Friday, August 19, 2016

Blood and Sand (1941)

Well, it was bound to happen: I finally came to a selection in the Fox 75th Anniversary Collection that I’m not exactly jumping for joy over. I don’t research or read about any of these titles before I see them, so I thought Blood and Sand was a war flick, or at least some sort of “fighting in the desert” picture. Turns out, it’s about a legendary bullfighter, Juan Gallardo, and follows his life story from a young chico to his ups and downs as a successful matador. Along the way, he learns that true fulfillment comes from friendship and love, not necessary the dangerous sport he’s so expert at, but he decides to give it up just one Sunday afternoon too late. “You must e brave,” a priest tells his young, widowed wife, Carmen. “I don’t need to be. I have his bravery now!”

I think part of the problem for me is that I’m not a big bullfighting fan – in fact, I hate the barbaric sport. But Blood and Sand did educate me about it. I learned, for example, that there’s not much running around; it’s really all about dodging and cape-waving. As a matter of fact, the bullfighting sequences are rather well-done – there’s even an early POV shot of the bull heading for the cape. And the moment when the poor creature is slain, we cut away to a spectator stabbing his chunk of meat with a knife, and the metaphoric blood flowing down is just as disturbing as actually witnessing the slaughter (which the Hayes could would have prohibited).

But the film is yet another reminder of why Hollywood during its Golden Age was the greatest purveyor of entertainment of earth. The two things that distinguished its product – storytelling and star power – are finely exemplified here. We have a nearly perfect bildungsroman structure of a man finding his way, following his family’s footsteps, finding fame, fortune and the accompanying tragic flaw of unchecked hubris. Of course, you know the ending the minute he announces he’ll do “one more fight” to his wife, but never mind – turn off your 21st-century cynicism and you’ll savor the simpler, less-ironic sensibilities, overripe acting and all.

Publicity still

But of course, it was acting nonetheless, just more theatrical (as was all film acting in those pre-Brando days). And no one did it better than those stars (despite the modern-day troubling fact that none are played by actual Hispanics). I had not been familiar with lead Tyrone Power – I though he was a towering, dashing Errol Flynn-type – but he actually looks like an ordinary guy, which I found refreshingly real. Of course, very little is ordinary about Rita Hayworth, the homewrecking femme fatale responsible for Juan’s Dark Period at the film’s midsection, but her effortless presence – most visible in scenes where she’s just standing and doing nothing – typifies those ineffable qualities the Studio Stars all possessed, and why they we paid millions for it.

And speaking of money, for mine, the most appealing face in the film belongs to Linda  Darnell as wife Carmen – an apple-faced, cherubic visage that manages both chaste innocence and smoldering sex-appeal. She reminded e of a Skinemax star named Gabriella Hall – both with raven-black tresses that convey an unassuming classical beauty. It’s a comparison you won’t find in film history class, but I just gotta be honest!

And don’t forget to look fast for a young Anthony Quinn toward the end, the “new” Juan, bound to make the same, fatal mistakes as his predecessor.

Solid Hollywood product, just didn’t set my world on fire.

Rating: ***

(Upon looking on the imdb, I see that Darnell and Power starred together a few times before, and that this is the third remake of the story.)

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