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Monday, January 18, 2016

20th's Christmas Gift To 1947 Crowds

Captain From Castile (1947) Is Noir With A Sword

Merry Christmas, Cleveland
Fox and I-Tunes earn plaudits for delivering this costs-be-damned blockbuster to High-Def watchers at long last. Castile needs all of aural/visual help it can get, locations (spectacular) and Alfred Newman scoring being best elements. Otherwise, certainly story-wise, it is episodic, sometimes clunky, at two hours and twenty minutes the epic takes to unfold. I haven't read Samuel Shellabarger's source novel, but judging by result here, it may be much the same (can anyone confirm or deny?). I call Castile and two-years-later Prince Of Foxes "noir with swords" for hanging costumes on grim subject matter where double-dealing is rife and no one's to be trusted. Lacking is cheer of Zorro or The Black Swan. Did all genres come out of WWII under such cloud? Less swash than vinegar, Castile makes us pay dear for color, music and spectacle it's best known for.

Tyrone Power's title character is three times arrested and bound up in chains. His twelve-year-old sister is tortured to death by the Inquisition. Second half sees Ty head-shot with an arrow --- painful on-screen surgery follows. Captain From Castile fairly hangs with crepe, and we wonder if this was war-born attitude on part of writer-producing Lamar Trotti, director Henry King, or both. Buffs recall Nightmare Alley as Fox and Power's big depart from dream merchandising, but Captain From Castile is the real downer. Still ... I watch and watch again. There was delay seeing Castile a first time, a single 70's run on Charlotte Channel 9 before the SFM Holiday Network ran it w/considerable trims in the early 80's. 16mm Technicolor prints (so few extant) were Rembrandt equivalent for collectors at the time. On High-Def streaming, Castile looks good as I suppose technology can allow, the prior DVD well in shade beside it.

Fox tied holiday hopes on Captain From Castile for 1947, the tab at finish $4.5 million, spending bested only by Forever Amber (6.3!). There was just no way to get that back, and so Castile, despite being a hit ($5.9 million worldwide), lost over a million. Fox would cinch belts after free-spend year that was '47. We can really see economies imposed with product from 1948, the new order lasting to intro of Cinemascope and hypo, if temporary, supplied by that wide process. Costs ran amok most when on location, Captain From Castile gone south of border to face delay and weather-imposed snafus. Mexican backdrop is a lift, King and crew shooting against clouds as well as expected blue sky. The effect rates high on 40's color charts and presages some of departure John Ford would take from Tech orthodoxy for She Wore A Yellow Ribbon two years later. We expect volcanoes on view to be matte-painted, but they're real, and erupting in the bargain. Henry King had habit of flying his private plane over sites under consideration; he'd see and remember best of landscape from hundreds of square miles observed (King knew Mexico from air vantage long before Captain From Castile). "Filmed Where It Happened" brag was honestly applied here, Mexico location standing in for action set there, plus Spain background of a first half.

Captain From Castile is history, if harsh. The Cortez expedition, joined by Ty Power's title character, was bold grab for loot, and the film makes no amend for ruthless ways gold was got. Castile reflects postwar reality of wised-up patronage and everyone out to serve himself. Clear-drawn black-and-white of hero v. villain goes past shades of gray to rendering a whole cast dark, reason Castile disturbed me at young age where I preferred Zorro world of right being might with evil vanquished. So don't come to Castile for heroes in clean skirts. Power as much as anyone serves selfish end and continues so to the fade. Wounds of foresaid arrow plus Act Three stabbing don't materially change his attitude (Ty laughs when Aztec temples are leveled by raiding Cortez). First apostle of me-first is Caesar Romero in latter role, him stealing Castile second half as ultra-motivated New World despoiler. Today's rigid Code would make Cortez a heavy on no uncertain terms, but in 1947? --- you go, Hernando.

In-house star creation was still achievable, if tougher, after the war. 20th needed names to replace a senior class eased out with transition to the 50's. Tyrone Power felt ground shift as vehicles took modest turn after Castile loss. It would be Gregory Peck henceforth for first chair at Zanuck table (a not dissimilar passing of torch went on at Warners as Burt Lancaster took projects once defaulted to Errol Flynn, and Peck was there too to have intended-for-Flynn Captain Horatio Hornblower). The Fox broom swept women as peremptorily, "new faces" brought on sure as a high school's prom queen was dethroned by next year's pick. Jean Peters had not an ounce of experience, film or stage, but Henry King gave three days to testing her and clinched female lead for the newcomer with his endorsement to DFZ. Such was Zanuck's trust in King that he stamped Peters a go, major career a clinch with Power away. Thus could stars be born with a single and highest-profile production such as Captain From Castile.


Blogger shiningcity said...

The sudden change in movie attitude following WWII always fascinated me. The strict adherence to promoting national unity during the war, followed by post-war anti-heroes and noirish despair was quite a sudden and drastic change and always triggered political suspicions in me. Personally, I believe a big reason was the change in "enemy". Leftest screen writers, more than happy to crusade against world fascism, were far less inclined to do the same against world communism, turning instead to the defeatism of despair.

