Blood and Sand (1941) Blu-ray Review: Three-strip Technicolor Death in the Afternoon

The torrid tale of a man who dreams of single-handedly exterminating the world of its excessive amounts of male bovines.
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Growing up in the shadow of your father is never an easy task for a young lad - especially when dead ol' dad is dead. As a hot-headed boy, Juan Gallardo dreamed of following in his deceased bullfighter father's footsteps, and to massacre many a poor, hapless animal that the great Tom Lehrer once described as a "half a ton of angry pot roast." Fortunately for the young, impoverished Spaniard youth - who has suspiciously blue eyes and speaks with nary an accent - he runs away with his buddies and grows up to be the equally non-Hispanic Tyrone Power, a blessing that enables him to thus fulfill his dreams of single-handedly exterminating the world of its excessive amounts of male bovines.

Though Vicente Blasco Ibáñez's 1909 novel Blood and Sand had been made into a motion picture twice before this 1941 adaptation (including the more famous 1922 version with Rudolph Valentino and a 1916 incarnation made by Ibáñez himself), this marked the first time the story had been told in that new, ultra-glorious sensation, Three-strip Technicolor. It also marked the first time the story was accompanied by a whole soundtrack, as the earlier accounts were manufactured in the Silent Era. And it is that particular factor that may tend to cause one to grit his or her teeth a bit.

Filled to the brim with many Anglo actors and actresses in brownface, the believability aspect of this story has to be taken with a grain of salt or two. Of course, it's a lot better than that time Universal Pictures cast Robbie Benson as a Chicano gang member in 1979's epically disastrous drama Walk Proud - a movie that caused several riots to break out upon its release - and I highly doubt Tyrone Power's attempt at passing himself off as a Spaniard warranted any insurrection from offended theater patrons. But then, you never know.

But let's return to the story at hand, kids (though I must admit I'd really rather review a High-Def Blu-ray release of Walk Proud). As the all growed-up Gallardo (Power, in case you lost track) works his way up the ladder to matador stardom, he is embraced by the love of an entire country who is proud this handsome illiterate man has been able to distinguish himself from other men who can't read or write by being the best-dressed individual to slaughtering bulls before the eyes of an otherwise bored public. Linda Darnell is cast as the love interest, while the always dazzling Rita Hayworth plays a temptress who disrupts our hero's personal life with his alluring charms (and you all know how those Spaniard guys love the ladies!

Oh, wait, is that a stereotype? Well, it's not like you'd notice in this film. In fact, I'd hardly recommend this bloated box office success if one is on the lookout for a filmic variation of the classic 1909 novel. Now, I wouldn't go as far as to say Blood and Sand is a bad film - but between the two-hour-plus runtime for a movie from this particular period and the often uninspired cast (Rex Downing as young Juan is exceptionally tough to bear - and he opens the film, mind you). Frankly, the cast members seem to be phoning it in for the most part, leaving the audience the ghastly impression that all of the emotion for the film was only imbedded within the Three-strip Technicolor process and the premeditated Alfred Newman soundtrack.

Power does little to cement his role (as do his female counterparts), other than to look as self-congratulatory fabulous as possible at every possible moment - even when he is confessing his well-hidden fear to character actor extraordinaire J. Carrol Naish. Of course, one has to wonder if his seemingly conceited performance is due to his own recognition as a top leading man of the day, or if Russian-born director Rouben Mamoulian simply shouted out to all of his (predominately white) actors: "OK, look Hispanic, and act blissfully happy!"

Fortunately, at least one of Power's co-stars doesn't channel his inner Frito Bandito: instead, veteran character actor John Carradine turns in the film's most believable performance as Juan's lifelong buddy, Nacional - never once attempting to hide his whiteness or pretend to be something he's not. Instead, he's just John Carradine, the Bullfighter. And he deserves some praise for that. Also featured in this dated classic are Anthony Quinn (as another childhood pal of Gallardo's, who grows to be his rival), (Alla) Nazimova, the great Laird Cregar, Pedro de Cordoba, and a brief bit by television's first Superman, George Reeves.

Released before on both VHS and DVD, Fox Home Entertainment now brings Blood and Sand into the HD medium with a pleasing 1080p/AVC transfer that looks quite lovely all-around. The film's antiquated Three-strip Technicolor feel stands out in today's day and age, but at least this Blu-ray is relatively free of any noticeable debris or - more importantly - excessive digital scrubbing. The release has a cleaned-up DTS-HD MA 1.0 soundtrack that comes through nicely as well, and both Spanish and French Dolby Digital 1.0 audio options are also on-hand, as are optional English (SDH) and Spanish subtitles.

The only bonus feature provided with this catalogue title is an audio commentary with director of photography Richard Crudo, which has been ported over from a previous DVD release. Crudo did not work on this film, but was rather brought in to examine the feature in question. It's not the most exciting commentary you'll ever hear, but die-hard film buffs might enjoy it. Interestingly enough, the other features from the older DVD (restoration comparison, stills, etc.) are not included here. Oh, well: it isn't like I enjoyed the movie enough to want to see those anyway.

See for yourself. Enter our Blood and Sand giveaway for a chance to win this Blu-ray.

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