Hot Blood

Hot Blood

Jean-Luc Godard: 'Nothing but Cinema'

('Rien que Ie cinema', Cahiers du Cinema 68, February 1957)

If the cinema no longer existed, Nicholas Ray alone gives the impression of being capable of reinventing it, and what is more, of wanting to. While it is easy to imagine John Ford as an admiral, Robert Aldrich on Wall Street, Anthony Mann on the trail of Belliou la Fumee or Raoul Walsh as a latter-day Henry Morgan under Caribbean skies, it is difficult to see the director of Run for Cover doing anything but make films. A Logan or a Tashlin, for instance, might make good in the theatre or music-hall, Preminger as a novelist, Brooks as a schoolteacher, Fuller as a politician, Cukor a press agent - but not Nicholas Ray. Were the cinema suddenly to cease to exist, most directors would be in no way at a loss; Nicholas Ray would. After seeing Johnny Guitar or Rebel Without a Cause, one cannot but feel that here is something which exists only in the cinema, which would be nothing in a novel, the stage or anywhere else, but which becomes fantastically beautiful on the screen. Nicholas Ray is morally a director, first and foremost. This explains the fact that in spite of his innate talent and obvious sincerity, a script which he does not take seriously will remain superficial.

At first glance this seems to be the case with Hot Blood, which is treated very casually, however, for the basic situation is not without promise.

Taken literally, it is the situation of The Lusty Men in reverse, or Cukor's Bhowani Junction if you like: weary of adventure, someone returns to the people to whom he belongs. No one who shares my opinion that D. H. Lawrence's The Plumed Serpent is the most important novel of the twentieth century will be surprised when I say that here, had he so chosen, Nicholas Ray could have found a subject even more modern in its overtones than the ones he prefers. It seems he felt differently, however, and saw Hot Blood merely as a diversion between two a priori more ambitious films.

Should one hold this against him? Renoir has just demonstrated with Elena that taking it easy is a very serious thing, and even if he was amusing himself by taking it easy, or vice versa. I would therefore take Nicholas Ray to task for having on this occasion taken his fun too lightly.

But, I can hear people say, the film is just a commercial chore about gypsies, with Cornel Wilde forced to marry Jane Russell while she quits the tribe of which he is Dauphin and then realizes how much she needs them. Perhaps, but it isn't so simple, because I like to think that Nicholas Ray is honest enough to become involved only in something that involves him, and this was the case here. Hot Blood offered a chance to tackle a subject which on his own admission is dear to him - the ethnic minority - to depict a race through an individual, and so follow the path opened up by Rossellini while still going his own way.

Each shot of this film (slightly angled since he has been shooting in CinemaScope) proves, moreover, that the director is not totally uninterested, and that he was not replaced by Raoul Walsh as one might have been led to believe by the Jane Russell character, whose mannerisms are exactly those of Mamie in The Revolt of Mamie Stover. The plot itself, although badly handled, carries Ray's stamp, and the Cornel Wilde character is very close to those played by Sterling Hayden, Arthur Kennedy and James Cagney in his earlier films. Always, in a Ray film, the leading character returns to something he once abandoned or scorned.

For him, it is not a question of conquering but - more difficult - of reconquering a position lost through immaturity, inertia or discontent.

So one may well regret that Nicholas Ray did not feel called upon to deal more trenchantly with a situation and characters which might have made Hot Blood a less anodyne work. No reservations are necessary, however, in praising the deliberate and systematic use of the gaudiest colours to be seen in the cinema: barley-sugar orange shirts, acid-green dresses, violet cars, blue and pink carpets. The whole thing is a little like Van Dongen (at his best), and puts paid once and for all to those who still believe that colour in the cinema is more suited to soft than violent tones. For a purely technical reason, moreover, depth of focus in CinemaScope (which will not permit the use of a lens with a focal length shorter than 50 mm) is obtained by accentuating contrasts (d. films shot by Joe MacDonald and John Alton).

Hot Blood, in short, is a semi-successful film to the extent that Ray was semi-uninterested in it. A success almost in spite of its director, I should add; or better, brought off by Nicholas Ray's innate sense of cinema: in an almost automatic manner, therefore, but less naively than that writing beloved of the early Surrealists. The whole cinema and nothing but the cinema, I was saying of Nicholas Ray. This eulogy entails a reservation.

Nothing but cinema may not be the whole cinema.

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