12:09 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Richard Roberts shares some very interesting info regarding Vincent Price's turndown of a part in "Captain From Castile":

Hello John,

Vincent Price once said that the only major film role he turned down when he was under contract to Fox was a villain in CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE and he said he turned it down because the character was so vile that it could only hurt the actor playing it, he also said it did hurt the career of the actor who ended up playing it, but didn't elaborate on what part it was or who the actor was. I always figured it was John Sutton, but could it have been Cesar Romero? Price also felt the whole feel of the script for CASTILE was unpleasant and he didn't want any part of it.

Price's comments soured me on the film before I ever saw it, but neither it nor PRINCE OF FOXES have ever been favorites for exactly that overlong unpleasantness that permeates both films, they just go on and on with that and I was always surprised that the triple threat of NIGHTMARE ALLEY, CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE and PRINCE OF FOXES didn't make audiences a bit leery of going to see Ty Power in fear of a less-than-lovely evening at the Cinema. Apparently that didn't happen, but it always seemed to me that Power worked the hardest at demolishing his pretty-boy, nice-guy image more than any other major star, including Dick Powell.


1:29 PM  
Blogger Markoboy said...

I read the book after seeing the film on TV many times over the years...I always enjoyed the movie but had the feeling that a lot of action stuff was left out...sure enough, the book was a great read with action and a lot more fact, after reading the book I can hardly enjoy the movie now!

2:15 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Here's hoping that "Twilight Time" (or some other botique company, or perhaps even Fox Home Video itself) will release "Captain From Castile" to blu-ray.....and YES, I am an "old-fashioned, hands-on, physical-media guy!"


5:52 PM  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

The 40's began and ended with wonderful Flynn and Power swashbucklers - "The Sea Hawk" and "The Mark of Zorro" in 1940, "Adventures of Don Juan" and "Prince of Foxes" in '49. I loved all four. Elements of- if not melancholy, then certainly, reflection - in the last two were, I think, pretty effectively combined with the rousing adventure aspects. And, of course, production values on each was superb. For me, all four stand as classics. But I think the '47/'48 season brought some real genre highlights as well. "Captain from Castile", Max Ophuls' "The Exile"(Fairbanks Jr) and Joseph H. Lewis' "The Swordsman"(with Larry Parks, of all people). Ophuls' got surprisingly effective work from Maria Montez in "The Exile". Her role's brief - but loads of fun. Larry Parks and Ellen Drew are also good in "The Swordsman", even gamely committing to Scottish accents. But I've always wondered whether the film might have been even better had Columbia cast genre stalwart Louis Hayward and studio contractee Evelyn Keyes. Anyway, as I said, Parks and Drew do just fine. No thoughts of recasting "Captain and Castile", though. Power's terrific. And I'm glad you spotlighted Jean Peters in your article. Has there ever been a more convincingly love-struck or loyal heroine than Peters' Catana? A really impressive debut from a beautiful newcomer. I'm a John Sutton fan, too. And it never occurred to me that the effectiveness of his villainy in "Castile" may well have limited future assignments. He'd certainly been sympathetic in previous films like "Hudson's Bay" and "Jane Eyre". Aside from their -to me - effective story-lines -"Castile","Exile" and "Swordsman" are all very beautiful to look at, the Power film certainly the most eye-poppingly lavish of the trio. Glad you spotlighted it. Puts me right in the mood to watch it again this evening.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

According to the IMDB, Sutton seems to have had a long and successful career after CAPTAIN.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Kurt Burgess said...

It is a ponderous film at times. For me, Romero does steal the show. His entrance is so refreshing, thinking, finally they will climax this thing. But just when you think a wrap is in store, everyone is off the another far off country story line.

7:10 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Sutton had an interesting part in 1941's "A Yank In The R.A.F." as rival to Tyrone Power for affections of Betty Grable, and for a while, it's a real contest, not least because at this point, Sutton was himself being floated as possible successor, or substitute, for Fox lead men should they become uncooperative or unavailable.

8:05 PM  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

I think the fallout from "Captain from Castile" for John Sutton was not that it was a career ender. He did indeed work steadily till his premature death in 1963. It was simply that his villainy was so thoroughly accomplished in that film that - from then on - with occasional exceptions, he tended to be typecast as cads. He played sympathetic characters in his first couple of post '47 films. But he'd been cast in these before "Castile" had played out its run. By '49, when he menaced Maureen O'Hara in "Bagdad", he was pretty much installed as a go to guy for elegant onscreen nastiness. In the early 40's he'd certainly established his credentials as a sympathetic and dashing actor. He's marvelous (opposite Gene Tierney) in "Hudson's Bay". And if I remember correctly, Margaret O'Brien has said that she and fellow child actor Elizabeth Taylor had huge on set crushes on Sutton during the making of "Jane Eyre" where he played the kindly Dr. Rivers. In the end, though, whether typecasting did or did not limit his screen opportunities, I think Sutton was a fine, charismatic performer, excelling especially in period films. And I always look forward to renewing onscreen acquaintance with him.

10:16 AM  

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