L'assedio dell'Alcazar (The Siege of Alcazar) (1940)

 

 

Director:     Augusto Genina. 

Starring:     Fosco Giachetti (Il capitano Vela),  Mireille Balin (Carmen Herrera),  MarÝa Denis (Conchita Alvarez),  Rafael Calvo (Il colonello JosÚ Moscard), Carlos Muoz (Il figlio del colonello Moscard),  Aldo Fiorelli (Francisco),  Andrea Checchi (Pedro),  Carlo Tamberlani (Il capitano Vincenzo Alba),  Silvio Bagolini (Paolo Montez),  Guido Notari (Il maggiore Villanova),  Guglielmo Sinaz (Il deputato repubblicano di Madrid),  Giovanni Dal Cortivo (Il generale repubblicano),  Carlo Duse Il maggiore Ratto),  Oreste Fares (Il sacerdote).

a piece of fascist propaganda; during the Spanish Civil War the Alcazar of Toledo, 45 minutes from Madrid, is besieged by Republican forces

 

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

Cadets are in formation at the Alcazar.  One of the guys says he can't wait until he is in Madrid.  His buddy Francisco says that Madrid may not be as good as it used to be.  Captain Vela asks the guys what they are talking about and they tell him.  So he tells the guys he will meet them down at the railway station.  He wants to travel with them to Madrid.  A big hot shot comes to visit the men before their vacations start.  Colonel  JosÚ Moscard˛ is told that there is nothing new to report.  The band starts play music.  The Colonel says he will just say a couple of sentences before the mean leave for vacation. 

Carmen Herrera, a pretty woman who sees herself as a real mankiller, arrives at the train station in Toledo to visit her friend Conchita Alvarez.   She tells Conchita that she is only staying three weeks.  In the station Conchita meet up with her sweetheart Francisco, who is with his army buddy.  Everyone is introduced to Carmen.  Captain Vela comes over and he is introduced to the women.  Carmen is very impressed by the way he looks.  the guys say he is the best officer at the Academy. 

The right-wing Spanish politician Calvo Sotelo addresses Parliament.  The country, he says, is in a state of anarchy with riots, looting and destruction everywhere.  The next day the papers carry the headline of "Calvo Sotelo murdered!"   Another headline is that the forces in Africa are in rebellion.  Francisco and his friend report to Captain Vela.  They say they are going with the captain to the Alcazar.  Some say the murder of Calvo Sotelo marks the beginning of a movement to save the country.   

The message over the radio is that the centers of disorder are eliminated.  Calm reigns throughout the country.   But people are protesting in the streets.  Francisco calls Conchita and tells her to stay inside.  Carmen says she wants to go back to Madrid, but Conchita says that is impossible because no trains are leaving. 

Captain Vela brings the ammunition in a truck to Colonel Moscado.  Moscado is pleased.  He gets a telephone from his superior officer, who asks him where is the ammunition?  Moscado says they need the ammunition here.  "Insubordination" shouts the superior officer.  He then says that they will come and get the ammunition.  After the phone call, Moscado tells his staff that they must be prepared for anything and everything.  Madrid is going to send troops and planes against them.  A state of siege is proclaimed for Toledo. 

Francisco comes to pick up the girls:  Conchita an Carmen.  He tells them to come with him to the Alcazar.  There a lot of people on the move to the Alcazar.  the women and children and taken down into the cellars of the Alcazar.  Carmen makes Francisco's friend run around for her to bring her things she wants.  Carmen sees Captain Vela.  She asks him how can she get some privacy.  But he refuses to play her game.  He sees she has a spring mattress and tells her the mattress has to go the the hospital.  They will need it.  Carmen sarcastically says she should have gone back to Madrid.  The captain says"  "Splendid idea!" 

