El Valle de las espadas (The Castilian) (1963)

 

 

Director:     Javier Setó

Starring:     Cesar Romero (Jerónimo),  Frankie Avalon (Jerifán),  Broderick Crawford (Don Sancho),  Alida Valli (Reina Teresa),  Espartaco Santoni (Fernán González),  Teresa Velázquez (Sancha),  Fernán Rey (Ramiro II, rey de León),  George Rigaud (San Millán),  Germán Cobos (Abderramán),  Ángel del Pozo (Don García),  Julio Pea (Santiago). 

Country:  Spain.

Costume drama about famed Spanish leader who helped in the long campaign to drive the Moors out of Spain.

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

"This is 10th century Spain. A handful of small nations living in hatred and envy and sporadically at war with each other. Closest of all Europe to the coast of Africa, they became the door mat for the early Moorish invasions. The Moors, most ferocious and most powerful fighters of the world at that time, swept over Spain like an engulfing tide and by rape and slaughter struck fear into all Europe. Only the tiny Christians kingdoms of Leon and Navarre provided resistance against further northern penetration. These kingdoms, united temporarily by the marriage of the sister of King Sancho of Navarre to the King of Leon, maintained an uneasy peace. But it always lay like a powder keg awaiting only the fuse to blow it up."

A woman scream as she is grabbed buy a Moorish fighter. The Moors burn the Christian statues and kill an old man.

"The tiny province of Castile bore the brunt of these many years of bloodshed, intrigue and plunder. The governor of Castile was Diego Gonzalez the Count of Lara. He ruled by paying tribute to the Moors in gold and human lives and by being a subject to Leon. His younger brother Fernán Gonzalez unable to tolerate these conditions left the court. His beliefs well-known to his people were that men should fight and die rather than live without freedom, a feeling new to this age of oppression. And so, hidden away to avert civil war, he lived with his friend the peasant Jerónimo in the mountains."

And since this story is true, I Gerifan, will tell all of it to you. Gerifan is a troubadour. 

Jerónimo complains to Fernán that he has liven far too long in these mountains for a Castilian. It has been three long years. Castile has Leon on one side and Navarre on the other and the Moors to the south. Fernán says that always happens when a border country become weak. His dream is to unite all the Christian Kingdoms and push the Moors out of Spain.

Fernán and Jerónimo go out bow and arrow hunting. A small procession passes and Jerónimo says it’s from Navarre of the family of King Sancho. Fernán goes up to the procession. The soldiers surround the two men. Infanta says: "Hold! The Infanta of Navarre commands you." She apologizes for the behavior of her warriors. Fernán is stunned by her beauty. She asks how far it is to the frontier. It’s two leagues. So she decides to spend the night here.

At night Fernán watches her tent. Gerifan sings a love song. She comes out of the tent to investigate. She passes right by Fernán without seeing him. He walks toward her. Hearing his steps she turns around and sees Fernán. She makes reference to drowning between Fernán's side of the river and hers.

A man and woman run for their lives from men and dogs chasing them. They run into Fernán and the Infanta of Navarre. The man says Fernán knows him. He is Peribanez of Medina. He is in love with Maria and she with him, but the law steals her from his side to deliver her to Corborubias. It's the tributes of the hundred maidens. Each year a hundred Castilian maidens are given to the Moors – a coward’s peace. The Infanta says that price for peace is too expensive. Fernán says to the hunters to hold. That woman is now protected by the church.

The hunters start to unleash the dogs, but are stopped by the arrival of the Infanta’s men. Fernán says the men are tracking a heron and they’ve lost it. Fernán then tells the Castilians to withdraw. It’s a bad time to go hunting. They do so. The Infanta takes the hunted maiden with her. Fernán tells Infanta that they will meet again. If Navarre doesn’t come to him, then he will go to Navarre. The hunted man thanks Fernán and goes with the maiden.

Fernán and Jerónimo follow the procession to a Castilian town known as Lara.  A priest tells the people that their leader has died and for God to bless their new leader Fernán wherever he may be.

