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Archive for the ‘FILMED BY: Ernest Palmer’ Category

Blood and Sand

15 Jan

Blood And Sand — directed by Reuben Mamoulian. Sports-drama. 125 minutes Color 1941.
★★★★★
The Story: The son of a renowned matador becomes a renowned matador, marries his childhood sweetheart, and throws it all away.
~

Blood And Sand, for its cinemaphotography, won Academy Awards for Ernest Palmer and Ray Rennahan. The film became famous for its beautiful appearance, so general curiosity arose as to how it was done. In a bonus, Richard Crudo, a president of the American Society of Cinemaphotographers teaches us how. Fascinating. Make sure you watch.

This famous film earns five stars because of the bonus accompanying it.

What I learned was how the cinemaphotographers ran the shooting and direction of such films and a lot of what we eventually see. I was ignorant of these matters. I had seen Blood And Sand when it came out in 1941 and years later, and again now, and still I did not notice, and I was not meant to.

I was not meant to notice the color scheme which confines itself to blue and yellow and red, and when the big arena in Mexico City was rented and filled with extras, and whenever these extras are seen in groups, still there are the grades of yellow in what they wear, the blues of suits and mantillas, the stab of red. Green lashes out to startle as does a pair of purple gloves on the female star’s hands. We are led to pay attention to the blue backgrounds of scenes, the yellow walls of others. The Production Designer and Cinemaphotographer put their heads together and created sets and backdrops for love scenes that do not disappoint, although the film as a whole may disappoint.

For it is less about blood and sand, than the lust and luxury they lead to. One would not go to this film for the perilous gore of bullfighting spectacle, as I did when I saw it for the second time in my 30s. But the film does not stint the sumptuousness which underlies and defines its narrative which is erotic.

At its center three of the great beauties of the screen move around one another, embrace, and enflame. These three are young. It is not hard to watch them. Everything in the film encourages us. Linda Darnell is eighteen when she plays the young wife. She is untouched, touching, and open. The ravishing Rita Hayworth is twenty-two. She plays sin with an open smile. Tyrone Power is twenty-six. No more sumptuous male beauty ever graced the screen.

For those were the days of matinée idols. Save perhaps for George Clooney and Robert Redford, we don’t have them anymore. But in the ‘30s we had Ronald Coleman, Erroll Flynn, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Joel McCrea, Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott, John Payne, John Wayne, and Tyrone Power, men whose beauty permitted them everything. Even being miscast.

Is Tyrone Power miscast as a ragged, illiterate Spanish peon? You bet he is. Tyrone Power was a gent — but who cares? He had played Zorro and would do other Latin action heroes and be a big star South Of The Border. You buy Power in Blood And Sand simply because he’s there doing it. In those days Black Irish as Hispanic was as good as Spanish.

If his acting here is inconsistent, so is the acting as a whole. The child actors are dreadful. Other actors, such as Laird Cregar, either digest the scenery whole or on their own manage to make dialogue which is poor sound real. This means that, although the story has carrying power, Mamoulian creates no sense of performance style, nor could he. This is not Garbo in his Queen Christina, but Fox in a limousine left behind under Valentino’s porte-cochere.

John Carradine, an actor of old-time vocal stage technique, gets by as he always does with direct subtextless presentation that one accepts because of silent respect for its outdated fashion. Who would so mean as to scold him? He is that rare thing, the completely unembarrassed actor.

Watch J. Carroll Naish pay attention as Power’s hairdresser. Watch the details. He is one of many characters who flare through and do good work: Lynn Bari as the termagant sister-in-law, George Reeves as one of Rita Hayworth’s discards, Russell Hicks as the grandee who houses her.

Anthony Quinn steals all his scenes starting with his first in which he blows tiny smoke rings as we accompany the now young men to their fates in the bull ring. You feel he knows he would be better than Power in the leading role, and he would be — but, so what, his envy feeds his role. And, boy, is he sexy. He can’t help it. At the end of their film lives, he and Rita Hayworth would act again in The Rover and as an old man his sexiness still vibrates. Quinn, like Warren Beatty, seems to have possessed sexual confidence from birth. He oozed it. His assurance gave him the ability to appear stupid, always an advantage for an actor, since stupidity does not mean want of cunning.

And, of course, Blood And Sand provides us with the rare opportunity to experience the art of the incontestable Nazimova. Watch her as she plays the old mother on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor. Mamoulian had directed her on the stage before, and Pauline Kael said that Nazimova’s Hedda Gabler was the greatest performance she had ever seen. And here she is, so watch and learn.

