Wednesday, October 22, 2014


In the 1480s, the Italian sailor and trader Christopher Columbus (Fredric March) is trekking through Europe with his son trying to get backing for a trip to prove that you can go around the (round) world and get to India by heading west. He leaves his son at a monastery for safe keeping and one of the monks gives him a letter of introduction to the Spanish court. King Ferdinand isn't impressed, but Queen Isabella (Florence Eldridge, March's real-life wife) thinks there is some promise in the plan to claim new spice markets and lands for Spain. However court noble Francisco de Bobadilla, concerned for his own interests, tries his best to scotch Columbus's plans, so years pass with no progress. Bobadilla gets his lovely young cousin Beatriz to romance Columbus to get him to stay in Spain, but the Queen sees through the plan and has Beatriz banished. Eventually, the Queen uses her own jewels to bankroll Columbus's trip. There's a brief swashbuckling mutiny but soon land is sighted, natives are met, customs are exchanged, and the land is claimed for Spain. By the end of his life, he has become an obscure figure, embittered by court intrigues, though he predicts that he will eventually be remembered long after the King and Queen have been forgotten. This is a bland, by-the-numbers telling of Columbus' discovery of the New World. A bigger budget—with better costumes and sets—and a livelier lead actor might have made this more interesting. March is OK but uninspiring, never coming off as compelling or larger-than-life as his character really should, making the movie feel like the story of a low-level bureaucrat or a whining dreamer. Francis L. Sullivan as the scheming Bobadilla almost upstages March, and it feels like Eldridge is doing a grade-B imitation of Bette Davis in THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX. This is OK to skip. [Netflix streaming]

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