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Blood and Sand

Blood and Sand(1941)

Remind Me

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It's hard to overstate just how big a star Tyrone Power was in the 1940s. He was the epitome of Hollywood glamour, impossibly handsome, the kind of movie star women wanted to be with and men wanted to be. Finally the subject of a long overdue box set of DVDs, some of Power's most colorful films are now available for rediscovery. Blood and Sand (1941) is perhaps the best of the lot, a remake of the 1922 silent feature and the tale of a Spanish bullfighter's rise and fall both in and out of the ring.

The glamour quotient of this movie can also be seen in its supporting cast. Stunning Linda Darnell plays Power's wife, while Rita Hayworth plays the sultry vixen who seduces him away. (Hayworth may have been the only actress in Hollywood - certainly the only one at Fox - who could have made a character believably stray from Linda Darnell...) Cast aside, Blood and Sand is memorable for its color, pageantry, lavish sets (especially Hayworth's home), sensual music, and so forth.

Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, Blood and Sand drew special fame for its use of color. Mamoulian had directed the first three-strip Technicolor feature, Becky Sharp (1935), and with this film he pushed the known limits of how color could be used expressively, framing and lighting scenes to imitate the look of paintings by Old Masters like Goya and El Greco. "I consider that color on the screen must be used as an emotion," he later said. "If you use it directly as the emotional expression of what you're trying to do in the scene, it takes care of its own aesthetics." In other words, Mamoulian was much more concerned with emotional impact than with naturalism or "realism."

This extended to all sorts of decisions he made on this film, much to the consternation of his young technical adviser, Budd Boetticher, who had learned to bullfight while in Mexico. Later a famous director in his own right, Boetticher landed this job after demonstrating various bullfighting passes in Darryl Zanuck's office. "In fifteen minutes I had Mr. Zanuck trying to make passes with the cape, and later playing the part of the bull for my own demonstrations," Boetticher later recalled. "Suddenly every girl in the world was about to become jealous of me, because my first job was to teach Tyrone Power how to look and move like a bullfighter."

Things were not so smooth on the set. Mamoulian, Boetticher recounted, had a little bell attached to the armrest of his director's chair. If he rang it once, the assistant director was to come running. If he rang twice, Boetticher was being summoned, and he had to stand at attention directly in front of Mamoulian, not off to the side. Boetticher would give his advice, be it about a bullfight pass or a costume or the order in which officials entered the ring, and Mamoulian would disregard them all. "He was the cruelest no-good son of a bitch in the whole world," Boetticher said. "If we had been making a baseball picture, I would probably have suggested that, following a well-hit ball, the runner should race to first base instead of third." (Years later, Boetticher and Mamoulian became good friends.) Regardless, Mamoulian was smart enough to know that making his audience feel a certain emotion was more important than showing them 100% accuracy.

Boetticher also helped choreograph the paso doble dance between Rita Hayworth and Anthony Quinn, one of the most memorable scenes in the picture. It's a dance in which the man dances the part of a matador while the lady, her arms outspread, plays the part of the bull. The scene, among others here, did a lot to cement Hayworth in the public consciousness as a major new star.

Power exudes tremendous magnetism in this movie. Though he is doubled in the bullfighting sequences by Fermin "Armillita" Espinosa, one of the greatest Mexican bullfighters of the era, he seems believable as a bullfighter because he plays the arrogance, the cockiness, so well. "The cow hasn't been born yet, that can give birth to the bull that can hurt me!" he declares. He is also excellent in many touching and tender scenes, like the one where he greets his mother (Alla Nazimova) for the first time in ten years as he steps off a train. (Admittedly, it helps that she plays the scene so well). Also memorable is the wordless sequence as he reunites with Linda Darnell and a band serenades her, in a bit of staging which echoes their previous farewell scene as children.

The strong supporting cast includes Laird Cregar as an overbearing newspaper critic, the afore-mentioned Anthony Quinn as a rival bullfighter, Alla Nazimova (superb as Power's mother), John Carradine, Lynn Bari, J. Carroll Naish, Ann E. Todd (great as a 10-year-old version of Linda Darnell) and an almost unrecognizable George Reeves as Hayworth's boyfriend - until she gets a look at Tyrone Power, that is.

Fittingly for a movie that won an Oscar for color cinematography, the DVD has a commentary by Richard Crudo, who was president of the American Society of Cinematographers guild from 2003-2006. His spiel is entirely about the history of the craft and its technique on this picture, but it's accessible, articulate and quite interesting. He gets at least one fact wrong, however. He says that Ray Rennahan, one of the two cameramen on Blood and Sand, never shot a black-and-white movie in his life. That seemed pretty amazing to this viewer, and while a check on IMDB revealed that virtually all of his features were indeed in some form of color, here's one that wasn't: Terror in a Texas Town(1958).

Blood and Sand is available by itself and as part of Fox Home Entertainment's Tyrone Power Collection, which also includes Son of Fury (1942), Captain From Castile (1947), Prince of Foxes (1949) and The Black Rose (1950). The collection abounds in commentaries, stills, trailers, short documentaries, newsreels, isolated score tracks, lobby card reproductions and a small booklet. The films vary in quality but altogether give a very entertaining sense of this swashbuckling star, making this a collection well worth seeing.

For more information about Blood and Sand, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Blood and Sand, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeremy Arnold