Everything she is does is exactly the right size. No bum line louses her up. She came from Stanislavski’s Moscow Arts theatre and she knew how to embody a part, even an ill-written one, such that everything becomes natural. She never emotes. She never lies or steals a scene. She is content to represent the moral and narrative center of the story, no fuss. Watch the moment when she discards what Power hands her.

Rita Hayworth is different, because her training was dance. She is a fine actress because of it. Dance gives Rita Hayworth her marvelous carriage and the necessity for physical responsiveness — plus the nobility of her walk and the inherent sense of rhythm in everything she says and does. When she seduces, she seduces not with her guitar or her song — she seduces with the bare movement of her shoulders which house the most exquisite porte de bras in the world. Hermes Pan, who later taught her the dances he choreographed for her and Fred Astaire, said she had the most beautiful hands he had ever seen.

These are wonderful attributes for a star — which this film made her — including her inherent propriety which becomes a platform of response. In her, the flame and stillness of flamenco is alert at every moment. Did any movie actor love life so freely and fiercely and openly as Rita Hayworth when she danced?

Here she dances cruelly with Anthony Quinn. It is the first time we see her like this, full of self-esteem, fun, and arranque. Rita Hayworth on screen writes her own rules — and you’ve got to agree with her. Rita Hayworth had spent her youth Spanish dancing in night clubs’ floorshows with Eduardo Cansino, her father. She knew exactly how to do all this from the time she was twelve. It was her doom and delight.

Here the cherry on the Sundae lies in the bonus of Ricard Crudo’s teaching on what made so much of this film so beautiful. What the technique was. How it was prepared in advance by the directors of photography in cahoots with the art direction by Richard Day and Joseph C. Wright, with the set decoration by Thomas Little, and the blend of costumes by Travis Banton.

Why should we care?

All I know is they were beautiful and young, and this was their moment 80 years ago.

Many talented young actresses appear in films nowadays. Many are beautiful. Rita Hayworth is gone — vanished into the archives or emergent in the immortal immoral momentary masochism of Gilda. Many young actresses star in films nowadays, and many are worth seeing and more than once. Their material is more contemporary. Their attack on their roles more schooled. Some have a rare authority. Some surprise us. Many give delight and deserve the admiration they inspire. But what can this celestial banquet be compared to now? Where will you find her? Where is the feast and the fete? Useless to look. You won’t find what is not there. Next to Rita Hayworth, the movie actresses of today are potato chips. Next to Rita Hayworth they are snacks.

 

Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe

02 Dec

Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe – directed by George Seaton. Musical. The female star of a celebrated New York nightclub falls in love with a man she is trying to con. 104 minutes Color 1945.

★★★★★

Pinup Girl was Fox’s top grossing film for the year. Betty Grable retired to have a baby. Then returned, high spirited as before and even slimmer.

William Gaxton is her co-star on stage, and his grown son, Dick Haymes is her co-star off. Gaxton , a seasoned vaudevillian, refuses to allow his son to enter show business, and Gaxton’s girlfriend Beatrice Kay is jealous of the father’s attention to his ambitious son. So she contrives to bribe Betty Grable with the lure of a mink coat if she can distract the son, whom Betty doesn’t like at all, from the father’s watchful eye, and keep the son on his path as a doctor of medicine.

It sounds like a bit of a stretch doesn’t it? Well, it is, for Dick Haymes had, of all the singers of his era, the most beautiful singing voice. He could have succeeded in show business without really trying. His singing makes your heart stand still; he’s a good actor; his face is interesting to watch. And we only go along with the plot against him because we are told to.

What works, as usual, is the abundance of comic dance and song numbers – which Hermes Pan staged and choreographed. And there is one in particular with Beatrice Kay and Betty Grable competing – modern songs against old-fashioned songs ­ that made me laugh myself silly. It is Beatrice Kay who does it: she is a high-priestess of camp. So if you ever wondered what camp really is, take a look at her in that number.

All this takes place in the crude backstage of the glamorous Diamond Horseshoe in New York, which we see very little of. The bristling Phil Silvers is around, as a stage manager, of course. The noble Margaret Dumont has a cameo, as does the suave pianist Carmen Cavallaro. In short, the whole affair is a pleasure feast, and, with the country at war, a war relief.

I saw this when it came out. I went to every Betty Grable musical when it came out. Everyone did. She was dessert served once a year, and if you don’t know what war-time rationing was, that’s all right. We were on less food, less gas, less clothing. We had rationing booklets. I still have mine.

And if you don’t know what it was to need wartime morale-boosting, well, good, but Betty Grable was the lady to do it. Why don’t you catch her act and see why?

 

 
 
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