Bullfighter and the Lady, The (1951)

“Blood. Caste. Besides, we always have breeding records to go by. Sometimes we guess. We always pray. You will pray, too.”

Synopsis:
An American (Robert Stack) studies bullfighting in Mexico under the tutelage of a famed matador (Gilbert Roland), while trying to win the heart of a beautiful woman (Joy Page).

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Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “largely autobiographical film” by former apprentice matador Budd Boetticher is one of the few early Hollywood films to treat Mexicans with respect and dignity. Indeed, this is a rare movie in which “Mexicans don’t have to ingratiate themselves to Americans”; instead, it’s “the ugly American who becomes humble”. While the bullfighting scenes go on too long, they’re undeniably “quite exciting”; and, though parts of the script are heavy-handed — there are too many foreshadowings of impending tragedy — Boetticher does a fine job tracing Stack’s character arc from cocky American to a matador of “good stature”.

Redeeming Qualities:

  • Sexy young Robert Stack as Johnny Regan
  • Katy Jurado as Estrada’s strong wife
  • Interesting footage of bullfighting

Must See?
Yes. As famed western director Boetticher’s breakthrough movie, film fanatics will want to check this one out.

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One Response to “Bullfighter and the Lady, The (1951)”

  1. First viewing. A once-must, as (agreed) “Boetticher’s breakthrough movie”.

    Though I have no leanings at all toward bloodsport, when it comes to a definitive film about bullfighting, this is probably the one. I imagine that is, in large part, why this film was preserved at UCLA and restored to its original length of 124 minutes. (Previously, it was generally shown in a cut version: 87 minutes.) At its intended length, the film will mainly seem long to those who do not share Boetticher’s fascination. Whatever your feeling regarding bullfighting, Boetticher succeeds in taking the viewer methodically through the steps of what it means and what it takes to be a bullfighter.

    Along the way, he splices in a dual tale of friendship and love. I’ll admit that I find the Stack character a bit hard to take early on; Boetticher doesn’t shy from showing Regan warts and all. Regan is first revealed as a proud and pushy kind of guy. He will need to learn something about humility – and that’s where Roland’s Manolo comes in. The two men establish an easy friendship, which helps carry the film quite a bit.

    The love angle is a slightly tougher road. Stack starts out a bit predatory when he meets the woman who eventually becomes his ‘lady’. Their courtship is a bit angst-ridden if steady. Thankfully, it is also put in tempered relief by the sturdy, genuinely loving relationship of Roland and Jurado. (Theirs is a wonderful companionship to watch.)

    Of course, the emphasis here is on what happens in the arena. Whether or not you take to the sport and its specifics, Boetticher has explored it (and the culture behind it) rather thoroughly. If you’re a fan of Boetticher’s westerns (as I very much am), you should have little problem appreciating what he applies to those at work here.

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