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Blood and Sand(1941)
Illiterate peasant Juan Gallardo rises meteorically to fame and fortune in the bullfight arena only to sow the seeds of his own fall.
For more about Blood and Sand and the Blood and Sand Blu-ray release, see Blood and Sand Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on July 15, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Rita Hayworth, Anthony Quinn, J. Carrol Naish, John Carradine
Director: Rouben Mamoulian
» See full cast & crew
Blood and Sand Blu-ray Review
Magnificent Technicolor, Mediocre Storytelling.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, July 15, 2013
Opulent is the right word for Blood and Sand, the 1941 bullfighting melodrama directed by Rouben Mamoulian, following his success the previous year with The Mark of Zorro. Shot in gorgeous Technicolor with palettes and compositions drawn from great Spanish masters like Velásquez, Goya, and El Greco, the film is as lavish as the elaborately sequined and gold-threaded "suits of lights"—or trajes de luces—worn by Madrid's proudest toreros. Blood and Sand gleams from every angle. Its design and detail are immaculate. It stands tall among the best-looking Technicolor productions of the '30s, '40s and '50s. Unfortunately, though, unlike The Red Shoes or Black Narcissus or The Searchers, it just doesn't have the powerful story to match its lush 3-strip visuals. An adaptation of a novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez—and a remake of a simmering 1922 silent version staring Rudolph Valentino—Blood and Sand is a staid Old Hollywood production that takes no real artistic risks in its narrative or characterizations. It's big and beautiful—and it won a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Cinematography—but it's as drama-less as a fight against a tranquilized bull.
The film's first twenty minutes aren't just dull, they're also somewhat obnoxious, mostly because of teen actor Rex Downing (Wuthering Heights), who plays the young version of Juan Gallardo, the son of a famed Seville bullfighter who was killed in the ring. The character is supposed to be mildly annoying—he's an overconfident brat who dreams of matador superstardom—but Downing plays up the kid's self-assuredness to such an extent that it's almost insufferable. (It doesn't help that Downing has an ultra-American golly shucks-style accent, which makes his pronunciation of the occasional Spanish word sound ridiculous.) Juan promises his sweetheart Carmen—the daughter of an aristocratic ranch owner— that he'll come back for her when he's rich and famous, and he sets off on the 600km journey to Madrid on a stolen horse, along with four of his pals, who will eventually form his bullfighting team, or quadrilla.
Thankfully, ten years elapse in a single cut, and Downing is replaced with the significantly less grating Tyrone Power, the swashbuckling star of The Mark of Zorro and 1942's The Black Swan. Juan Gallardo's personality hasn't changed much in this decade-long leap, but Power is much better at balancing out the aspects of the character that make us want to punch him in the huevos—his prideful self-obsession and drive— with vulnerabilities that leave him slightly more sympathetic, like his embarrassment about his illiteracy. When the story proper opens, Gallardo is heading back to Seville for the first time since he left, and though he's not quite rich and famous yet—the corpulent bullfighting critic Curro (Laird Cregarr) describes him as "fifth-rate" in a scathing newspaper article—he's had a good season and is relatively flush with cash. He buys his long- suffering madre (Alla Nazimova) a home, sets up his sister and her fiancé with a generous business loan, and finally weds Carmen (Linda Darnell), whisking her away to Madrid, where she seemingly does nothing but pray for his safety while he entertains the crowds in the arena.
From here, Blood and Sand becomes a simple story of a man who gets too big for his tiny torero britches, letting success go to his head and ultimately bring him low. Part of his downfall is an increasing attachment to the high-society man-eater Doña Sol des Muire—the simultaneously icy and sultry Rita Hayworth—a wealthy socialite who treats him like a plaything. She's enamored with his earthy coarseness, especially compared to the fey intellectuals and opera snobs in her usual circle, but she's fickle and grows bored easily, leading her to seek out a new boy-toy in Gallardo's long- time rival, Manolo de Palma (Anthony Quinn), an up-and-comer whose career goes into ascendence just as Juan's begins to decline. It's a tepid love triangle. At its most heated, Gallardo squeezes a champagne flute until it shatters while watching Manolo and Doña dance; otherwise, there's no intensity here. Even Carmen takes her husband's affair in stride. Instead of blowing up, she inexplicably stands by her man, knowing that she's the one true love in his life.