The Infanta and her retinue come into the Castilian town. The people of the town are not friendly. Fernán follows her and wonders why the cold reception from the Castilians. Some people tell the Infanta to get out before they throw her out. The priest welcomes Fernán back. Don Rodrigo is dead. A man reports to Fernán that a great many nobles are fighting to take over the leadership of Castile. Another man says: "Lara’s leader must be Castile’s leader." The shout goes up: "Long live the Count of Lara!" The Infanta listens to all the commotion. Fernán rides up to her and says that if he is to become the Count of Lara, there are two things he will do: defeat the Moors and come to Navarre to see her. She says she will see him but not until he has ended the tribute of the one hundred maidens. He agrees.

And the first thing Fernán says he will do is go to Corborubias where the Moors await them. He rides out. The Infanta cries a little at his departure.

Fernán arrives at Corborubias where he sees the one hundred maidens dressed in all white sheets with pointed white caps covering their heads and faces. They have been loaded into wagons. Fernán and some of his men dress in the same white outfits. When a Moor uncovers one of the men, Fernán and his men attack. There is a great deal of sword fighting until the Moors retreat.

In Burgos the leaders of Castile agree that they are beset by enemies on three sides. The Count of Lara arrives. He brings news that he has saved the one hundred maidens from the Moors. He says Castile needs a fighter and he is a free man who can fight. The leaders start shouting  the name Fernán Gonzalez. He is given the sword of Castile. He proposes a message to Leon that their laws will no longer be obeyed in Castile. A message to Navarre: drop hostilities; our only desire is solid friendship. And a message to the Moors: no more tribute.

Some men are worried that Castile will perish: "They will kill us all!" Fernán says there is only one way: Abderraman must be defeated! And nobody will stand in their way. Some of Fernán’s men scale the wall of a castle now held by the Moors. They eliminate the guards.

Maria awaits the arrival of the Moors. She disrobes along with five other women and get into a small pond. The Moors take a look. Behind them the Christians jump on them from a cliff and kill them.

At Moorish headquarters they say that the Castilians are engaging in guerilla warfare, attacking at night. They have killed a thousand Moors already. And the  Moor's biggest fortress has been captured. The Moorish leader vows to fight at night like the Castilians do, but not until the arrival of spring. Then he will go to Castile.

Fernán arranges to see the King of Leon, legal ruler of Castile. But he didn’t know that Sancha of Navarre was still there visiting her aunt. Nor did she believe she would ever see him again. The wife of the King of Leon tells him: "You cannot allow your subjects to take you for a weakling and let the Count of Castile ignore you. He has broken the tribute of the one hundred maidens, declared war on the Moors, and is endangering the Christian kingdoms. The King says he has called Fernán to come see him in order to find out his intentions.

The King of Leon seems to be getting along with Fernán. He tells Fernán that the Moors are the real problem. Fernán proposes a triple alliance of Leon, Castile and Navarre. His only price is the independence of Castile. The King says he cannot afford that. "Then I will have to fight for it," says Fernán.

The Infanta has been following the two men. Now she makes her appearance. The King introduces her to Fernán. She quickly turns around and leaves. Fernán watches her as she goes.

The King asks Fernán how he could get Navarre’s cooperation. By way of a marriage, says Fernán. He takes leave of the King and goes to find the Infanta. He finds her reading in the courtyard. He asks her to tell King Don Sancho that he wants peace. The war will only be against the southern pagan. He adds that when he becomes rich and powerful he will come to Navarre to claim their princess. He kisses her.

The wife of the King of Leon writes her brother to say beware of the ambitious Fernán. And watch out because he also wants the hand of his daughter in marriage. The King of Navarre and his son prepare to attack Fernán. Sancha tells them that Fernán has done nothing against them, but they tell her to be quiet.

King Sancho of Navarre invaded Castile at Coriella and took over the castle of Don Gonzalo to await Fernán’s reaction. Fernán goes to the mountains to think. Three times he offered peace and three times he was rejected.

