Monday, August 15, 2011

First Post~~Paricutín and The Captain from Castile

History repeated itself in 1947 when Herman Cortez marched across the silver screen in conquest of the Aztecs of Mexico. Just as in 1519, when the original Cortez entered Puebla, Morelos in Mexico, both witnessed the eruption of a volcano. In 1519, Cortez watched as Popocatepetl unleashed, but in 1947, when the movie cast and crew of "The Captain from Castile" filmed the final scenes in Uruapan, Michoacán, the eruption of Paricutín stole the show from the actors.

I managed to get a copy of "The Captain from Castile," and began my research to the story behind the film. My first interest lay in the controversy over the screenplay, which was based on Samuel Shellabarger's classic novel. Apparently, only half of the book's story was used, which angered the author so much that he slapped an injunction on the project that forbade the producers from making a profit for the next 50 years! True, the story stops with Cortez halfway through his campaign and the main antagonist, Pedro de Vargas, midway through his own personal genesis. As the filming occurred prior to the age of sequels, no one pounced on the guaranteed money maker continuation of the screenplay. One other critique of the film is that 20 minutes could have been safely edited from the total running time of 140 minutes to make a much tighter film. Still, with the use of brilliant technicolor, the film is a visual delight.

Returning to the geological aspects of the movie, the film's director, Henry King, didn't miss a single opportunity in taking advantage of the panorama of an erupting volcano. As you will see with the parade of forthcoming screencaps, every scene provided a different phase of the volcano's activity, but first, a little background on Paricutín. The volcano's humble beginnings as a fissure in a cornfield owned by a P'urhépecha farmer, Dionisio Pulido, on February 20, 1943. Although the ground emitted smoke and ash, the farmer and his family had no idea that the rupture would very soon refuse to be ignored and they continued to work the ground. Within a week, the volcano grew to a height of 5 stories and within a year, its height reached 1,100' tall. The volcano's name came from a nearby village, and appropriately, the fecund cinder cone buried its namesake and the village of San Juan Parangaricutiro.

Paricutín's eruptive phase lasted until 1952 and as the volcano is considered to be a monogenetic volcano, no further activity is expected. If Paricutín should ever erupt again, it will do so in a different spot. Visiting this volcano is one of the top ten things to do on my Bucket List, but in the meantime, I'll have to be content to watch the very handsome Tyrone Power play out his lines before the backdrop of an even more handsome volcano.

In this scene Cortez is greeted by the Aztec ambassador and his entourage. Notice Paricutín in the distance emitting a slow stream of smoke and ash.

That's a very young Lee J. Cobb with Tyrone power in this scene and Paricutín heartily approves of the combination.

An even better view of the volcano's violent eruption.

Catana Perez (Jean Simmons) gives Cobb a haircut with a barely steaming volcano behind, but a few minutes later when her main squeeze comes along, Paricutín charges the sky with its power.

Before the camp leaves to take on the Cuban opponents, they stand before the Bishop in prayer and the growing eruption of the volcano.

Paricutín has now moved into a more expansive phase as it dominates the sky for many miles around.

The final sequence of the film adds drama to the melange of soldiers and provides a very fitting background for the noble Captain Pedro de Vargas.


  1. WOW! How incredibly cool from a volcanological standpoint as well as from a historical standpoint. In my history class I'm currently taking we have been discussing the characters and events you touch on here. Nice job on your new blog and I hope you post here regularly... if you don't I'll get after you about it and with this being your only posts here thus far I'm getting after you about it now. ;-p

  2. SO very glad you enjoyed it. Ya, later today, I'm preparing a post with some of my own photos. It'll be so much fun reliving my adventures--and I have many.

    (Please do stay after me, as my ADHD runs amok at times and I'm off doing something else). :-)

  3. Just saw the movie! Wow i was wondering if it was Paricutin erupting. So awesome to see actual footage!