Republican airplanes fly overhead and drop bombs on the Alcazar.  The people run for protection to the cellars.  Panic takes hold down in the cellars.  Crying children look for their mother and mothers look for their children.  Carmen and Conchita find each other and hug.  Trucks of Republican forces flow toward Toledo from Madrid.  Near the city hospital they get out of their trucks and make a run at the hospital which is defended by fascist forces.  The fascists open up on the Republican forces and start mowing them down with machine guns.  Republican headquarters learns that their forces are bogged down and can't advance past the hospital.  Madrid will have to send more artillery. 

Things are not going smoothly in the hospital either.  Colonel Moscado calls over to the hospital and learns that their forces can't resist for more than twenty-four hours.  The enemy pressure is very strong.  Moscado says that if they don't resist, Toledo will fall to the Republicans!  The man on the other side of the phone says:  "We'll resist!" 

Armored cars approach the hospital.  A grenade stops one of the cars. Airplanes fly overhead.  Someone calls over to Moscado that the Republicans want to cut them off by the use of their artillery fire.  But they will continue to resist.  Moscado tells his staff that they can't resist much longer. 

The Chief of General Staff in Madrid calls to tell Moscado that they must surrender.  Moscado refuses to surrender.  He comments:  "You too were trained at this academy." 

The hospital is captured.  What's left of the rebels have fled into the Alcazar.  At the Alcazar they have to start preparing for a siege. 

Conchita is happy because she sees Francisco every day.  Carmen talks about Captain Vela.  She wants to get closer to him.  She is a nurse and asks him to be put to work as such. 

Republican artillery does a great deal of damage to the Alcazar.  But even after five hours of shelling, the Alcazar still stands.  (Actually shelled forts often become stronger fortifications, such as in the shelling of the Fort Sumter, South Carolina, USA, American Civil War.)  The Republicans would like to send their infantry in, but there is as of yet no breach in the walls.   The Republican leadership is told that the Alcazar will surrender tonight.  Alcazar will be theirs without firing a shot. 

Carmen busily works as a nurse.  When she see her captain she thanks him for his intervention.  Now she speaks very calmly and with consideration for others.  The captains says that now she see to be a totally different person.  Carmen says:  "Forget the way that I was." 

Moscado tells his staff that the Republicans have cut off the electricity and water.  Then Moscado gets a call.  The Republicans have captured his young son.  they will kill him if Moscado does not surrender in ten minutes.  Dad speaks with his son on the phone.  The son seems to know his death is inevitable.  Moscado tells his son to die with honor. 

A breach is opened up in the wall of the fortress.  The men inside place sand bags across the breach. 

One of the many men once running errands for Carmen is Pedro.  He gets wounded and Carmen tends to him.  Captain Vela comes looking for Carmen, but sees her with Pedro.  He doesn't like the look of their interaction.  Pedro is talking about that last dance they had together and her friend the doctor was there too.  Disturbed he walks away without saying anything to Carmen. 

There is very little food left and if something isn't done, the people will face starvation.  A civilian comes to the soldiers and says that he knows a place where they can get bread.   He had spotted a bakery in one of the nearby buildings when he was coming to the Alcazar.  Moscado says they will send a patrol to find and check out the building. 

The Republicans put out the news that the Alcazar has already surrendered.  The fascists are worried because if their troops believe the news, they won't come to their relief.  They send a Captain Alba out from the fortress so that he could spread the news about there having been no surrender. 

Carmen wonders to Conchita why the captain has changed toward her.  She says he used to come around to the hospital section and they would talk.  Conchita says he's too busy.  Carmen answers that he even came to the hospital when he was very busy.  She likes to thing he came there because of her.  Conchita says she knows what the problem is:  Carmen is really in love!

A patrol finds the bakery.  They also find a great deal of grain.  They start baking more loaves of bread. 

Captain Alba hails down a truck and gets a ride.  He learns form the men on the back of the truck that the Republicans are putting up searchlights and soon will be blasting their artillery at the Alcazar at night too.  The truck stops at a restaurant and the Captain starts to go in, but someone recognizes him.  He even tells Alba that he is Captain Alba.  He tells the other guys that the man is a spy.  Alba is soon executed by a firing squad. 

