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September 23, 2010

Captain from Castile

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Henry King - 1947
20th Century-Fox Region 1 DVD

Those lips. Those hips. Those eyes. Those thighs. I've seen Jean Peters in several films previously, but it wasn't until I saw her debut performance that I understood why Howard Hughes would do what he could to move heaven and earth in wooing the actress from Hollywood stardom to his very private life. My favorite performances would be this film, Anne of the Indies and Pickup on South Street, where Peters plays the good bad girl. Whether playing the part of a pirate, a prostitute, or in this film, a servant girl, the characters are united by the strong will, sense of independence, but also an innate sense of fairness that elevates them above those who are considered superior based titles or official position.

Throughout Captain from Castile, Peters wear a crucifix. It's a sign of Catana's faith in inquisition era Spain, but also a more literal kind of sign that helps draw attention to the low cut blouses Peters wears, just low enough to offer a small peak of cleavage. There's also a scene with Peters dancing solo, the camera at ground level to offer a quick view of Peters' legs while swirling around for an appreciative male audience. Again, Henry King would demonstrate his knack for taking new talent, and in this film a true acting novice, and bring out the qualities that would ensure stardom.

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What I also found interesting is that in regards to faith, Captain from Castile is a continuation of some of the themes found in other Henry King films. Many of the plot elements hinge on the effect of the Inquisition on both Tyrone Power's lead character, Pedro De Vargas, and Lee J. Cobb's Juan Garcia. De Vargas and Garcia both escape from Spain following the death of their parents, victims of Diego De Silva, a high ranking official who uses his authority from both the King and the Church to settle personal grudges. De Silva is contrasted with Father Bartolome who epitomizes a more humanistic form of institutionalized Christianity. That the Inquisition would be used to represent a certain kind of evil might be considered an easy plot point, yet King and screenwriter Lamar Trotti go beyond that by questioning the proselytizing of Indians of "the New World".

In a conversation with an Indian, a former slave of De Silva's, De Vargas is asked to justify the Spanish invasion, enslavement and imposition of religious beliefs. De Vargas states that Spain is bringing in the one true faith to replace idol worship. The response is that the Indians believe in the same god under a different name. The film ends with De Vargas marching along with Herando Cortez to an unknown destiny or fate. What struck me about Captain from Castile, at least the way I understood this film is that underneath the veneer of Hollywood spectacle was a suggestion of subversiveness regarding the sense white European privilege and the notion of manifest destiny.

Shot on location in Mexico, Captain from Castile is a more natural looking film, with none of the flamboyant use of color as in The Black Swan. The film also is indicative of some of the negative aspects of Henry King as noted by Andrew Sarris, with a longer running time and a slower pace. Still, the film is worth seeing for Jean Peters first time out as an actress. There is also what I assume was a visual gag that went unnoticed by the censors. One of the conquistadors has stolen some gems, and De Vargas is assigned to seek out the thief. The thief revealed, takes his hand down into the front of his pants where a bag with the treasure is hidden. Maybe I'm reading too much into that moment, but I think there's a joke there regarding the family jewels.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 23, 2010 05:53 AM