Sunday, March 23, 2014

Blood and Sand (1922)

Juan Gallardo (Rudolph Valentino) is a famous bullfighter in Spain, married to his saintly childhood sweetheart Carmen (Lila Lee), but seduced into an affair with the vampy Doña Sol (Nita Naldi). This silent film is one of Valentino's better known titles, but without him, it would have been a slog to get through.

The movie seems to be preoccupied not only with the adulterous hijinks of Naldi and our hero, but also with the idea that nothing good can result from a career which puts so much emphasis on death. It presses the latter point home with the inclusion of two rather superfluous characters who are vague acquaintances of Juan: an outlaw who also makes his living by killing, and a philosopher who muses on passion and death while gazing at the torture devises that decorate his study (a macabre hobby that no one else seems to find odd).

Valentino is in fine form, as usual, and pulls off the bullfighting garb. Naldi is unintentionally very amusing as the bad girl who causes our hero to stray the moment she gives him an ancient Eygptian snake ring as a trophy for one of his successful kills. At one point in the film, she bites his hand in a passion, causing him to violently throw her across the room! She is the definition of over the top silent film acting, and is by far the most amusing aspect of the film

The 1941 technicolor version, with Tyrone Power and Rita Hayworth, is a far more satisfying and engrossing telling, but Valentino and Silent Film fans should check the original out in passing. Just don't expect anything mindblowing.

Fun Factoid: Fred Niblo, the director of the 1922 film, went on to direct silent versions of Ben Hur (1925) and Camille (1926), both of which are also overshadowed by later, more famous cinematic variations.

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