The night shelling of the Alcazar begins.  A woman gives birth to a baby boy.  She and her husband are very happy. 

A radioman hears a news message that the nationalist army of the south is advancing victoriously under Colonel Yage and they are marching toward Toledo.  That is good news for Alcazar!  The news goes around very quickly and everybody feels so happy with relief.  Carmen looks for her captain.  She finds Conchita and they hug.  Pedro sees Carmen, but by now she is staring at her captain across the way.  Pedro is upset about this. 

Madrid is getting impatient.  They want Alcazar taken quickly, especially so since reinforcements are on their way to Toledo. 

The nationalists hear men digging tunnels to the cellar.  A man knowledgeable about mines says there are two mines starting from two different points.  But, it will take them four or five days more to finish the mines.  Moscado gives the order to transfer the women and children to the northeast cellars.  He then arranges for a sortie to destroy the mines.  Pedro asks Carmen to marry him, but she says no.  Captain Vela will lead the attacking force on the mine tunnel entrances.  But as they approach the tunnel entrances machine guns open up on them.  Pedro gets hit badly.  Before he dies he tells Vela that Carmen loves him and Vela should marry her.  The mission to destroy the mines proved to be a failure. 

The Republicans contact the nationalists via a loud speaker.  They want to negotiate.  Their many comes over the next take and he is take to speak with Moscado.  the Republican tells him that he is her to negotiate the conditions of surrender.  Moscado is not interested at all in surrender and he sends the fellow away. 

There is a cease fire during the negotiations, so Francisco and his buddy relax and boldly look out of their window exposing themselves to fire.  And sure enough someone shoots Francisco.  He is gravely wounded and Conchita watches over him.  Captain Vela sees Carmen and this time he takes the initiative.  He tells Carmen that he loves her.  She replies:  "How I've waited to hear those words."   But now she is worried about their survival in this mess.  Vela tells her that a miracle will save them. 

Moscado did ask the Republican negotiator for a priest.  The next morning a priest comes to the Alcazar.  He leads a mass for the nationalists.  Then the priest asks to see their worst cases of those most likely to die.  When he gets to Conchita and Francisco he performs a marriage ceremony for them in these extreme circumstances. 

Tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. the Republicans will explode the explosives in the mines under the Alcazar.  Toledo is evacuated. 

The Republicans given the fascists one last chance to surrender.  Many cameramen are there to take pictures.  At 6 a.m. the explosions take place and a big piece of the fortress tumbles down.  The Republican soldiers swarm up the mounds of stone and rubble.  Machine guns open up on them driving many of them back down the hills.  Captain Vela and some men give themselves the assignment of taking down the Republican flag recently placed on a hill opposite them.  The make a great deal of progress by throwing a lot of grenades at the enemy. 

The news headlines are that fighting continues in the ruins and that women and children are buried under Alcazar.  It's been 68 days of siege and now tanks are brought into the fight.  Francisco dies, but Conchita is still filled with a fighting spirit. 

In this dark hour the men see the Republican artillery being turned around.  The fascist reinforcements have arrived.  People can now relax and find their loved ones.  The Captain and Carmen are reunited.  The reinforcing commander speaks with Moscado, who tells him there is nothing new at the Alcazar. 

 

I would have hated this movie if I had known which side was which in this tale of the Spanish Civil War.  So maybe that was a good thing.  I don't like rooting for fascists.  This is a big piece of Italian/Spanish fascist propaganda.  The siege of the Alcazar was a big heroic symbol of the resistance and commitment to country on the part of fascist fighters.  And as presented, the fascists certainly put up a good fight.  But they were still fighting for fascism.  Fascist Italy and Germany both fought against against the Spanish Republicans and for the fascist General Franco.  They used Spain as a test of their weaponry, airplanes and ground tactics.  The love story between Captain Vela and Carmen was interesting, but there was not much development of this theme.  Ah, two fascists fall in love! 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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