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Johnny Regan, a U.S. citizen, goes to Mexico and takes up bullfighting as a lark, hoping to impress a Mexican beauty, Anita de la Vega. His lighthearted studying, under the tutelage of aging matador Manolo Estrada, leads to tragedy. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Love, fear, courage, danger, death, honor and bullfighting -- what a movie.
Enthralling movie. Movies that have bullfighting usually only show bits and pieces. The drama and rhythm, the challenge and danger, the courage and the death associated with bullfighting are all integral to this story. The bullfighting scenes are absolutely essential to the movie that director Budd Boetticher created here.
The 124 minute version is on netflix, and tcm has shown it several times. It has been restored by UCLA. IMDb should update the notation that this is an 87 minute picture.
The lead actors all stand out. Gilbert Roland, always a masculine presence, has a screen persona of someone whom you'd value as a friend, and his real-life nickname was "amigo". Here he befriends gringo Robert Stack and teaches him to be a torero, as he is.
Stack can act; his role in The Mortal Storm demonstrates that early on. He falls for Joy Page, who has an interesting turn as the widow of a fallen bullfighter who seems most excited and to be won only by men who have the courage on display in the bullfighting ring. Although there may be something twisted in this, at the same time it exemplifies something about the men for whom women compete in this world. Katy Jurado turns in another flawless performance as Roland's loyal and supportive wife, who can become a ball of fire when goaded.
Eventually for Stack, although he may have taken up bullfighting as a lark or to win a lady or to test his own courage, it becomes a question of honor and reverence for his friend Roland. Indeed, the screenplay raises the question as to why there are bullfights. Even more centrally, why do men fight bulls and want to fight brave bulls? There is an air of obsession in this story. Love taken to a degree that it almost demands death, and an obsession with the ring. There is a wild character to the crowd's thunderous cheers and obsession for some with gaining these accolades. For Roland (as Manolo), there is a cooler detachment, a professionalism. He does it for himself, for his own sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
There is an element of chance and fate. A certain number of fighters will be gored, badly hurt and killed, because the bulls do unpredictable things, or someone or something distracts the bull unpredictably and it swerves dangerously. Men knowingly take these risks. In some ways, they are driven to do so. Bullfighting is challenge. Men cannot live without challenge and tests.
Basically this is a story of love within the context of bullfighting, which is developed quite fully and in loving detail. It is a movie with themes of courage, honor and redemption. The title is apt.
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