Although regarded as one of the best adaptations of Vicente Blasco Ibáñez' famous novel, this elegant Technicolor production, headlined by Tyrone Power and Rita Hayworth, has aged extremely well, largely because director Rouben Mamoulian and screenwriter Jo Swerling layered scenes with subtext and nuances that ensure none of the characters are forgettable cutouts who in some manor don't affect each other's fate.
Once Tyrone Power appears as the adult matador Juan Gallardo (about 20 mins. into the film), the mood shifts to intersecting, gloomy character arcs, though no one ultimately ends up as likeable; coupled with splendid photography by veteran cameramen Ernest Palmer (Broken Arrow) & Ray Rennahan, this visually brilliant version of Blood and Sand is arguably a collage of creative excess that nevertheless delivers some magnificent dramatic punches.
None of the cast members is completely exceptional, and that's largely because most of the characters in Blood and Sand aren't particularly bright, decent, or learn from their mistakes.
It's supporting actors like John Carradine, J. Carroll Naish, and silent film icon Nazimova that really shine, mostly because their characters have their own unique coping mechanisms for lives they dislike or have been numbed into accepting: in spite of his increasingly virulent disgust for bullfighting, Carradine's matador, a longtime friend and supporter of Power, never retires, and continues with the bloody ballet; Naish and Nazimova have each risen to the top and fallen on hard times, and yet they're survivors who possess a firm sense of reality, and self-preservation skills.
In his early scenes, Anthony Quinn, as studly Manola, manages to scenes by doing clever nuanced behaviour, like tapping his cheek to puff cigarette smoke while Power yaps away in a train scene. Just as memorable, albeit one-sided in his behaviour, is Laird Cregar, whose own fickle prose either destroys careers, or elevates matadors-of-the-month to ‘men of the world,' whose careers are destined to fall to the earth like brilliant comets.
The contrast between Juan Gallardo's (Power) women is also remarkably harsh: childhood sweetheart Carmen (long-haired, doe-eyed Linda Darnell) remains sweet, dumb, and a devoted wife; when bored, scheming Doña (blazing Rita Hayworth) drops an old flame like a rotten egg, but when she's laying her trap, she serenades her latest victim with patience, precision, and total confidence.
A prime example of the incendiary attraction between the equally cruel Doña and Juan occurs in a courtyard scene. Here, director Mamoulian furthers his ‘logic of colour' theory – pioneered in the classic Becky Sharp (1935) – by having Doña serenade a sleepy Juan with a song. Nearby, a steady fountain sprays huge plumes of water, while a chess set resting between the soon-to-be lovers symbolizes the game in play.
Wearing a white dress, Doña sings and thumps her sexual impulses on guitar, and Mamoulian enhances her potency with extreme close-ups of her thumping hand, and the inclusion of red chess pieces in specific shots - red alluding to her controlling nature, and the white chess pieces tied to the virginal quality of poor Juan. When Juan later visits her bedroom, there's merely a pause before it's the next day, and without revealing any intimacy or having both characters physically touch, their combustible passion is established through music, close-ups, and intense colours from the courtyard seduction.
Like the above sequence, bold bright colours refocus our attention to Doña, and Mamoulian plays the same trick when Doña arrives with Juan in a local cantina. The moment her dark cloak slides from her shoulders, we're teased by Rita Hayworth's luminescent skin, and the bright pink gown that's exposed just below the breasts.
It's a moment that introduces stark colour into an otherwise drably coloured scene, and like us, it attracts the eyes of patrons, and Juan's chief rival, Manola (Quinn). When Manola and Doña dance, the flowing pink gown is the only rich colour in the scene, and it enhances the sexual tension between dark-attired Quinn, posing and pivoting in front of the musicians, and Hayworth, who glides and head-cocks while the gown's tethers trail behind her arms.
From the opening Fox logo, the film's emphasis of blues, pastel pinks, and red is immediately established – a fairly distinct colour scheme that differs from the candied greens, turquoise, and saturated reds of early Warner Bros. films (such as the recently restored Adventures of Robin Hood).
