Christopher Columbus overcomes intrigue at the Castillan court and convinces Queen Isabella that his plan to reach the East by sailing west is practical.Fredric March as Christopher Columbus
Florence Eldridge as Queen Isabella
Francis L. Sullivan as Francisco de Bobadilla
Kathleen Ryan as Beatriz
Derek Bond as Diego de Arana
Nora Swinburne as Joanna de Torres
Abraham Sofaer as Luis de Santangel
Linden Travers as Beatriz de Peraza
James Robertson Justice as Martin Pinzon
Dennis Vance as Francisco Pinzon
Richard Aherne as Vicente Pinzon
Felix Aylmer as Father Perez
Francis Lister as King Ferdinand
Edward Rigby as Pedro
Niall MacGinnis as Juhan de la Costa
Ralph Truman as Captain
Ronald Adam as Talavera
Guy Le Feuvre as Admiral
Lyn Evans as Lope
David Cole as Columbus' Son
Hugh Pryse as Almoner
Stuart Lindsell as Prior
The film was part of a deliberate attempt by the Rank Organisation to break into the American market, following the path blazed with films like Henry V (1944) and Caesar and Cleopatra (1945). John Woolf, head of international distribution for Rank, said in 1946 that:
Before we smacked Henry V and Caesar and Cleopatra into the American Markets, we were getting a poor showing in the United States. Although the most optimistic figures have been put out in London about the achievements of Henry and Caesar, in fact they have had to fight hard to make their way. The important thing to remember is this— that these big films enabled us to break through the highly controlled theatre circuits in America. We are using them as a spearhead to get a showing of British films.
In September 1946 Sydney Box announced he would make the film from Sabatini's novel. They were looking for a young, virile actor to play the lead. Stewart Granger was originally announced as the star.
For a time it seemed there would be a rival movie on the same subject produced by Edward Small from a biography by David Lawrence.
When Box became head of Gainsborough Pictures he immediately put the project in development. Sabatini wrote an early script. Arturo de Cordova was at one stage announced as star. James Mason was also mentioned. Then in September 1947 Box announced he had signed Frederic March and Florence Eldridge to play the leads.
"It's a great part," said March.
March arrived in England in April 1948 for what was meant to be a five month shoot. Studio filming took place at Pinewood and there was location filming in Barbados. March had recently had an operation and suffered a relapse while in London.
Two ships, replicas of the Nina and Santa Maria were built especially for the film.
Shooting was often difficult. The replica of the Santa Maria broke its moorings during a squall in the West Indies and drifted for two nights and a day with people on board before it was rescued. Then a fire broke out and the ship was burnt. It had to be rebuilt at a cost of £100,000 because scenes set on it had yet to be shot. March collapsed one day due to heatstroke. A new subplot was added towards the end of shooting involving the romance between Columbus (Kathleen Ryan) and the sister of his lieutenant (Derek Bond).
March was reportedly very disappointed with the final film.
The Francoist Spanish government considered the portrait of Columbus to be unflattering. In response the leading Spanish studio CIFESA produced Dawn of America (1951), which portrayed Columbus as a more daring figure.
J. Arthur Rank told Hedda Hopper he thought the film would be his most successful of 1949.
The film failed to recoup its enormous cost at the box office.