DFZ's Notes on Casting and the Church
On the occasion of today’s 115th birthday of long-time studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), author/film historian’s well-curated 1993 compilation Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years at Twentieth Century Fox provides a couple of glimpses into the backstory of one of its particular year’s more prestigious releases, which Twilight Time will launch on hi-def Blu-ray next month: the lavishly produced Technicolor historical epic Captain from Castile (1947) starring Tyrone Power, Jean Peters, Cesar Romero, Lee J. Cobb, John Sutton and Thomas Gomez. An early 1945 memo (to first-draft scribe John Tucker Battle) dealing with the development of the draft script about a 16th-century Spanish conquistador (Power) who, joining Hernando Cortez’s first New World expedition to Mexico to escape a false Inquisition charge, finds his mission of exploration changing to one of conquest, has these observations from the mogul behind such recent Christian-themed pictures as The Song of Bernadette (1943, a sold-out Twilight Time title) and The Keys of the Kingdom (1944, a currently available TT item): “I feel that if you do all the things you want to do in order to satisfy the Church and the Hays Office, we will have taken out of the [Samuel Shellabarger] book everything that makes it a best-seller….I like your idea of establishing the friendly priest [Gomez] at the beginning of the story. By having him speak for the true Church we will be able to show the Inquisitors in a way that would not be possible if we did not have a voice to speak for the Church. You do not have to use the actual name ‘Inquisition.’ Give it some other name. Also, you do not have to mention the Catholic Church. Keep crosses and crucifixes and all such out of it completely. The Inquisitors are just the local Ku-Klux-Klanners, so to speak….I agree that the rape of Mexico should not be under the name of the Cross, but instead under the name of the greedy conquerors. Making the Aztecs a conquering nation themselves, which they were, is good….”
Another missive, written 20 months to another legendary memo-generating mogul, offers an intriguing casting alternative. To David O. Selznick, career mentor of the Oscar®-winning star of The Song of Bernadette, Zanuck pens: “…I cannot contemplate surrendering our next Jennifer Jones commitment to Metro, mainly because I believe that we possess equal or better story material than any other major studio at the present time. I do not intend to be at all modest on this claim….You speak of wanting Jennifer to do another picture with Henry King [Captain from Castile’s director]. No one would be happier about this than I. I work closer with Henry than any other director in this business and no one holds any higher respect….The point I am trying to establish is that once both Jennifer and you are satisfied with a story that I have submitted, you should trust me to personally protect te proposition from there on. Nothing would give me greater pride and satisfaction than to make the best picture of the year with Jennifer. I have every reason to be proud of our organization but I have long ago found out that I can only function effectively when I have full responsibility….I regret that Jennifer [wrapped up for most of 1946 making Selznick’s production of Duel in the Sun] was not available for Captain from Castile as the role in the final version of the script has turned out superb….Henry King is directing and I am personally supervising the picture with Lamar Trotti as my associate. It is a $4,300,000 subject and will probably be one of the great productions of next year. I still have not cast the role of Catana and if there is any change in your plans please telephone me at once. King is now in Mexico and because of our Technicolor camera commitments we start shooting November 25th. But I could probably arrange the schedule to keep away from Catana for one or two weeks….” As it turns out, the Duel role of the vixenish Pearl Chavez took a punishing physical toll on Jones and Castile’s Catana Perez would be portrayed by the screen-debuting 20-year-old Peters. But if the devil is in the details, so too is the diamond-hard thought process and shrewd resourcefulness of the influential Zanuck behind his dream factory’s output. Captain from Castile, featuring Behlmer on an information-packed Audio Commentary with fellow cinematic historians Jon Burlingame and Nick Redman, arrives October 18 on a dazzling TT 1080p disc. Preorders open October 4.