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BLOOD AND SAND (director: Fred Niblo; screenwriters: from the play by Tom Cushing/based on the novel Sangre y arena by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez/June Mathis; cinematographer: Alvin Wyckoff; editor: Dorothy Arzner; cast: Rudolph Valentino (Juan Gallardo), Lila Lee (Carmen), Nita Naldi (Doña Sol), George Field (El Nacional), Fred Becker (Don José), Gilbert Clayton (Garabato), Leo White (Antonio), Walter Long (Plumitas, bandit), Rose Rosanova (Juan’s mother); Runtime: 75; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Fred Niblo; Grapevine Video; 1922-silent)
“The melodrama helps Valentino to nail down his Latin lover image while showing his acting chops, which some questioned.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director and producer Fred Niblo (“The Mark of Zorro” 1920/”Camille” 1927) tells a story set at the turn of the century of a cocky but unsophisticated bullfighter from Seville, Juan Gallardo (Rudolph Valentino), who goes from rags-to-riches but falls when on top due to a moral conflict that rises as he’s torn over his loyal wife Carmen (Lila Leean) and the aristocratic vamp named Doña Sol (Nita Naldi). It’s based on the novel Sangre y arena by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and written by June Mathis. Meant to show the brutality of bullfighting and how its heroes are merely fragile gods who take unnecessary risks for fame and money, as it asks after the matador’s downfall “What will be the fate of a man who lives by blood and cruelty?” It seems therefore to bea morality tale and an attack on Spain’s national sport.

Juan lives with his impoverished widowed mother; against her wishes he becomes a toreador as he’s set on supporting mom and escaping poverty. He marries one of his kind, the faithful and pious Carmen (Lila Lee), his childhood sweetheart. His prowess as a matador grows until one day he becomes the idol of Spain. But he falls from the top when he’s seduced by the sultry socialite Doña Sol and his bullfighting skills diminish, his wife leaves him and the fickle crowd looks for another matador to cheer. In his last bullfight he’s killed when gored, but his wife returns to comfort him while his mistress deserts him for another lover. The crowd cheers for another matador while Juan’s blood stain is still in the arena’s sand.

Valentino puts a lot of passion into his performance and Niblo sets an authentic Spanish look, but his direction is too flat to bring out the exotic nature of the story. The melodrama helps Valentino to nail down his Latin lover image while showing his acting chops, which some questioned.

In supporting roles, Walter Long as a bandit is used to show that his killings are not socially acceptable while bullfighter Valentino receives the adulation from the masses; Rose Rosanova as Valentino’s glum mother, does a good job reflecting a mother’s concern for the well-being of her son.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”