Using a letter of introduction from Queen Isabella's former confessor, Christopher Columbus gains access to the Spanish court where he tries to convince authorities of the practicality of his proposed voyage to reach to Far East by sailing west. Court intrigue and the efforts of Francisco de Bobadilla, whose financial interests would be hurt by Columbus' success, are roadblocks to the voyage, but the navigator perseveres and ultimately prevails. Written by
Opening narration perpetuates the myth that people of Columbus' time thought the Earth was flat when in fact they knew it was spherical. Later, when Columbus discusses his plan with Father Perez and another friar, the friars clearly know that the world is round. See more »
Like all films on Columbus, it's all a lot of hooey.
As a history teacher, I generally avoid film depictions of Christopher Columbus because they bear little similarity to real life. The biggest problem is that although he became famous, little is actually known about the man--especially before his famed voyages to the New World. So, much of the 'fact' in the film is fiction. In addition, the films also perpetuate myth--stories often retold so many times people just assume it to be true. THe sad fact is that we have no idea what he looked like and aren't even positive about where he was born. When the film begins, it says that during Columbus' time people assumed the world was flat--something practically no sane person at the time thought! They could see that the Earth had a curved horizon and the reason few traveled across the Atlantic had to do with a previous lack of navigational tools as well as it being completely unknown. People just did NOT think they'd fall off the world--a myth perpetuated by a mostly fictional history book by Washington Irving that purported to be a biography of the man.
Today we are in an age of deconstruction of Columbus. Whereas in 1949, he was practically depicted as super-human, today he's seen as a genocidal maniac. Neither depiction is quite correct. There is a lot to admire as well as dislike about the man--and it's a darn shame that no film I know of even tries to give a balanced account of what we know about this skilled sailor.
So why, then, did I watch this film? Well, I like Frederic March and think he's a bit underrated as an actor. Even a second-rate film (which this clearly is) with March is worth watching. There are some nice qualities about the film--the costumes and sets are reasonably accurate. As for the acting, it is a bit stilted and dull. Perhaps they talked this way back then, I am no expert on this, but the people seemed a bit too constricted and formal throughout. There were a few exceptions--the jolly fat guy was pretty cool. But even with a few decent performances, nothing can change the fact that the film is wildly inaccurate and rather dull. Plus, it perpetuates the idea that Columbus discovered America--omitting the fact that natives had discovered it first and the Vikings had been there several centuries earlier. Of course, there are several other possible expeditions that MIGHT have made it there before Columbus as well, but there just isn't enough space here to discuss the recent Chinese claim or other ideas that most likely will never be proved.
By the way, the print shown on Turner Classic Movies is strongly sepia-toned. I am not sure if this was intentional--it might just need restoration!
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