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Blood and Sand

Blood and Sand

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Blood and Sand, Bullfighter Juan Gallardo falls for socialite Dona Sol, turning from the faithful Carmen who nevertheless stands by her man as he continues to face real danger in the bullring.

STARS: Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Rita Hayworth

125 min | Drama, Romance, Sport | 1941 | Color


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"If that is death in the afternoon, that is death at evening!"
In English speaking countries we barely recall his name, but in his heyday (the 1910 - 1920s) Vicente Blasco Ibanez was one of the most popular novelists in the world. His stories, in particular his tale of bullfighters in Spain (BLOOD AND SAND) and his look at the effect of World War I on Europe and on his native Argentina in THE FOUR HORSEMAN OF THE APOCALYPSE, were avidly read all over the Americas and Europe. Movies were made of his tales, including other lesser stories like THE TORRENT and MARE NOSTROM. But like so many other figures of literary importance in that period, Blasco Ibanez has gradually been eclipsed. Yet, I can vouch that when I was working in my high school library in 1970 - 71 copies of BLOOD AND SAND and THE FOUR HORSEMAN were on the shelves.
BLOOD AND SAND is more than just a look at the rise and fall of the career of a great matador (Tyrone Power as Juan Gallado) but a look at the darker side of athletic fame in the world in general. Power follows his father as a bull fighter, despite the latter's death in the ring. He has an entourage including his closest friend, Nacional (John Carridine) and Garabato (J. Carroll Naish) and marries a good woman (Carmen Espinosa - Linda Darnell), but he also has a greedy sister and brother-in-law to conjure with (Lynn Bari and Monty Banks), and he has to deal with the leading bullfighting critic (Curro - Laird Cregar). There is also his other old friend, but growing rival, Manola (Anthony Quinn) and the wealthy groupie who hurts his home life and image (Dona Sol - Rita Hayworth).
When the going is good, Power allows his fortune and success go to his head. He does not recall that Garabato happened to be a great matador too, but was reduced to poverty when he ceased pleasing the public (or Curro, for that matter), and was only saved by Power's personal goodness. He does not heed the comments by Nacional about the blood-thirst at the heart of the game of the bullfight. His attractiveness to Dona Sol is dependent on his greatness as a matador. And Manola is slowly catching up.
There is a lot of religious symbolism in Blasco Ibanez work. At the end of THE TORRENT, Greta Garbo, in her last delirium, gives a sum of money that might have saved her to a stranger that she thinks is Christ. In THE FOUR HORSEMAN a set of fireplace andirons come to life in the skies of Europe showing the pestilence and evil hitting the center of the world in World War I. And even here, Rouben Mamoulian brings in the symbolism. Nacional sacrifices himself for Juan in the ring, and is fatally gored. As he is dying in a bed, surrounded by Juan and his friends, Nacional is set up with his arms in a "crucifixion" position on the pillows at the head of the bed. He is denouncing the evil of bullfighting as he dies, a Christ unheeded in his world.
Also language plays a hidden role. Laird Cregar's self-important and venal critic has the last name "Curro". In Spanish, "Curro" is the rectum of a bull or beast. And at the start of the film Cregar proudly announces his name as a guaranty of authenticity on his views about the matadors.
The fact that Juan is a bullfighter should not hide the universality of the story. It could be about the rise and fall of a football, soccer, or baseball player - but the bullfighting background is due to the cultural background of the author, and because of the brittle nature of success as a bullfighter - you see, bullfighting is more than avoiding being gored by a bull. It depends on the style and technique of the matador, and how elegantly he moves in the ring. Age can slow a man down, ruining his reputation (as it did with Garabato). Or personal problems may affect ring performance (as it does with Juan). And once that happens the fans lose interest and even faith in the matador.
So Juan has no where to go but down, having reached the top. That is the fate of all matadors. In the end he momentarily redeems himself, but at the cost of his life. At least he will not face growing old in poverty as Garabato nearly did. But it is a downer of an ending - possibly the saddest of any of the Tyrone Power films before 1946's NIGHTMARE ALLEY.

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