Among the DVD's sparse extras, the commentary by cinematographer Richard Crudo is far too technical and one-sided, particularly for a 2-hour film with so much other worthwhile history beyond the colour, lighting and set designs. He's dutifully sincere and in awe of the efforts that crafted the film's striking look, but with zero info on the novel, script adaptation, lead actors, memorable character actors, and Mamoulian's obvious style and use of heavy subtext in so many scenes (including the heavy religious iconography that goes bonkers in the final reel), it's a huge lost opportunity for film fans.
This has nothing to do with Crudo's discipline – fellow cinematographer John Bailey came prepared as a historian and film buff and delivered a super commentary track for Sunrise – but Fox erred in not trimming Crudo's sterile comments down to its essentials, and inter-cutting info from other, if not more broad-minded film historians.
A key sore point in the lack of any info on the score, which heavily relies on Vicente Gomez' beautiful guitar work, and Alfred Newman's variations with orchestra. (The two composers later collaborated on Captain From Castile, and the virtuoso guitarist also appears in Blood and Sand in several cantina sequences.)
Just as grating is Crudo's ridiculous statement that “The movie is structured very, very formally. It's completely off the Hollywood assembly line. There's no irony to it, there's no further implication of anything going on outside the frame besides what you see in front of you.”
The aforementioned courtyard and cantina sequences are structured with unique visual markers that are reflective of the director's knack for subtext. For example, when Doña bids goodbye to her dinner guests (including a final farewell to her discarded lover, played by George Reeves), the character exits are kept in fairly tight medium shots. After putting on the ring returned by her former conquest, she looks up, and Mamoulian cuts to a wide still shot of Hayworth, surrounded by male servants – men familiar, indifferent, if not unsurprised with her predatory behaviour – who surround her and emphasize her shallow, empty life.
Previously joined at dinner by mostly male guests, an ex-lover (Reeves), and her latest victim (Tyrone Power), this simple sequence establishes her pathologically fickle behaviour, plus a brief moment of vulnerability, if not loneliness, that only the servants are privy to see. Her wealth, glee, and power are enhanced by the selective characters, and while the lighting and set décor reflect her financial and social stature, that lone moment before setting up the next kill is anything but formal, mechanical, and free from irony, because Doña will never be satisfied by any man. The finale with Manola makes that abundantly clear.
‘Outside of the frame,' Mamoulian also indulges in some unique aural effects, reminiscent of his experimenting in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Muted and muffled vocal excerpts mock a financially messed-up Juan when he looks at his portrait in a moment of self-loathing, and there's haunting, watery incantations that ripple over the soundtrack as Juan prepares for his final bullfighting match in the last reel.
The bullfighting sequences are stirring (albeit brief), and again, in dealing with subtext, Mamoulian cuts away from gore, but focuses on the Romanesque crowds becoming increasingly hungry for more brutality, including a man who digs into a sausage when Juan goes for the kill, and stabs a sack of wine that bleeds and dribbles as the bull's own blood spills ‘outside of the frame.'
Fox' transfer is first rate, though the restoration comparison does reveal a measure of noise filtration was used to smoothen some noise and flecks in the original source materials. The new transfer is less murky, though the older transfer leaned more towards the traditional Technicolor tones of saturated reds and greens.
The audio mix is pretty punchy, and shows off Mamoulian's use of subtle sound effects, and the often gentle guitar pieces Gomez performs throughout the film. (A real pity, however, is that no isolated music stems survived for the complete score, though some of Gomez' cues did get a commercial release on LP.)
Blood and Sand was also filmed in 1922 with Rudolph Valentino as Juan Gallardo, in 1989 with Sharon Stone as the tale's femme fatale, and as a Brazilian TV series in 1968.
Laird Cregar subsequently appeared with Tyrone Power in The Black Swam (1942), while Linda Darnell appeared with Power in the Rouben Mamoulian-directed Mark of Zorro and the Henry Hathaway-directed Brigham Young (alongside co-stars John Carradine, and moppet Ann Todd, who plays the younger Carmen in Blood and Sand). Power would later return to the bull ring, so to speak, in the 1957 production of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.
This title is available separately and as part of the Tyrone Power Collection, which includes Blood and Sand (1941), Son of Fury (1942), Captain from Castile (1947), Prince of Foxes (1949), and The Black Rose (1950).
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan