Christopher Columbus (1949) Poster

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5/10
Isabella, Really Liked This Fella
bkoganbing16 May 2007
I'm not sure what compelled Fredric March and Florence Eldridge to do this British film for J. Arthur Rank based on the life of Christopher Columbus. Or at least an interpretation of that life as come down in popular culture. It didn't add much to either of their reputations, but I suppose did no harm.

March is in the title role of the intrepid Genoese sea captain who is credited with the discovery of America. By America of course we mean the western hemisphere and not the USA. Columbus never did make it in any of his four voyages to the lower 48.

One thing that is a weakness of this film for American audiences is that this it is not made clear that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were joint rulers, she was not just a consort Queen. Earlier in Spanish history, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile married and that marriage unified Spain as a nation. But both were monarchs in their own right. It's clear to me, but I fear not to others as to why Florence Eldridge as Queen Isabella can in fact act independently as she does.

Francis L. Sullivan is Count Bobadilla who became Columbus's enemy at court and he plays it in the grand and florid Sullivan manner. He's always a joy to watch in any film, no matter how good or bad it is.

The greatness of Columbus lies in two things, the fact that he had an idea about sailing west in an effort to find a shorter route for trade with the Orient. He was in fact, wrong as you can be on that score. He based his calculations on the fact that he thought the earth much smaller than it really was. But he persisted and eventually sold the notion to the Castilian Queen.

Secondly though, whatever else he was, Columbus was one incredibly good sea captain. In a voyage into unknown territory he kept his crew together for about two months until land was sighted in what is now the Bahamas.

The film itself has quite a few dry patches. It's dull retelling of an exciting adventure. For their time, the special effects are good, but are pretty dated now. It's obvious the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria are all models in a tank.

A couple of films were done in time for the 500 anniversary of the first voyage that were more accurate in the detail. You probably are better off seeing either of them.
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8/10
Not a bad biopic
calvertfan20 April 2002
Being an Aussie, I don't know the story of Christopher Columbus in much detail, so I was able to enjoy this movie as a Fredric March fan first and foremost. Just one question - were the natives *really* that accommodating? Definitely an engaging tale, and not all set on the high seas. The first half hour or so, in the Queen's court, had some of the best scenes, though the ending fell flat and just kinda "happened". All up - a jolly good show!
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Everything old is new
americaspac24 March 2007
I'm so sick of the PC and multicultural framework of all art today that it's good to see a rendition of the Columbus history told unashamedly from the viewpoint of Western hegemonists (my perspective)regardless of its obvious weaknesses as a film. March is a typical American actor who projects his own personna no matter what the part (Anthony Adverse or Phillip of Macedonia). It limited him but I happen to like the personna as did many other moviegoers. If I'm not mistaken his age is about right for Columbus at this time. It could have been more exciting but what is exciting is the whole enterprise that results in the discovery of the New World because of the persistence and vision of one man. Many earthshaking developments take years or months of plodding to come to fruition whether the Columbus landfall, the landing on the moon or the curing of polio.

It's worth watching just to hear the great score.
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6/10
Faithful but "flat", uninspired telling of the Columbus adventure...
Neil Doyle24 March 2007
I'd always pictured CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS as an adventurous young man, but here he's played by the very stoic FREDRIC MARCH in the prime of middle-age. Why is it March always seemed too old for all of his major roles, beginning with ANTHONY ADVERSE.

This is a very respectable version of the Columbus story, but a bit plodding and dull when it should come to life with more vigor. There's an almost textbook quality about the script that takes forty-five minutes to set Columbus on his voyage after much confrontational verbal exercises at the Spanish court with Queen Isabella (FLORENCE ELDRIDGE) and FRANCIS L. SULLIVAN as a nobleman who opposes the voyage. Strangely enough, this portion of the film is the most interesting.

Production values are splendid but there's a muted quality to the color of the TCM print I viewed. FREDRIC MARCH is competent in the title role, but never quite assumes the mantle of the courageous and determined leader of men with his daring new ideas. It's easy to see why his crewmen become skeptical and suspicious midway during the voyage. Their growing doubts are understandable after so many days at sea.

Summing up: Interesting enough but would have been a more successful film with a more vital performer in the title role rather than the uninspired portrayal of its tired looking leading man whose work here is rather pallid.

For all the attempts to bring it to life, it remains a "flat" version rather than a fully rounded one.
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3/10
Like all films on Columbus, it's all a lot of hooey.
MartinHafer9 December 2010
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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4/10
Chris Columbus-The World isn't Flat But this Picture Sure Is **
edwagreen27 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
If you really want to make history boring, I advise you to see this epic 1949 flop.

I imagine this misery was originally in black and white. Attempting to colorize it completely destroyed the texture.

Fred March is the title role is totally colorless here as well as the writing.

When the ships are at sea, the writing is so monotonous and it's only mid-September 1492. You can actually start rooting for October 12th to come. When it finally does, Columbus encounters new world people who are as dull as the picture is.

When he talks about a hanging, he brings in the name Haman. Were the writers suspicious that Columbus was really Jewish? At least, they could have played up that angle to make the film more exciting.

His enemies in Spain never relented and Columbus was charged with thievery and ineptness and was brought back in shackles in a scene similar to Charlton Heston's Moses coming in to the kingdom in shackles when it was discovered that he was the deliverer.

Angry, that Ferdinand and Isabella have decided to keep him in Spain, he angrily retorts: "My name will be long remembered long after they're both dead!" He walks off and the film mercifully ends.

1492 also marked the inquisition of the Jews from Spain. We should have also inquired why this abominable film was ever made.
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5/10
File under: Unintentional Comedy
jaydemm10 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
SPOILER ALERT!!!! COLUMBUS "DISCOVERS" NEW WORLD AT THE END!!! Just saw this on TCM and was laughing and laughing and laughing. I swear,it was almost as if the Coen brothers had traveled back in time and made this movie. There are so many awful treasures in this well-made horrible movie I don't know where to begin. First: Frederic March's 1940's typical American Joe accent is priceless. Just picture Joe Biden playing Columbus. Did they even have casting directors back then? The filmmakers also take copious liberties with the story, my favorite one being that they paint Columbus as this maverick who sasses the Spanish court judges commissioned to approve or deny his voyage. He was this close to lighting a cigarette, popping his collar, hopping on a motorcycle and riding into the sunset. I could go on and on, but you get the drift. Batten down your brain cells and set sail to Over-Acting Island.
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7/10
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (David MacDonald, 1949) ***
MARIO GAUCI18 March 2014
It is very odd that this prestigious 1949 Technicolor production should emanate from Britain – dealing as it does with the Italian explorer who discovered America, a nation which had to fight the very British monarchy to attain its independence! Perhaps it was bankrolled as a token of appreciation towards the U.S. for having joined the Allied Forces in WWII; if so, I cannot say that it was particularly appreciated at the time as it was a resounding box-office flop. In fact the film is often dismissed as a tedious costumer but, while no classic for sure, I found it to be a well-crafted and engrossing picture buoyed by a good cast and fine production values.

Since Columbus was 41 when he set sail for The New World, the casting of 52-year old Fredric March to portray him here may seem to have been a strange choice; indeed he is fitted with a most unbecoming white-haired wig for the film's entire duration but one cannot deny the fact that he gives the role his utmost in stature and dignity – after all, Columbus was firstly an inspired cartographer then a swaggering adventurer. Indeed, March's real-life wife Florence Eldridge is also present here as Queen Isabella of Spain who, after the initial but long-winded skepticism, lends a sympathetic ear to Columbus' pleas for funding his exploratory marine enterprise (though what ultimately propels this is pure movie fabrication!). The rest of the cast list is peppered with familiar faces from post-WWII British cinema: Francis L. Sullivan and Linden Travers (as Columbus' major opponent in the Spanish court and his attractive scandalous cousin who tries to ensnare the former); Derek Bond and Niall McGinnis (as Columbus' companion and navigator – his major allies during his tumultuous sea voyage); Felix Aylmer and Abraham Sofaer (as the Queen's former confessor and Chancellor – Columbus' first champions who were instrumental in obtaining him royal favour); James Robertson Justice and Edward Rigby (as the ambitious and ultimately treacherous Captain Pinzon and a perennially grumpy mutineering sailor).

Needless to say, the producers' aim here was less to instruct than to entertain and, as such it may seem surprising today to find that half of the film's relatively trim 104-minute length is spent in court intrigues that dissipate Columbus' energy but not his spirit. The initial sea voyage that almost ended in mutiny and failure takes up the next quarter of the film while the arrival on land, the meeting with and subsequent colonization of the natives, Columbus' first triumphant return to Spain and his disgraceful second one in chains (at the behest of incoming governor Sullivan) and eventual disillusionment and abandonment by the Spanish crown are crammed into the last quarter of an hour! Although the TCM-sourced print (which cut off rather too abruptly during the end credits!) I watched was hardly pristine, with the colour looking especially insipid, I still managed to enjoy Stephen Dade's cinematography and Arthur Bliss' rousing score.

For the record, this is the fifth movie about the Italian explorer I have gotten under my belt, following the star-studded eponymous 1985 partly-shot-in-Malta Italian TV mini-series and the 3 disparate but simultaneous cinematic renditions made in time for the 500th anniversary of the historical event: George Pan Cosmatos' CHRISTOPER COLUMBUS: THE DISCOVERY (also partly shot on our shores), Ridley Scott's 1492: THE CONQUEST OF PARADISE and the spoof CARRY ON COLUMBUS (a one-off revival of the popular comedy franchise). Apparently, Anthony Dexter also played him in Irwin Allen's infamous historical charade THE STORY OF MANKIND (1957) and I also have a four-part Italian TV mini-series from 1968 directed by Vittorio Cottafavi and starring Spanish actor Francisco Rabal in my unwatched pile.
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7/10
Being an explorer has its challenges.
PWNYCNY9 April 2015
Being an explorer can be a tough business, especially if you lack money. This is the theme of this movie. Christopher Columbus is portrayed as a petulant adventurer who has an idea for sale, and is looking for a buyer. After a buyer is found and is expedition launched, his problems only escalate. The problem with the movie is its superficial portrayal of a complex character. The movie seems to gloss over some of the most momentous moments in history. They're mentioned, but that's about all. The geopolitical consequences of Columbus's achievement are barely mentioned. The Spanish court is also treated in a rather offhanded manner. The king and his ministers are portrayed as petulant fools; the only person with depth is Queen Isabella, who takes a liking to Columbus. The movie tells a story but that's about all. It lacks depth and fails to dramatize the truly momentous aspect of Columbus's voyage. Christopher Columbus was a great explorer whose achievement rates a movie of commiserate quality. Even the scenes showing Columbus being arrested fail to fully convey the sense of tragedy and defeat that marked the final years of Columbus's career.
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