Showing posts with label Tyrone Power. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tyrone Power. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Nightmare Alley (2021)

Adapted by Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan, Nightmare Alley (2021) is a magnificent adaptation that honors the film noir classic while giving contemporary audiences a grittier and more nuanced look at William Lindsay Gresham's story.

Stan (Bradley Cooper) has a dark past. One he leaves behind as he enters the carnival world. Intrigued and horrified by the resident geek, Stan catches a gruesome performance without paying the required fee. Carnival manager Clem (Willem Dafoe) catches him but takes pity on Stan and offers him an opportunity to work. Stan quickly becomes a beloved member of the group of carnies. Zeena the psychic (Toni Collette) and her partner and former mentalist Pete (David Strathairn) take him under their wings showing him the ropes. He soon masters the art of deception and showmanship. Stan falls for the young and naive Molly (Rooney Mara) who is under the watchful eye of strongman Bruno (Ron Perlman). After a tragic accident at the carnival, Stan and Molly run away to the city to put on a mentalist show for the wealthy elite at an elegant nightclub. They are thriving until Stan becomes a little too intoxicated with his own powers. He meets his match with Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), a psychologist who knows the inner workings of many a wealthy patron at the club. The two join forces with tragic results.

I've struggled to appreciate the original adaptation of Nightmare Alley (1947), directed by Edmund Goulding and starring Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray and Helen Walker. I've watched it numerous times but have always been put off by how the characters prey on the vulnerable and how disjointed the film seemed. However, by watching this new adaptation and revisiting the old one now I have a new appreciation of how masterful the film noir adaptation truly was.

Here is a breakdown of who played which role in the two adaptations

Stanton "Stan"— Tyrone Power (1947) and Bradley Cooper (2021)
Zeena — Joan Blondell (1947) and Toni Collette (2021)
Molly — Coleen Gray (1947) and Rooney Mara (2021)
Lilith— Helen Walker (1947) and Cate Blanchett (2021)
Ezra Grindle— Taylor Holmes (1947) and Richard Jenkins (2021)
Bruno — Mike Mazurki (1947) and Ron Perlman (2021)
Pete — Ian Keith (1947) and David Strathairn (2021)
Clem Hoatley — James Flavin (1947) and Willem Dafoe (2021)

What makes the new adaptation different? We're given much more background on Stan. It's clear that he's a disturbed individual and Bradley Cooper does a great job conveying this (his final scene is mind blowingly good). In Tyrone Power's version, Stan is more of a charming opportunist. The events are a lot more gruesome and there is more at stake for this cast of characters. Toni Collette, Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett all did fantastic job as the three main female characters. They have their own agency and don't necessarily exist to serve the main male protagonist. It's sad that it has to be said but there are many films where this is lacking. The new film expands the stories of some key characters including Clem, played by the always brilliant Willem Dafoe, as well as Ezra Grindle who is one of Stan's major victims. A lot of attention was put to visuals including costumes, decor and all the unique elements of the carnival, both big and small. There are some fantastic shots that are works of art in themselves. Dr. Lilith's office is an Art Deco dream. Anyone who loves the era will find a lot to enjoy from the beautiful to the macabre.

The 2021 version was written by Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan, who are both great appreciators of classic film (Kim runs the classic film and pop culture blog Sunset Gun!) and really dived into the sources material and into the life of the author William Lindsay Gresham whose own experiences influenced his writing. The new film is 2 hours and 30 minutes which ads about 40 minutes to the original. I highly recommend watching this in the theater to really immerse yourself in the visuals and the story because this is one you'll want to watch in one go.

Nightmare Alley is a fascinating study in human nature. What we're drawn to, what scares us, what drives us and how we manipulate others to get what we want. Both the film noir adaptation and the new version both drive home an awareness of the dangers of preying on others.

Nightmare Alley (2021) is currently in theaters and Nightmare Alley (1947) is streaming on the  Criterion Channel.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Blood and Sand (1941)

This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

How do you capture the look and feel of Spain without having ever been there? This was the challenge director Rouben Mamoulian had working on Twentieth Century Fox's new big budget movie about a Spanish bullfighter. He had to make Mexico City and stage 5 of Fox Studios in Los Angeles transform into Spain on screen. Mamoulian looked to the art of great Spanish painters of El Greco and Goya for inspiration. He worked with his cinematography team consisted of Ernest Palmer and Ray Rennahan to recreate Spain and translate into Technicolor splendor. The result was Blood and Sand (1941).