Messengers arrive from Fernán to see King Sancho. Fernán wants to challenge King Sancho, but Sancho tells the messengers to say that he is on his way to Castile. The messengers says that Fernán will wait for him at Val Pierre. King Sancho says he will meet him there.

They are 40 horsemen against 300. Fernán writes a letter to Sancha just in case he is killed in battle. He tells her that he loves her. He asks her to know that he wanted peace, but that her father forced him to fight. Navarre attacks Castile. They meet in battle in the middle of a river. Sancho fights against Fernán. Fernán is wounded, but Sancho of Navarre is killed.

The body of the King of Navarre is brought back to Navarre. The church bells toll. There is a funeral procession with son and daughter taking part. Sancha sees Fernán amid the mourners, but does not give him away. Her brother says he will avenge his father’s death. The Castilians leave.

Fernán comes to see Sancha. He says he curses his hand that took her father’s life. She is torn between him and her father. She is afraid and worried for Fernán. They come together to lean against each other.

Fernán asks the help of the King of Leon. The King tells him that he will have to fight his wife for she would rather behead her own niece rather than have her marry a Castilian. King García of Navarre is too young so it is his wife’s will that counts. Fernán asks the King what about what he himself wants. The King thinks about it and when he sees his wife he tells her that she will take care of her affairs and he will take care of his.

The Queen tells Fernán that she will consent to the marriage, but she will not bless it. Fernán tells her that not even the combined forces of Leon and Navarre could stop him. "This is love, senora. Do you even know the meaning of it?" he asks.

From now on Castilians will only be ruled by Castilians. They will widen their frontiers within the Moorish held land. The Castilians will stop where the sword of Fernán stops. The Infanta was given to Count Fernán. King García consented. Fernán and his men must leave their weapons behind for the wedding. They ride into the town where the wedding is to take place. The streets look deserted. Jerónimo doesn’t like it.

King García and his armed men await their arrival. The Castilian group arrives but are hemmed in by the King’s men. The Castilians race their horses into a church. They bolt the door behind them. The soldiers start taking the door apart. Fernán wonders if Sancha did this to him? He asks the Virgin Mary. After all, Sancha picked the place and told them to come without arms.

García shouts that if they surrender their lives will be spared. After some thinking, Fernán opens the door. He says take him, but not his men. García says he doesn’t want his men. Fernán tells his men to go back to Castile. Fernán is imprisoned and no one is permitted to see him.

Abderraman brings together the largest army ever seen in Spain. They move north into Castile.

Sancha sneaks in to see the Count of Castile. The jailor try to discourage her, but she demands to see him. The jailor takes her to him, saying he could lose his life for this. She is let into the cell. Fernán lays on a pile of hay. He can’t believe his eyes. She tells him to take her hands. It is not a dream. They kiss.  Sancha leaves the jail with him. The jailor is killed for letting them leave. García and his men try to find the escapees. Without their leader, the Castilians were not united and had to run from town to town from the Moors. García says that he will put his sister in a convent and she will think she’s in hell.

Two Christian cavaliers, Santiago, patron saint of Spain, and Millan, patron saint of Castile, come to fetch Fernán and Sancha. They say that Castile is being destroyed.. Jerónimo and the other Castilian leaders plan for their last stand against the Moors.

Fernán and his companions ride to the armored city of Hazias, the last stronghold before Carazzo Pass, the tiny canyon providing the only gateway through the mountains to Gorgaz and the heart of Castile. The three men attack the Moors who are attacking the last stronghold. They use the Moors' own catapults to chase the Moors away.

The Moors have a vast encampment. Fernán and his three companions reach the Castilians encampment. Jerónimo is the first to greet his old friend.

Abderraman says that the Castilians are shepherds and want to fight in the mountains. But they will set their army in the valley where the Moorish cavalry can close on them.

