HOT BLOOD(director: Nicholas Ray; screenwriters: from a story by Jean Evans/Jesse Lasky, Jr.; cinematographer: Ray June; editor: Otto Ludwig; music: Les Baxter; cast: Jane Russell (Annie Caldash), Cornel Wilde (Stephano Torino), Luther Adler (Marco Torino), Joseph Calleia (Papa Theodore), James H. Russell (Xano), Nina Koshetz (Nita Johnny), Helen Westcott (Velma), Wally Russell (Bombo), Mikhail Rasumny (Old Johnny), Robert Foulk (Sgt. McGrossin); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Harry Tatelman/ Howard Welsch; Columbia; 1956)
“An always lively presentation despite its preposterous storyline.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
One of Nicholas Ray’s (“Rebel Without A Cause”/”In a Lonely Place”/”Johnny Guitar”) underrated and underappreciated wacky oddball films, that I think demands to be seen on its own terms as a film that wholly embraces the studio artifice while it relies on its vitality to get over the bumpy spots of the story. I liked it better than most American critics (the French loved it), finding it an ethnic treasure chest of bogus gypsy traditions (only the wedding ceremony and other rituals shown were authentic), its fiery emotions and verve, its blinding studio inspired tutti-frutti colored stage sets, and an always lively presentation despite its preposterous storyline and even the director quitting on the story by leaving its gypsy folklore to the mercy of all kinds of silliness.
It’s based on a story by Jean Evans (who did the research to have an accurate film on gypsies, if only the film went in that direction) and written by Jesse Lasky Jr. The romantic musical/comedy tells about the Romany community in contemporary Los Angeles, as rival gypsy families undergo the torments of an arranged marriage that is on the rocks. Cornel Wilde is the aspiring dancer Stephano Torino who hangs around with the non-gypsy crowd, which angers his community. They live together on a block that features their fortune telling store. After one arrest too many, Stephano gets roped into an arranged marriage with the hot blooded Annie Caldash (Jane Russell) by his oldest brother Marco (Luther Adler), the king of the gypsies, who just bailed out of jail both his brother and the imprisoned visitor from Chicago. She was arrested for a fortune telling incident in Peoria. Marco, who has told no one that his non-gypsy doctor told him he has only a short time to live because of an incurable illness, wants his younger brother to be the next king and feels only married life will cure the reckless playboy of his irresponsible lifestyle. Annie’s father, Papa Theodore (Joseph Calleia), and her brother, Xano (Jamie Russell, real-life brother of Jane’s–her other brother Wally played Bombo, the gypsy king’s right hand man), scheme with Annie to collect $2,000 for the wedding and then have Annie flee with them to another city to play that con game again. But Annie takes a liking to the nutty and temperamental headstrong Stephano, who is all goofed up about this sibling rivalry thing and wants to take no orders from his bossy meaning-well brother. Stephano was in on the scheme laid out by Annie’s father, and is shocked when she goes through with the marriage. He then pulls off his bad hubby routine for the next few months, offering her no love or comfort or reason for the marriage. When Annie asks the gypsy council for a divorce, it’s granted to her by the new king–Stephano. But before she splits, he chases her down in the street and wins her back by promising to be a good king and husband.
By Ray making light of the story and instead having a blast showing off the gypsies’ love of music, dance and colorful costumes, he is able to skirt around the formulaic and uninspiring romance story and make this one a festive eyeful–that also gets down and dirty with long shots fixed on Jane’s bosom and the camera fixed on Cornel as he’s carrying on like a lunatic.
REVIEWED ON 8/13/2007 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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