Movie Wave Home | Reviews by Title | Reviews by Composer
CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE
Legendary Newman masterpiece given the gold treatment in outstanding album
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
* * * * *
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1947 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
This 1947 film from Twentieth Century Fox was enormously expensive for its time (costing nearly $5m), produced during a golden financial age for movie studios. Unfortunately by the time it was released, the war was over and cinema takings were suffering, so the film ended up losing money and isn't really very well-remembered today. It stars Tyrone Power as someone who flees the Spanish Inquisition, goes to Mexico and helps conquer the Aztecs (all in a day's work...) As the landmark Fox release of its year, of course it was scored by Alfred Newman.
Unusually, there was actually a soundtrack album released to coincide with the film (a re-recording done by Newman, released as an 18-minute suite over three 78rpm records) - and this was later included as part of the Varese Sarabande CD Club's Alfred Newman compilation - but the original tracks remained unreleased until 2003, when Screen Archives produced this monumental archival release of all the surviving music from the film (over an hour and a half of it), spread over two discs.
Disc One is subtitled "Spain"; it opens with the powerful, colourful, entertaining main title. It's not long before the film's exquisite love theme appears, during "Aiding the Runaway" - undoubtedly one of Newman's most memorable, it is frequently impressively restrained, though inevitably on other occasions the orchestra swells in the way that only Newman ever made it. A touch of colour is provided through the occasional appearance of flamenco guitar solos, with noted guitarist Vicente Gomez sometimes performing his own compositions during the score. "Pedro and Juan" combines Gomez and Newman to brilliant effect. The opening disc's standout, however, is probably "De Vargas Family Escape", a stupendous piece of action scoring which contains everything that makes so many people so fond of golden age film music - the romance, the derring do, the sense of adventure, the slight sense of more innocent times. It's blisteringly good. Not quite on the same level, but still brilliant, is the concluding "News of the Expedition", which in its way is very beautiful and rather sweeping.
Disc Two - "The New World" - begins with the exquisite "The Shores of Cuba" featuring a stunning piece for solo violin, before segueing into "Villa Rica", which presents a full presentation of the theme for the Aztecs, which has a vaguely otherworldly atmosphere created through guitars and, especially, percussion. "Pledge of Love" is the score's fullest rendition of the love theme, with the strings joined this time by lovely Spanish guitars - it really is a splendid piece. The score's most famous aspect is of course the "Conquest" theme, which doesn't actually appear for the first time until five tracks into the second disc, during the eight-minute "Cempoala". More on this theme, later!
Somewhat surprisingly, the middle portion of the second disc is rather subdued and understated, with even a track with a name as promising as "Escape from Traitors" only bursting into life when there are a few seconds left. To be honest though, this respite from all the action is a very good thing, and perhaps the reason why the album is so much smoother to sit and listen all the way through that some very long Golden Age ones can be - it's not all bright, colourful action music, there are pauses from reflection, filled in fact with beautifully-orchestrated music which shows off the subtler side of Newman very well indeed. Things do explode back into action in "Destroying the Armada", a fine piece of martial music with very complex writing for percussion, brass and fluttering winds. On the other hand, Newman is at his most emotional in "De Silva Murdered", an almost hymnal piece of the utmost beauty - the kind of soaring, blissful emotional music the composer did better than anyone.
The aforementioned "Conquest" is actually the very last piece on the album - a magnificent, rousing, cheer-inducing piece of music which is up there with the very finest in film music history. One of the quintessential pieces from the Golden Age, it represents Newman the showman and Newman the dramatist in equal measure - indeed, that he manages to provide some showmanship without the music ever seeming clichéd or forced is a bit of a miracle by itself. This outstanding piece is the perfect way of rounding off what is in its entirety an outstanding score and album, presented in stereo sound (which is amazing given it's nearly 60 years since it was recorded) and with a novella-sized booklet of liner notes from writers Rudy Behlmer and Jon Burlingame and producer Ray Faiola. Alfred Newman was one of the true greats of film music, a one-of-a-kind composer, a brilliant conductor and an irascible personality to boot; Captain from Castile is one of his finest efforts. The tag "essential" would rarely be better-employed than in association with this album, which may be a little pricey, but is surely a key ingredient in any film music fan's collection and hence worth every last penny.