One year after director Rouben Mamoulian and actor Tyrone Power teamed up to make 1940’s The Mark of Zorro, the two came together once again to make the Technicolor bullfighting extravaganza, Blood and Sand. Co-starring Rita Hayworth, Anthony Quinn and John Carradine, Blood ad Sand is an epic drama about one man’s rise and fall in the world of bullfighting as he struggles to hang on to his youthful dreams of being the greatest matador in Spain. Along the way, he has to contend with acerbic critics, greedy in-laws, jealous friends and, of course, the extramarital temptations of Rita Hayworth, all of which play a significant part in his inevitable downfall.
In this, Blood and Sand thematically speaks to the age-old wisdom that fame and fortune have the power to corrupt even the most pure of heart. Sure, by today’s standards, the narrative seems pretty cut-and-paste in that respect, and its melodrama, especially that centered around certain characters’ inability to read and write, feels downright stale. Yet this is all counterbalanced by the powerfully realized bullfights, terrific performances from an all-star cast, and stunning cinematography. That aside, this really isn’t a film you’d hold to today’s standard anyway.
Because as a historical text, what Blood and Sand offers viewers by way of sheer filmmaking acumen is nothing short of incredible, especially with regard to its Technicolor cinematography, for which it ultimately an Academy Award. One technique that stands out to me as exemplifying the pervasive technical aptitude of the filmmakers here is in fact a transition showing the passage of time for the characters about halfway through the film. Prior to the transition, our hero Juan Gallardo is little more than a sloppy, uneducated, “fifth rate” would-be matador living well above his means. After the transition, we find him living in a mansion, surrounded by admirers: the star of the bullfighting world. The transition itself merely depicts a series of about a dozen or so poster promoting bullfighting events on which Juan’s name gets larger and larger with each successive image. It may seem the simplest of touches, but what the filmmakers accomplish in these twelve or so shots is nothing short of remarkable. They completely elide what would most certainly be the lengthiest, and yet most laborious, stretch of Juan’s story in such a way that we come out of the transition knowing full-well what transpired during those years and without the sense that we missed anything along the way.
Blood and Sand is an absolutely inspired piece of filmmaking, and one that just so happened to recently made its debut on Blu-ray, care of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. The release is marked by a stunningly clean transfer with deep blacks and consistently rich colors– exactly the sort of transfer you’d want from a well-restored Technicolor picture. The only special feature included on the disc is actually a phenomenally interesting commentary by Richard Crudo, the Director of Photography who served as President of the American Society of Cinematographers from 2003 to 2006 and provides invaluable insight into the techniques employed on Blood and Sand.