Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Blood and Sand (1941)

Most sports motion pictures struggle with the quality and overly focusing on the sport depicted on the screen the feature’s quality as a whole suffers. However, with Blood and Sand the focus of the plot with its star “athlete” is on his lifestyle and relationships that occur outside of his sport. This remake of the 1922 silent picture replaces the soundless black and white screen starring Rudolph Valentino with Technicolor spectacle and Tyrone Power.

On a side note, it is difficult for me to label Blood and Sand a sports movie, because it depends how a person looks at the event known as bullfighting. But for the sake of character’s fame surrounding a physically demanding form of entertainment that necessitates great amounts of skill and concentration, I will call it as such, despite the very controversial nature of bullfighting. The film attempts to glorify bullfighting, but does allow it to be understood that the “sport” is one about the death of animals.

Blood and Sand is a drama of a man that realizes his dream of becoming the greatest bullfighter, but loses it all when his focus turns to the spoils of his victories, rather than the dedication that helped him achieve the goal. From a young boy Juan Gallardo (Tyrone Power) had dreamt of becoming the finest bullfighter of all of Spain. After years of devotion he achieves his dream becoming one of the most prominent men in Spain for his skill. Furthermore he achieves marrying his childhood sweetheart Carmen (Linda Darnell), manifesting that everything he wanted as a young boy he realized as a man.

With his new found fame Juan begins to be accustomed to the rewards of fame, including catching the eye of a sultry socialite, Doña Sol des Muire (Rita Hayworth). With this new relationship he starts to the neglect of both his training and his wife. Carmen learns of Juan’s affair and leaves him, beginning a to a great spiral down in his confidence and career. As Juan’s skills decline Doña leaves him for the next great bullfighter as Juan’s career appears to hit a low. Sorrowful Juan asks of his wife forgiveness. Determined to show he is still the great bullfighter he once was, Juan performs one last time in the bull ring to great admiration of his onlookers before ultimately being gored by the bull and dying at the side of his forgiving wife.

Although the film’s center is on bullfighting, which the film spends roughly the first half of the picture focusing as Juan obtained goal, the real drama surrounds that of Juan’s handling of fame and his relationship with his wife and his mistress. The bullfighting plotline drags on as character of Juan is rather flat as he simply goes on bragging he will one day being a great at his skill. Even Linda Darnell’s character of Carmen, Juan’s loving wife, is entirely too squeaky clean, a note Darnell would make about her performance years later.

The movie takes a turn for the better with the entrance of Rita Hayworth. At only the age of 22, this beautiful actress commands the screen from the moment she steps into frame. Her character is mysterious and alluring from the beginning, making the audiences feel the same attraction to her as Juan does. The film uses a clever device with Hayworth’s character using a ring that was given to her by her previous admirer just as she first decides to pursue Tyrone Power’s character.  Power throws this same ring at Hayworth signifying he is severing their relationship when he becomes fed up with her beginning to have eyes for another man of greater stature than him. This ring indicates what this character is she moves from one man to the next after her previous lovers fade away, moving on to the next attractive flavor of man for her to devour. Hayworth shows such poise and intuition within her acting. Her performance stands out in the picture above anyone else’s even though she is only a supporting role that is on screen for a relatively short amount.

Darnell, Power, and Hayworth
20th Century Fox teams together the talents of director Rouben Mamoulian coming off of The Mark of Zorro with that film’s stars Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell. Mamoulian ‘s skill with costume pictures is accentuated with the Technicolor he was allowed in this feature. He had had prior work with Technicolor as he directed the first three-strip color feature in Becky Sharp. Blood and Sand is filmed on location in Mexico, and Mamoulian uses the vistas of the land’s natural beauty to shine through on film.

However, while filming interior sound stage scenes Mamoulian had learned that it takes such great lighting to record the optimal Technicolor, so much so that it eliminates the depth that filmmakers had in black and white cinematography. This is most evident in the sound stage interior scenes where Mamoulian had his set decorators paint shadows for various objects on the walls to aid in the dimension of the set. A keen eye movie watcher may be able to spot these artful additions to the set, although the filmmakers does a masterful job making these details feel very natural that are nearly unnoticeable to the casual viewer.

The film marked the fourth and final pairing of Power with Darnell as they tended to play very similar roles in pictures together. Power would continue to be a well-known leading man and Darnell was noted by critics more so than in her prior performances. For Darnell it was believed that she would turn this praised performance into future success, but she would, years later, blame her overly clean image from this film among others as leading her to be type-casted as the sweet girl, losing her opportunities for more dramatic roles. At the same time Rita Hayworth would rise in the ranks of actresses in Hollywood.

Blood and Sand would be a small victory for Rita Hayworth’s pride as she was dropped by 20th Century Fox only six years prior, but here Fox would ask for her services against.  Now under contract Hayworth was beginning to see a dramatic rise in her demand as the young lady turned into one of the most beautiful and alluring actresses in Hollywood.

Other great performers featured in this feature film include Anthony Quinn as an old friend of Juan who becomes the next great bullfighter that gains the attention of Doña. John Carradine, a fine supporting actor, plays the troubled friend and aid to Juan who is troubled when Juan loses focus, a key figure in the turnaround for Juan. The once great Russian born silent actress Nazimova (yes, she was known by one name) is featured as Juan’s loving mother who foresees her sons fall from grace from a early age, because it had happened to Juan’s father before him.

Perhaps the most iconic commemoration of Blood and Sand is the cocktail that bares its name. An alcoholic concoction from the 1930s, which was actually named after the Rudolph Valentino silent picture, can also be associated with remake as the Technicolor image of blood and sand, the final vestige on the screen as the movie fades to black, is best represented in this color version. The cocktail is a scotch based beverage that gains its namesake with the help of the blood red orange juice.

Blood and Sand feels like two films in one, first a bullfighting movie, and second tragic romance. What makes the film difficult to swallow is its association with bullfighting. The sport that is so highly looked upon in this story is a rather gruesome spectacle that ultimately ends with the slaying of a bull for the entertainment of a crowd is challenging idea to swallow. You can tell that the filmmakers are none to knowledgeable about the sport other than these simple points as well, and the film attempts to glamorize the matador as much as possible while only hinting at the result of the bulls and their demise in the ring.

Perhaps a way to make the film more enjoyable would be by changing the sport at hand, as the story is ultimately about the rise to fame followed by neglect and a fall from grace with a final triumph. An adaptation that changes the sport would make the film easier to follow, but here with bullfighting we are experiencing a different time and culture entirely in this American feature film.

Generally the film would be enjoyed by audiences and critics for its period, but with time the film would fade away. Other than the mixed drink that bares its name, this feature would not be mentioned much at all. The cinematography is rather good, and the screenwriting is superb surrounding the characters of Juan, Carmen, and Doña and their triangle. Contemporary audiences would not be expected to know the feature, but if one does not focus on the bullfighting this film is rather enjoyable and a diamond of a movie from 1941.

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