The two Christian cavaliers support the idea of frightening the Arab horses away with stampeding animals. Arabs are terrified of certain animals. So they send a stampeding herd of pigs through the Arab encampment. With this distraction the Castilians cut the ropes holding the horses and the horses run away.

Fernán and Sancha kiss. She tells him to come back to him.

The Moors, most without their horses, are on the move. The Castilians have received a lot of reinforcements. They seem ready to take on the Moors. Sancha asks the priest if saints can come down to earth? García and his men descend on Sancha. Her brother wants to strike her with his sword, but the saints tells García that his sword has a much better use. The priest can’t believe his eyes and ears. The saints appear in two places at once. The saints tell García to follow them. García says he will only fight the Castilians, not help them. The saints tell him to stop forget his hatred and instead accept Christian love. "Your duty lies in God’s name. Go and do battle." At the same time the saints tell Fernán that Castile will receive reinforcements.

García and his men join with Fernando. A unit of Christian cavaliers also arrives. The Christians march forward in a cross formation. They go to the attack. The Moorish cavalry also goes to the attack. All of a sudden Abderraman realizes it's a trap. He yells for his cavalry to return but it is too late. Reinforcements for the Castilians pour down into the valley. They start hitting the Moorish cavalry with massive amounts of arrows.

The two infantries meet in a massive clash. Jerónimo and Fernán are there on their horses to help the infantry. García fights along with them. The two saints use swords of fire to burn the attacking Moorish infantry. The watching Abderraman realizes the land will never be theirs. He has the retreat sounded. The Moors flee from the battlefield. Jerónimo is shot with an arrow and dies before Fernán and García.

Fernán seeks out Sancha.

The troubadour says great were the wedding celebrations. It was a new history that started from the smallest part of the Spanish soil and a kingdom was born.

 

A pretty good movie as far as costume dramas go.  It was a bit formulaic.  No surprises here.  It was also a Romeo and Juliet story, if not as tragic.  Neither of the actors for the parts of Romeo and Juliet were particularly good.  The film clearly illustrates how the Christian realms in northern Spain warred against each other as much as against the Muslims.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

  

 


Historical Background: 

 

Fernán González – the first independent Count of Castile, from which modern Spain grew.

 

710 -- Berber General Tariq ibn Ziyad takes Tangier. This was followed by several Muslim raids into modern Andalusia. This, in turn, was followed by civil war in Visigothic Hispania.

c. 900 – Fernán González was born, son of the Count of Arlanza and the Duero, and a member of the influential Lara family. He grew up in the Lara castle and inherited the father's title after the capture and death of his brother.

930 – Fernan González is Count inside the administrative organization of east Kingdom of Leon

931 – González got together a strong military force from Burgos, Castile, Asturias, Santillana, Lara, Lantaron and Alava.

939 – he fought along with Ramiro II of Leon, showing great military prowess in the Battle of Simancas (against Muslim caliph Abd-ar-Rahman III) .

He took the Sepulveda region from the Moors.

He married Sancha, the sister of the king of Navarre, García III of Pamplona.

González rose against King Ramiro II of Leon, because the King distributed his troops in the frontier towns.

944-947 – González was defeated and imprisoned for three years.

947 – González reconciled with the King and gave his daughter Urraca in marriage to the King's son, OrdoZo (later King OrdoZo III).

But González still strove for his independence. He cause a great deal of discord in Leon by aiding Sancho against his brother, OrdoZo III, and OrdoZo, son of Alfonso IV, against Sancho the Fat.

951 – the death of King Ramiro II of Leon. González was forced to recognize OrdoZo III as king.

??  – death of OrdoZo III of Leon. Brother Sancho became the new King. González allied himself with OrdoZo IV (son of OrdoZo III).

960 – González defeated by the Navarrese intervention and captured by García III of Pamplona. He, however, made territorial concessions to be free again.

With the Kingdom of Leon weakened, González claimed that he was the legitimate heir of Castile.

?? – death of González. His son, García Fernandez, inherited Castile.

 

 

 

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