Tyrone Power in Blood and Sand (1941)

"One can't build on sand."

Juan "Juanillo" Gallardo (Tyrone Power) is a born torero (bullfighter). The son of a slain matador, Juanillo begins his bullfighting career at a very young age despite the desperate pleas of his mother (Alla Nazimova). Without the ability to read or write, he has few options left to him. He defends the honor of his father to loudmouth journalist Natalio Curro (Laird Cregar). After the incident, young Juanillo gathers his cuadrillo (group of friends) and sets out to Madrid to become real matadors. Years later Juanillo comes home with his cuadrillo including El Nacional (John Carradine), the reluctant fighter who doubts the merits of the sport, and Manolo (Anthony Quinn), who thinks himself a better fighter than Juanillo. After their return Juanillo seeks his childhood sweetheart Carmen (Linda Darnell) for marriage. As he becomes recognized by many as the best matador in Spain, wealthy socialite Doña Sol (Rita Hayworth) attends one of his fights and the two begin an affair. And so begins Juanillo's downward spiral in his quest for glory.

Rita Hayworth in Blood and Sand (1941)

Linda Darnell in Blood and Sand (1941)

Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, Blood and Sand explores the various aspects of bullfighting as a sport and as a culture. Audiences get to see the many facets including fame, finery, rituals, pomp and circumstance, publicity, beautiful women, cuadrillos, familial despair and religion. The exotic and dangerous world of bullfighting lends itself to an exciting story. What's interesting about this movie is that it doesn't fully glorify this controversial sport. We see social inequality and injustice and brutality. Through John Carradine's character El Nacional we hear the voice of doubt.

In 1941, Tyrone Power was a Fox contract star at the top of his game and Blood and Sand was a great film to keep that momentum going. He was well-suited to the role of a matador as he could exhibit the screen charisma and physicality required for the story's complicated hero. Also it doesn't hurt that Power was one of the most handsome leading men in Hollywood. It seems realistic that he'd catch the eye of two women as beautiful as Linda Darnell and Rita Hayworth. And those two actresses play the perfect polar opposites: Darnell as the sweet, dutiful and religious wife and Hayworth as the bored, lusty socialite. I enjoyed Darnell's performance but thought Hayworth was a bit over-the-top as a temptress. There was too many instances of eyebrow arching and not enough subtlety for me. I usually enjoy Hayworth's performances so this is definitely a one off.

After the success of The Mark of Zorro (1940) starring Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell, the swashbuckling remake of the Douglas Fairbanks classic, Fox was raring for a good follow-up. So they dipped back into the silent film well and found another story. Based on the 1908 novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, Blood and Sand has been adapted for film several times. It was originally a Spanish film released in 1917, then released as a silent movie starring Rudolph Valentino in 1922 before it was adapted again in 1941. Fox considered adapting it in 1957 with Sophia Loren in Rita Hayworth's part as Doña Sol but project fell through. Another adaptation came in 1989 starring Chris Rydell, Sharon Stone and Ana Torrent.

Years later when Mamoulian visited Spain for the first time he said "I was most pleased to discover it looked exactly the way the Spanish masters had painted it and that it was as I had imagined it would be. People in Spain who had seen and loved the film did not believe I had never visited the country before making the film." At the Oscars in 1942, Blood and Sand was nominated for Best Art Direction-Interior Direction and won for Best Cinematography, Color.

Tyrone Power, John Carradine, Anthony Quinn and others were taught the art of bullfighting by champion Mexican matador Armillita Chico. Armillita was also Power's double in some of the bullfighting scenes. Power was also taught by a young aspiring American matador Budd Boetticher who worked on Blood and Sand and went on to direct westerns. An extended version with additional bullfighting scenes was distributed in South America.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Blood and Sand. It's not the type of film I tend to gravitate towards. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it and how multi-layered the film turned out to be. I appreciated that it wasn't a glorification of bullfighting rather it showed many elements of this both celebrated and hated sport.

Blood and Sand (1941) is available to rent on DVD Netflix.

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