Ninja Captain Alex and Heather Gardner are hosting the Blood, Boobs, and Carnage Blogfest, wherein participants discuss books, films, and TV shows fitting one or more of the abovementioned categories. I naturally thought of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Blood and Sand, written by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, Spain’s great national novelist. Both were adapted to the silver screen, in 1921 and 1922, respectively, and later remade.
Juan Gallardo (Rudy Valentino) is a poor boy who dreams of becoming a great bullfighter. Of course, he realises his dream, and rises to become one of Spain’s greatest matadors. Along the way, he marries Carmen (Lila Lee), a sweet, pious girl he knew growing up. Sadly, their marriage doesn’t yield any children. When Juan is at the top of his game, he’s seduced by Doña Sol (Nita Naldi), a notorious man-eater and Vamp. There’s a subplot about an outlaw named Plumitas (Walter Long), whose life path is a sobering parallel to Juan’s life.
There’s plenty of blood and carnage in the arena, though the actual shots of bullfighting are pasted in from real arenas, not done for the film. Nita Naldi was one of the best Vamps of the silent era, after the great Theda Bara. She and Rudy co-starred in several films, and had incredible chemistry. She was also built like a real woman, with voluptuous curves, instead of being a size 6. Nita wasn’t afraid to show off her assets with sexy clothing.
In the silent era, a Vampyre, shortened to Vamp, did not refer to a paranormal creature, but rather to a sexually aggressive, man-eating, rule-breaking, assertive woman.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is one the most powerful anti-war novels ever. It became a U.S. bestseller in 1919, and the 1921 film adaptation was one of the greatest blockbusters in film history (even though most of those constant “best ever” lists ignore or barely mention the silent era). This film was what gave Rudy Valentino his big break and made him a star. This is one of those book-to-screen adaptations which was done marvellously right, instead of taking a great novel and throwing it into the toilet (à la Exodus).
Marcelo Desnoyers moves to Argentina from France in 1870. His family moves back to France before the outbreak of the First World War. During this idyllic, wealthy existence, Marcelo’s son Julio lives the life of Riley, living only for the moment and never developing any serious, mature interests. There’s a notoriously famous, sexy tango scene during Julio’s playboy days, as well as a scene where he sketches a nude model. Meanwhile, Marcelo’s sister-in-law has married a German, Karl Hartrott, and that branch of the family moves back to Germany.
Julio is finally compelled into growing up, and enlists in the French Army. Not only do we see/read the accounts of his wartime service, but we also see/read the horrific account of the carnage and pillage at Marcelo’s mansion. The book is even more graphic, haunting, and bloody than the film. I could picture the scenes in the book even more strongly because I’d already seen the film so many times, and when I next saw the film after reading the book, it was an even more intense experience.
Ignore the 1962 “remake.” It has almost nothing in common with either the novel or 1921 film, and makes a complete mockery of both.