Film Review: Blood and Sand (1922)
“What worked once should work again” was the guiding principle for Paramount Pictures when it decided to start production of Blood and Sand, 1922 silent melodrama directed by Fred Niblo, a film, which, for all its practical purposes, could be seen as a follow up to 1921 big hit The Four Horsemen of the Apocalpyse.
Just like Four Horsemen, this film is based on the novel by Spanish writer Vicente Blanco Ibañez (in this case Sangre y arena or “Blood and Arena”). Again, main role is played by Rudolph Valentino who would, regardless of the importance for the rest of the plot, show his dancing ability in one of the scene (in this case, flamenco instead of tango). The plot is set in author’s native Spain and begins in Seville where Juan Gallardo (played by Valentino) is young man living in poverty. For him and for many youths in similar situation, one of possible avenues to decent life is a bullfighting, popular but extremely dangerous sport. During one of the minor tournaments Gallardo just enough skill to get attention of rich and influential sponsors. He soon becomes one of country’s most popular matadors and gets enough money to support his family and marry childhood sweetheart Carmen (played by Lila Lee). However, with fame come many temptations and Gallardo succumbs to Doña Sol (played by Nita Naldi), seductive, manipulative and amoral widow that would destroy Juan’s marriage, career and endanger his life.
Blood and Sand was originally scheduled for shooting in Spain in real arena with real bulls and bullfighters, but penny-pinching studio decided to keep production in Hollywood. Fred Niblo, experienced director who had worked with Douglas Fairbanks on his adventure films, has found ingenious solution to this problem with the help of Dorothy Arzner, editor who would later become one of the first major female director of Hollywood. She simply hadf found stock footage of actual bullfights in Spain and seamlessly edited it into material shot in Hollywood. The illusion still works after a century and requires extra care from viewers to be noticed. But most of audience would be more interested in simple, melodramatic but effective plot about one man’s rise and fall, which revolves around two archetypical women. Rudolph Valentino plays his role very well, in ways much more restrained and unusually realistic for standards of silent cinema. He later described his performance in Blood and Sand as the best of his career, although role of Juan Gallardo isn’t as iconic as those in Four Horsemen or The Sheik. Nita Naldi delivers great performance as vampish femme fatale and has great chemistry with Valentino, which later led to her being paired with Valentino in few more films. Despite a lot melodrama and predictably tragic ending, Blood and Sand represents strangely progressive film for its time, which is due to condemnation of bullfighting as cruel sport that does nothing but serve bloodlust of the masses. This moralistic stance is underlined with introduction of Don Joselito (played by Charles Belcher), a philosopher who comments the plot as some sort of Greek chorus, as well as Plumitas (played by Walter Long), bandit who, like Gallardo, earns his living through killing and whose fate matches Gallardo’s. Blood and Sand, made at the height of Valentino’s popularity, was a big hit and even served inspiration for “Blood and Sand”, popular cocktail. Original adapted twice more – in 1941 Hollywood under direction of Rouben Mamoulian with Tyrone Power as main star and in 1989 Spain as a film starring Christopher Rydell and Sharon Stone.
RATING: 6/10 (++)
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