Short Ends and Leader

'Hot Blood' (1956)

Brothers, hustlers, wives, and a male Bimbo.

Hot Blood

Director: Nicholas Ray
Cast: Jane Russell, Cornel Wilde
Distributor: Sony Choice Collection
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1956
US release date: 2011-03-04

This exuberant, passionate, ridiculous melodrama focuses on a colorful clan of stereotypical movie-Gypsies in Los Angeles. The king is Marco (Luther Adler), who spends a lot of time springing his people from jail and complaining about the "gadjos" (the non-Gypsy oppressor). His secret dream is to buy a trailer home, called The Promised Land, in which the old bachelor will ride into the sunset with his handsome young companion Bimbo! First, he must prepare his irresponsible, strong-willed brother Stephano (Cornel Wilde), who hangs around with gadjo women and wants to make a living as a dance instructor (!), to take over his kingship by getting him hitched to a traveling swindler (Jane Russell) who double-crosses Stephano by deciding not to jilt him. We won't explain that again, but back and forth they go for 90 minutes.

If you judge a movie by its story, then Hot Blood is silly. If you judge by aesthetic qualities, at least it's never boring. Full of bright colors (with an accent on red) in vigorous Cinemascope compositions, it's attractive nonsense with an unflagging pace, lots of eye candy, old-pro character actors, the folksy fire of Lex Baxter's music, and unabashedly odd moments, like when Wilde imagines Russell's face on a beer poster. Something's always moving furiously, although every time Wilde is supposedly demonstrating his chops as a dancer, the camera transports itself to a distance for the double. This gets into the territory some people mean by "so bad it's good"--beautiful but dumb.

But not that dumb. Sometimes it's even clever. For example, the Gypsies run their parlor in a building below medical offices, so one window has a big sign for palm-reading while the other advertises psychology.

Finally, if you approach this movie with an auteurist's eye, then it's Nicholas Ray all over. This is the movie he made in between Rebel Without a Cause and Bigger Than Life, and here's the color and scope of his 1950s melodramas; the almost anthropological focus on tribes that threaten or subvert mainstream culture (youth gangs in Rebel, Eskimos in The Savage Innocents, poachers in Wind Across the Everglades); the highly problematic attitude to marriage as an institution (Rebel, Bigger Than Life), with its homo-erotic edges and men who express love through anger and violence. This has been on DVD outside the US, while inside it's only available on demand through the Sony Choice Collection.


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