Rudolph Valentino is Juan, a toreador of Seville, in Blood & Sand (1922), inspired by though hardly based on Vicente Blasco Ibanez's international best seller Sangre y arena (Blood & Sand, 1908).
Valentino has a boyish (if not slightly faggoty) charm & physical grace, & his status as a silent film idol is instantly comprehensible. Blood & Sand was to be one of Valentino's greatest commercial successes.
The filmmakers didn't dare show actual bullfighting for an American audience of the day, so Juan's grandeur in the ring has to be conveyed outside the bullring in his suit of lights & his micky mouse ears.
It's a love story of course, since what else could a Valentino film be. He falls for "little Carmen" (Lila Lee). The larger theme becomes whether Juan can overcome his desire for fame at "the cruelty of the national sport" or whether he will destroy his capacity for love pursuing fame through cruelty to bulls.
The ethnocentric assumption that bullfighting is evil rings hypocritical when the film at the same time wants to cash in on the dashing beauty & grace of the toreador image.
Our bullfighter has an erotic nature & is tempted by beauty & opportunity to be unfaithful to Carmen. In Madrid he becomes the idol of the people. A hedonistic woman (Nita Naldi) pretty much buys him as her companion.
The overt message in the film is that one cannot take advantage of one's skill & fame & still be faithful in love, without acknowledging Juan would've lived a life of poverty if he'd never pursued his dream.
Juan falls into miserable dissipation because "happiness built on cruelty cannot last." The phony moralism renders this an awful film, but the allure of silent screen idols is nevertheless powerful just to watch the passionately emotive overacting in these lovely faces.
It is headed for a climax that is way too forced & fake, with Juan learning his lessons only after injury & abandonment by his public. The whole thing could easily be assessed as dated & such rubbishy melodrama couldn't possibly be comprehended by modern viewers as it was experienced in its day. But fact is, it's pretty much the sort of "chick flick" that gets chick-flicks demeaned as modern jokes despite their extreme popularity. So styles don't really change that much.
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