Captain from Castile (1947)

 

 

Director:  Henry King

Starring:  Tyrone Power (Pedro De Vargas), Jean Peters (Catana Perez), Cesar Romero (Hernando Cortez), Lee J. Cobb (Juan Garcia), John Sutton (Diego De Silva), Antonio Moreno (Don Francisco De Vargas), Thomas Gomez (Father Bartolome Romero), Alan Mowbray (Prof. Botello, astrologer & pysician), Barbara Lawrence (Luisa De Carvajal), George Zucco (Marquis De Carvajal), Roy Roberts (Capt. Alvarado), Marc Lawrence (Corio).

serves with Cortez in conquest of Mexico

 

 

  Good movie.  The film open in the spring of 1510 in Jaen, Spain.  Pedro De Vargas (Tyrone Power) comes from a distinguished family.  He is also a decent man, who helps an Indian slave escape from his abusive master, Diego De Silva (John Sutton), and saves a young servant woman, Catana Perez (Jean Peters), from two sadistic louts.  He meets Juan Garcia (Lee J. Cobb) who regales him with tales of the New World and gold just waiting for the taking. 

Diego De Silva suspects Pedro of helping his slave escape.  He seeks vengeance on Pedro and his family by accusing them of heresy.  He has Pedro and his family denounced before the Inquisition and arrested.  During the torture of Pedro's twelve year old sister, she dies.  Obviously, Pedro wants revenge.  Catana and her brother, along with Juan Garcia, are help Pedro and his family escape from prison.  Before leaving, Pedro stabs Diego De Silva with a sword. 

Pedro and Catana both decide to sail to the new world.  They arrive in Havana, Cuba and then both again sign up with an expedition led by Hernando Cortez (Cesar Romero) heading to the land of the Aztecs (the future Mexico).  In Cuba Pedro realizes that he is in love with Catana and vice versa. 

With a force of some 500 men and 11 ships the expedition sets sail.  They land at Villa Rica. 

Hence forward, a lot of trials and travails await Pedro and Catana.  Will their love survive the warfare and the reappearance of Diego Da Silva who wants to bring the Inquisition to the New World. 

Cesar Romero is terrific as Cortez.  I was surprised since I had almost exclusively had seen Romero in very light roles in comedies.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

Cortez

1483  -- born;  grows up in the poor Spanish province of Extramadura, the son of a distinguished gentleman who had fallen on hard times. He learns of Columbus's discovery of The New World and dreams of gold and glory.

1504-1519  -- serves in Hispaniola and Haiti where he hears tales of a fabulous kingdom on the western mainland.  He mortgages his estate in Cuba, buys on credit, and begs funds from his friends to outfit an expedition.

1519, Feb  -- with 508 men, 16 horses and a handful of cannon, he just manages to slip out of Cuba before his rival, Diego Velasquez, the governor of Cuba , can arrest and return him to Spain.

Making sure that no one turns back, upon reaching the shores of Mexico, he has all his boats burned.  

The natives think Cortez is the bearded, fair-skinned God called Quetzalcóatl, who has returned after many centuries to restore himself to power. They think  that the armored soldiers were lesser Gods and the horses also were Gods.

The natives tell him there is a lot more gold than what they have in Tenótchtitlan, the capitol of the Aztecs. Along with him is Dona Malinche, a noble native woman sold into an arranged marriage with the chief of a neighboring tribe who wanted revenge and who could speak both Nahuatl and Spanish (which she had learned from a Spaniard who had shipwrecked on the Gulf Coast of Mexico in 1511).   She became Cortes's lover and trusted advisor.

1519, Nov  --  marches from the now Veracruz to arrive on the outskirts of Tenótchtitlan. From a mountain pass he sees a city larger than any European city of the age -- one that is built on a series of man-made islands in the middle of a lake (where they grew their food in the water using elaborate hydroponic gardens).

Moctezuma, the Aztec King, receives him as a God and puts the Spaniards in his palaces. Cortes was shocked at the sacrifices involved in the Aztecs's religious practices.

The Spanish make a big mistake when Lieutenant Pedro Alvorado massacres a crowd of natives in the main plaza on one of their most important religious holidays.  The Aztec king tries to calm the natives down, but they jeered and threw rocks at him.

The Spanish sneak out of town, but before leaving, strangle Moctezuma to death.

1520, June 20  --  in the night that came to be known as La Noche Triste (The Night of Sorrows), the Aztecs nearly massacre the Spanish.

Within a year 40% of the population of central Mexico dies of smallpox. Montezuma’s brother only lasted eighty days on the throne and then died.

Cortes builds 13 brigantines in Tlaxcala. He has the Indian allies build a canal to the lake. More Spanish troops, animals and supplies arrive.

1521 (June1) – Cortes launches his attack.

With their allies, the Spanish win the fight with the Aztecs a short ways outside of Tenótchtitlan. Their victory is helped by the Aztec belief that capturing, rather than killing, another warrior was an act of the greatest honor. The Aztecs retreat to their island city and the Spanish lay siege to the capital city for three months.

1521 (August 13)  --  after 73 days of battle the Aztec Empire surrenders.

 

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