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Star of the Month: Fredric March
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,Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus

After trips to Portugal and France to try and convince their monarchs to fund his exploratory westward voyage to India, Christopher Columbus (Fredric March), the explorer from Genoa, Italy, and his young son (David Cole) travel to Spain. With an introduction to the royal court from the Queen's former confessor Father Perez (Felix Aylmer), Columbus leaves his son at Perez's monastery. At the intrigue-filled court Columbus works to convince Queen Isabella (Florence Eldridge) to finance his voyage of discovery. But court politics and a powerful nemesis Francisco de Bobadilla (Francis L. Sullivan) temporarily delay Columbus's route to the New World. In a further effort to block Columbus's journey, Bobadilla uses the beautiful Beatriz (Kathleen Ryan) to distract him from his mission. It is finally three years later that the Queen agrees to finance Columbus's triumvirate of ships, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. With the backing of the Queen, Columbus finally sets off on his journey.

After 30 days at sea the threat of mutiny only adds to the litany of Columbus's problems. Columbus promises his enraged crew that if, after three days they have not found land, he will turn back. On the third night, Columbus sees a light. His ship reaches ground in the New World where he trades with the natives and claims the land for Spain. He is welcomed back at the Spanish court as a hero but Bobadilla continues to oppose Columbus. And throughout the rest of the explorer's career, his successes are often outweighed by his endless struggles.

While many tales of America's "discovery" by Columbus emphasize the ideal of the heroic, unstoppable explorer, director David MacDonald's 1949 film emphasizes the rigor of Columbus's efforts, first to raise funds and find sponsorship for his adventures, and then to bolster and maintain the morale of his crew throughout their ocean journey. In its allegiance to historical reality, Christopher Columbus (1949) doesn't avoid depicting the explorer's failures or his declining years.

Despite the film's lavish costumes, epic scale and impressive production values, Christopher Columbus did not deliver the expected financial windfall or critical praise. In fact, it was a financial disaster for the British production companies Gainsborough and Rank Film Distributors. Many critics blamed the film's director and screenwriters for its slow pacing and inability to make the narrative truly compelling. The New Yorker was less diplomatic calling Columbus's voyage "as stimulating as a trip through the Hudson tubes."

Released on Columbus Day, the film was however praised for its production values. The New York Times wrote: "Full of elaborate tableaux of the fifteenth century Spanish court, of costumed gentlemen and ladies, of swarthy sailors and ships, this Technicolored chronicle of Columbus' discovery of the New World gives large pictorial illustration to everything but the man himself."

Producer: Frank F. Bundy
Director: David MacDonald
Screenplay: Muriel Box, Sydney Box, Cyril Roberts, Rafael Sabatini (novel)
Cinematography: Stephen Dade
Film Editing: Vladimir Sagovsky
Art Direction: George Provis
Music: Arthur Bliss
Cast: Fredric March (Christopher Columbus), Florence Eldridge (Queen Isabella), Francis L. Sullivan (Francisco de Bobadilla), Kathleen Ryan (Beatriz), Derek Bond (Diego de Arana), Nora Swinburne (Joanna de Torres).

by Felicia Feaster



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