5 October 2005 | blanche-2
sad film for a variety of reasons
This is a depressing movie on several levels, the first being the actual story, about the "Lost Generation" after World War I hanging out in Europe and being drunk and/or unhappy and disillusioned. For me it's one of those movies to watch when you really want to dwell on life's misery and wax philosophical and feel like there's something romantic about disenchantment.
The second depressing thing is the casting, which is a major problem. Tyrone Power had been the most important star at 20th Century Fox for many years - in fact, when he became a star in the late 1930s, each film he made was a bigger hit than the one before. He literally kept the studio solvent. He was cast in this film at the age of 42 which was near the end of his life. He and the rest of the actors are all too old. I suppose to have made it with younger actors would have made it less of a big movie, but in fact, people like Jeffrey Hunter, Robert Wagner (both Fox actors) and Natalie Wood were closer to the right age. But you can see how that would have made it seem a lighter film.
In Power's case, I have read several comments here about how bad he looked. Were he alive, I'm sure he would thank you, as his fondest desire in life was to lose his looks. As far as he was concerned, his impossibly beautiful appearance wrecked his acting ambitions. The funny part of it is, in candids taken during the filming, one of which is included in Mai Zetterling's All Those Tomorrows (she was his then girlfriend and on the set with him) he looks absolutely fantastic, healthy and tanned, not at all what is being described here. He also had all his hair for those who seemed to think he was balding. His hair was downright luxuriant in Solomon and Sheba, the film he was making when he died. In fact, in photos taken one hour before he died, he looked better than he did in "The Sun Also Rises." Go figure. Zetterling states that he reported to the set daily on 3 hours sleep and took pills to stay awake to attend social functions that he felt were necessary. He told Zetterling that he was pretty impressed with how bad Errol Flynn looked. Apparently he was envious. Zetterling felt once filming started that he looked exhausted and haggard, but he didn't seem to care. Frankly, I thought he looked fine, particularly in the beginning of the movie. I think you can tell the scenes where he was running on no sleep. And as far as looking bad, what about Ava Gardner? At 35, she was a mess. Someone in the comments said that with all these men chasing after Brett, people would think the war had made everyone's eyesight dim. That's really not so - Gardner until the day she died had men falling for her right and left, including the husband of one interviewer who brought her flowers every day his wife spoke with Gardner. She was a very magnetic and sexy woman, and we can assume Brett Ashley had the same gifts.
That all being said, the ages are wrong but the acting is right, even if it comes not from disillusioned youth but disillusioned middle age. This is particularly true of Power as the impotent Jake Barnes and Gardner as Lady Ashley. I would think as far as the emotions, the roles were very close to their own lives at that point. Power felt he had achieved nothing; he was supporting wives he no longer loved who lived in houses he paid for and would never enter, and he was only proud of a few films. In the last years of his film-making, Tyrone Power turned in some wonderful performances in this movie, Abandon Ship, and Witness for the Prosecution. A shame he wasn't able to continue and do the sorts of roles he wanted.
Gardner's activities are well documented. She drank all night and slept all day and bullfighters were her thing, though "my man Frank" as she called him was always in the background.
Flynn and Eddie Albert are terrific - the dissipation was starting to pay off well for Errol Flynn, but unfortunately he wouldn't live long enough to make much money from it. These two had the showiest roles - in fact, in a somewhat lifeless film, they lifted it up. Mel Ferrer's character wasn't sufficiently fleshed out to tell if he was doing a good job or not.
If you can put the ages aside, this is a good, not very good, and not great film - but great as far as production values and acting. Hemingway is very difficult to put on screen, as we all know from sitting through films based on his books and stories.
A final note: For those who didn't like Power's performance, consider Jake's wild enthusiasm over the bullfights. While Power was making Blood & Sand, he actually had to attend a bullfight. Of course, a great deal was made of him and he was sitting with his wife, Annabella, down front and center. Unfortunately he became violently ill over the whole thing. In order to leave with some dignity, Annabella said she was sick so they could get out of there. So give the man some credit - Jake sure did look like he was enjoying himself.