Although Samuel Shellabarger's novel had been bought by Fox long before the cameras rolled in 1946, it took a few years before everything was set to begin filming one of the studio's costliest production (which also included, Forever Amber, shot concurrently).
Mostly photographed on location in fairly rustic Mexican locales, Captain from Castile was released when cinema attendance and ticket sales had peaked and began a rapid decline, leaving the studio with a huge production that tried hard to make back its massive costs in a pre-ancillary era (meaning no TV or home video sales to save the day).
According to the three historians on the DVD's excellent commentary track, the film did enjoy strong box office returns and was anything but a creative failure, but Castile is symbolic of the epic productions studios couldn't indulge in as often, until TV forced a return to bug budget epics during the fifties, in the form of pseudo-moral Biblical sagas in CinemaScope and stereophonic sound.
Castile will always be regarded as one of the grandest period epics ever made during the peak power years of the studio system, and every starring and supporting actor shines in this smooth fusion of romance, action, suspense, and stunning pageantry.
Because of Hollywood's Production Code, Shellabarger's 500+ page novel, as distilled into a feature-length script, had to be less critical of the church and Cortez' colonization of South America, so the Inquisition is shown as a kind of rogue purge movement led and executed by unrelated extremists; and the issues of cultural genocide and the affects of the plague among South American natives is non-existent, so when the film sets up a heroic march towards Montezuma, we know the impact was more than just the acquisition of gold, gems, and setting up trading outposts for profitable commerce.
On the commentary track, film historian Rudy Behlmer offers some nice comparisons between the book and the screenplay, and he highlights a few sections (plus the book's final third) that weren't included in the script to keep the story lean and smooth). Co-commentators Jon Burlingame and Nick Redman tend to re-align the discussion back to Alfred Newman's score something that non-film music fans might find a bit tiresome, particularly the apocryphal discussions of the various soundtrack albums releases but their discussions rightly elevate Newman's extraordinary score to a vital component of the film's success.
Burlingame's current biography (still in the works) on the Newman family which includes current composers David Newman, Randy Newman, and Thomas Newman pays off with some insight into the composer's role within the old studio system, and in Alfred Newman's case, as the head of Fox' illustrious' music department.
The discussions are often interconnected, if not tangential, and there's some wonderful historical trivia as well. Behlmer's prior access to internal Fox memos offers lots of production minutia, and there's great background sketches on the impressive cast, including newcomer Jean Peters and her eventual marriage to Howard Hughes. What's obvious here is the great affection shared by the three commentators, and they provide a steady ongoing discussion for a fairly long movie. (The few extant pauses have been edited to fit chapter stops, making it easy to return to the track after a coffee or snack break.)
Other bonus features include a short featurettes with a few leading ladies from some of the films in Fox' Tyrone Power Collection Coleen Gray, Terry Moore, Patricia Neal, and Jayne Meadows (branding the actor as the Tom Cruise of that day) who more or less share awe in performing with one of cinema's most handsome actors. It's an affectionate and humorous nod towards Power, and hopefully Fox will follow-up with some of the titles excerpted in the featurettes and currently unavailable on DVD, including The Luck of the Irish (1948), Diplomatic Courier (1952), and King of the Khyber Rifles (1953).
Like Prince of Foxes and Son of Fury, this is the 3 rd DVD in the Tyrone Power Collection which features an isolated score track. Newman's music has appeared as re-recorded themes, in an original score suite, on a bootleg CD, and on an authorized CD (remixed from dual audio elements in stereo), so this release allows viewers to flip between the final mono mix and original score elements as they appeared in mono in the final mix.
That said, the audio stems for Castile's mixed soundtrack haven't aged as well, and their dynamic range is rather limited (albeit significantly boosted compared to the 1997 laserdisc release), and harsh in the highs; the isolated cues also vary in wear and tear, but there's some interesting material not included on the soundtrack albums, such as studio chatter (with a musician being chastised for making too much noise), false starts, alternates, and Vicente Gomez' gorgeous guitar performances. (Gomez actually composed a number of themes as source cues, which Newman adapted into the final score.)
The film restoration for this DVD is impressive, but the best-looking footage tends to appear during daylight scenes. One of the best-looking sequences, though, is the dance between Power and Peters, shot in the studio with more controlled lighting, although the exterior scenes with a smoldering volcano in the background are also fairly clean (and achieve an interesting docu-drama feel, not dissimilar to Werner Herzog's wet and gloomy Aguirre: Wrath of the Gods).
Fox' prior laserdisc provided a good transfer, but the DVD is sharper in fine image details, and has superior colour balance. The laserdisc had a pinkish hue in some daytime scenes, and the excessive brightness muted the deep blue sky and saturation of reds and deep greens (although in augmenting the overall colour contrasts, darker blacks and browns in the DVD obfuscate some subtle object and facial details).
Fans of Fox' strong stable of character actors will love the collection of familiar faces in many minor and recurring parts, including Cesar Romero's buoyant version of Cortez, Thomas Gomez as a benevolent and protective friar (a nice contrast to his gun-toting heavy in Key Largo), a slick and soulless John Sutton as the Inquisition's lead prosecutor De Silva, Alan Mowbray (the snotty, stodgy butler in Topper) as a giddy soldier of fortune, George Zucco as an unsympathetic Marquis (stealing all the attention in his only scene with Power), and Jay Silverheels as the slave who sets in motion Power's doubts that all is not well and noble in his Spanish home.
A mandatory addition to fans of period action-epics.
This title is available separately and as part of the Tyrone Power Collection, which includes Blood and Sand (1941), Son of Fury (1942), Captain from Castile (1947), Prince of Foxes (1949), and The Black Rose (1950).
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan