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Thursday, October 23, 2014

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (1949)

Now that Columbus Day is being celebrated, if not rechristened, as Indigenous People’s Day, it’s instructive to see a bio-pic from the days when the ‘discoverer’ of the New World wasn’t plagued with guilt, buyer’s remorse & controversy. (And when ‘discoverer’ might have been written without apologetic quotation marks.) Alas, that’s about as instructive as this one gets. Not that it doesn’t hit on a few known facts about the man, but that the film (or perhaps the Rafael Sabatini novel it’s based on) covers a lot of empty biographical spaces with boilerplate adventure tropes and crises averted at the last-minute. (No surprise when land is spotted just in time to stop a mutiny.) Director David MacDonald seems stymied by the pageant-like sets at the Spanish court & mediocre seafaring effects, forced into static shots to preserve the visual illusions. But then, the script & actors aren’t really that much livelier. There’s a bit of fun watching Fredric March as Chris play against his actual wife (Florence Eldridge) as Queen Isabella while looking elsewhere for romance (just as he did in real life). But only the always imposing Francis Sullivan, as Nemesis #1, gets a bit of character & devious motivation to work with before the film rather abruptly stops. (And the compromised print used for VCI’s Rank Collection isn’t enough of an improvement on earlier editions to sell this on its TechniColor looks.)

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Columbus hasn’t fared well on the big screen, but a 4-part miniseries from 1985 (not seen here), with Gabriel Bryne fronting a large multi-star cast, has a decent rep.  (LINK: On the other hand, WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE/’45, a largely forgotten WWII home front pic, puts Christopher Columbus at the center of a one-reel operetta travesty by Kurt Weill & Ira Gershwin to hilarious effect.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDlBqCW3Z18)

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