Wednesday, August 08, 2012


In 1518 Spain, aristocrat Tyrone Power aids an Aztec slave (Jay Silverheels) on the run from his cruel master (John Sutton) who also happens to be an Inquisitor. Out of spite, Sutton imprisons Power's family on trumped-up charges of heresy, and Power's young sister dies while being tortured. Vowing revenge, Power stabs Sutton, apparently killing him, and he and his family escape with some help from a sympathetic barmaid (Jean Peters), her jailer brother, and Lee J. Cobb, an alcoholic adventurer who planned on taking his mother with him to the New World but found that she, too, had been killed by the Inquisition. Power, Peters and Cobb join Cesar Romero (as Hernando Cortez) to head off to Cuba and then Mexico (for conquering and plundering, but since these are the good guys here, that's downplayed). When an arrest warrant for Power is presented by the Inquisition, a good padre (Thomas Gomez) finds out what happened and tears it up. But lo and behold, who shows up in Mexico but Sutton, still alive, and Silverheels, still hiding from his former master. Did I mention that Peters is pregnant by Powers? How will all the tensions resolve themselves?

This swashbuckler was made (in beautiful Technicolor) at the end of the traditional studio system era, and though it's gorgeous to look at, it doesn’t quite all come together. That may be because the film is based on a huge historical fiction bestseller that would have taken a film of Gone with the Wind's length to sort out. The first half is more successful as it focuses more narrowly on Power and his family and friends. Power, Cobb and Sutton are all good at bringing their characters to life. Romero is blustery and fun, and George Zucco has a small role as a friend of Power's family who refuses to help them against Sutton. Peters (pictured above with Power) is duskily attractive but doesn't have much to do. Though the Power vs. Sutton storyline is wrapped up, the end of the film is an ambiguous scene of Gomez praying that Romeo will drive greed out of his heart as he is about to go a-conquering. [TCM] 

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