Río came to Hollywood in 1925 at the behest of director Edmund Carewe, who cast her in a supporting role in the lost comedy Joanna. But it was her robust performance in Raoul Walsh’s Fox Film production What Price Glory (1926) – as the French innkeeper’s daughter who keeps American Marines Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe under her erotic spell – that made her a star. Fox quickly cast her as the most fatal of dark-eyed Latin beauties, Prosper Mérimée’s Carmen, in this lavish 1927 production, again under Walsh’s direction and opposite McLaglen. As the toreador Escamillo, McLaglen may seem more bull than bullfighter, but Walsh takes full advantage of his bulk, presenting him as a massive creature of pure appetite, devouring all food placed in his path (in perhaps the film’s lustiest sequences). The tiny, hyperkinetic del Rio buzzes around him, in constant, wriggling motion, a bouncing embodiment of life force and libido. In many ways, Carmen and Escamillo suggest the ideal Walsh couple – partners in pleasure who anticipate Joan Bennett and Spencer Tracy in Me and My Gal, or Alexis Smith and Errol Flynn in Gentleman Jim. But a more traditional form of morbid romanticism presents itself in the figure of Don José (Don Alvarado), the rigid army officer who, hopelessly in love with the inconstant Carmen, is rejected by her and returns to exact his revenge.
Duly denounced as “unadorned Rabelaisian vulgarity” by the fastidious editor of “The Film Spectator,” The Loves of Carmen appears to have been a substantial success for Fox, playing the studio’s premiere circuit between 7th Heaven and Sunrise. Unfortunately, the negative and all prints of the domestic release version were lost in the tragic Fox vault fire of 1937. MoMA’s restoration is based on a nitrate print of the European release version, repatriated from the Národní filmový archiv in the 1970s, which had been cut to eliminate a subplot involving Nancy Nash as Don José’s fiancée Michaela (Nash is now visible only in a single shot). The English language intertitles have been recreated from an original transcription.
Cast and Credits
Sog.: dal racconto Carmen (1845) di Prosper Mérimée. Scen.: Gertrude Orr. F.: Lucien Andriot, John Marta. M.: Katherine Hilliker, H.H. Caldwell. Int.: Dolores del Río (Carmen), Victor McLaglen (Escamillo), Don Alvarado (Don José), Nancy Nash (Michaela), Rafael Valverda (Miguel), Mathilde Comont (Emilia), Jack Baston (Morales), Carmen Costello (Teresa). Prod.: Fox Film Corp. DCP. Bn.
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