There's also the matter of the film's title; for a movie called Blood and Sand, there's little blood and not much time at all spent in the ring. There are two key bullfighting sequences—three if you count the young Juan practice sparring against a bull on Carmen's father's ranch—but neither carries any sense of the sort of life-or-death, me-or-him struggle that you'd expect. This is partly due to the locked-down, mostly stationary camera setups—the enormous Technicolor cameras were beasts to move—but the whole film has this same languorous vibe. It's a very flat movie, emotionally, and thematically superficial too—no subtext, no broader implications on manhood, macho-ness, etc. What you see is exactly what you get.
What you see, however, is visually interesting enough to carry a film that might otherwise be dead weight. Set decorator Thomas Little (All About Eve) and cinematographers Ernest Palmer (Broken Arrow) and Ray Rennahan (Gone With the Wind) do work here that's absolutely worthwhile on its own—vibrantly colored, strikingly composed, and highly intentional, giving the film a kind of stylized, poeticized quality that doesn't really exist outside of Golden Era Hollywood's big-budget productions.
Blood and Sand Blu-ray, Video Quality
I always look forward to seeing catalog titles from 20th Century Fox's vault—with few exceptions, the studio has treated their vintage films wonderfully— and that excitement is doubled when it comes to Technicolor movies. There's just nothing like a beautifully restored Technicolor print in high definition, and Fox has given us another one with Blood and Sand. I was a bit worried when I saw that the opening title sequence is windowboxed, but as soon as the first scene opens up into the intended aspect ratio with Juan in his bed at night, staring up the taxidermied bull on the wall, I knew this was going to be a fantastic 1080p transfer. To start, the colors. Oh, the colors. You can instantly tell that there was a careful coordination—between the director and the cinematographers, the set dressers and art designers—to make sure that every hue on screen was perfect. Technicolor was tricky business, and could easily look garish, but here it's creamy and rich and vibrantly saturated. Look no further than Juan's torero suit, with its bright blues and reds and gilded threading. Clarity is stunning as well, with an exceptional degree of fine detail in the actors' faces and elaborate costumes. To top it off, aside from a few blink-and-you'll-miss-em specks on the print, there are no distractions here whatsoever—no obvious compression issues, no digital noise reduction or edge enhancement, nothing. This is definitely one of the best-looking catalog titles I've seen thus far this year on Blu-ray.
Blood and Sand Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Instead of trying to engineer a multi-channel mix out of mono elements, 20th Century Fox has stayed true to source, with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track that's satisfyingly clear and free from distractions. With no blatant hisses, loud pops, or crackles, the film has a great sense of fidelity, and dialogue is always unmuffled and easy to understand. As with most movies from the 1940s, the dynamic range here is quite thin, but Alfred Newman's Latin-tinged orchestral score sounds wonderful, as do the film's few musical numbers. No issues. The disc also includes Spanish and French Dolby Digital 1.0 dubs, along with English SDH and Spanish subtitle tracks.
Blood and Sand Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Blood and Sand Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Story-wise, Blood and Sand isn't a great film, or even a particularly good one, limping through a series of melodramatic-but-weirdly-undramatic cliches and limiting itself to a purely superficial retelling of Vicente Blasco Ibáñez' source novel. Visually, though? Spectacular. Blood and Sand's cinematography is among the best of the oh-so-brief Technicolor era, with painterly colors that stampede right out of the screen, and 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray release more than does it justice. Normally, I'd call this one a wash and recommend a rental, but Richard Crudo's illuminating audio commentary —which focuses exclusively on the camerawork—tips this one into the "buy" column for me.
Blood and Sand Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Blood and Sand Blu-ray - May 10, 2013
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has officially announced that it will release on Blu-ray directo Rouben Mamoulian's classic film Blood and Sand (1941), starring Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, and Rita Hayworth. The release will be available for purchase on July ...
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