newman himself, he put Castile in his own personal top-3 along with his scores for Wuthering Heights and The Song of Bernadette (but while we’re at it, how about a little love for How Green Was My Valley?).
Appropriately, then, Twilight Time’s familiar virtue of isolating the musical score of its Blu-ray releases takes on added significance here with Castile because we can now concentrate on how Newman specifically applied one of his foremost achievements to the action at hand, courtesy of both the lushly romantic “Catana” theme written for leads Tyrone Power and Jean Peters and the majestically ass-kicking “Conquest,” which the USC Marching Band has employed as one of its staples dating back to when I was a very young kid. The latter piece is, of all things, used to enhance our respect for Cesar Romero’s military muscle — though this eye-twinkling comment from me isn’t intended as a diss. Next to his comically oily turn as the island governor in Donovan’s Reef, which always cracks me up just thinking about it, Castile contains my favorite screen performance from Mr. “CR 2” — which I’m told was Romero’s license plate number by a friend who once ended up next to the actor’s gas-guzzler at the same red L.A. traffic light. Regardless of the digit next to his initials, his characterization turns famed conqueror-with-a-mean-streak Hernan Cortes into a tough but fair relatively nice guy who just incidentally finds all-in-a-day’s-work pleasure in plundering Aztecs.
Adding to the musical emphasis is a commentary by music producer and Twilight Time guiding force Nick Redman and writer/producer/historian Jon Burlingame (who are all things to the history of movie music) and the ever-agreeable historian Rudy Behlmer — someone whose writings I began following when I was a young teenager. Behlmer has always been all things to just about anything filmic that ever happened anytime, including (it wouldn’t surprise me) how many bennies David O. Selznick sprinkled each morning on his All-Bran.
Good thing, because there’s a lot of rich screen history for the trio here to discuss: the massive wartime popularity and necessary truncation of Samuel Shellabarger’s doorstop source novel; a long, long location shoot in multiple Mexican locales; censorship problems with the Breen Office over the book’s treatment of Catholicism (there was a little thing called he Spanish Inquisition that didn’t reflect too well on the Church); and returning Marine Power’s attempt to reestablish his mammothly successful career at postwar Fox in a way that never totally took hold. Then there was Peters being plucked from the campus of The Ohio State University and into the lead of a costly picture her very first time out (fairly successfully, too); her courtship by, and eventual marriage to, Howard Hughes; and the ultimate inability of the picture to recover its sizable cost despite otherwise healthy box office in a year (1947) when overall attendance plummeted after wartime peaks (and with TV’s mass acceptance and viewing habits transformation yet to come).
As for the story, Cortes doesn’t even show up or become a factor until Spanish nobleman Power has had a pronounced fall from grace after aiding an escaped slave and onetime friendly acquaintance (Jay Silverheels, pre-Tonto). As a result, Inquisition forces come after Power and his family; his wedding plans go on the rocks; he forces a dastardly pro-Inquisition stooge (John Sutton, who had the market cornered on this kind of role) to do something truly terrible from his point of view before giving this crud a sword in his soft underbelly (the only kind he has). Oh, and he’s nearly executed. After all this, I’d go to Mexico as well, or any other country that Donald Trump hates, just to get away.
The print here has to be real-deal IB Technicolor, which I strongly suspect isn’t true of Twilight Time’s also recent release of the same year’s Forever Amber, another period spectacle I like a lot and one with another all-time great score (by David Raksin). I think there are a lot of preservation horror stories about Fox having scrapped original negative materials on Amber and other three-strip titles, though I wouldn’t absolutely go to the bank on my memory here. But I do absolutely remember that several decades ago, an employee of Warner Bros.-TV (foreign division, which also distributed certain Fox titles at the time) had a beautiful 35mm print struck of Castile just before the cessation of inarguably superior IB printing as a viable endeavor. So maybe (or not) this was the source. In any event, this is the real-deal visually in a manner that’s up to Newman’s scoring, and even the humble tablecloth that Peters’ tavern girl takes to the creek to bang on some rock for cleaning purposes looks sharper than most of my personal wardrobe.