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Thursday, January 16, 2014

THE BULLFIGHTER AND THE LADY (1951)

Budd Boetticher got bumped up from helming formulaic B-programmers with this uneven, often impressive, documentary-flavored torero tale. (He celebrated with a rechristening, ‘Budd’ instead of ‘Oscar’ as his billed first name.) Robert Stack, set off from the Latins by blonde brilliantined hair, is the recklessly confident American buck who courts reigning champ Gilbert Roland (in a commanding perf of great charm) to be his mentor. Equally arrogant & impatient, Stack comes across as your typical Ugly American, but he’s not without natural talent. A skill Gilbert thinks he could tame & turn into prowess in the ring, but for Stack’s divided attention between the bulls and Joy Page’s rich Mexican senorita. Boetticher, working from his own story, has trouble getting things into gear, but once the lessons start up, everything begins to click in & out of the bullring. (The film is also exceptionally well edited by Richard Enger.) What Boetticher can’t do is make Stack compelling enough for us to go along with his shitty, self-centered behavior. (Perhaps Douglas Sirk could have done it. You only have to imagine a Paul Newman or a Steve McQueen as this guy to see what’s missing.) Stack’s got the hips for the role, but not the natural acting chops, personal magnetism or swagger.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Newbie producer John Wayne knew he’d never get Republic Pictures to release Boetticher’s 2+ hours cut. Enter John Ford, who cut it down to size at Wayne’s request, much as Darryl Zanuck had done on his films back @ 20th/Fox. Boetticher hated the cuts (3 reels worth of character & atmosphere), and then found himself honored with an Oscar nom for Original Story! The Olive Films DVD has the fully restored running time.

DOUBLE-BILL: Writer/director Robert Rossen’s bullfighting film that same year, THE BRAVE BULLS/’51, was more morality tale than docu-drama. With Mel Ferrer giving Stack a run for his money in the slim hips department, and Anthony Quinn grabbing most of the attention as his commercially-minded manager.

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