The Bullfighter and the Lady is a Budd Boetticher film that was produced by John Wayne. Wayne had never worked with Boetticher as an actor, but he was an uncredited producer on another film with him later. It comes at the start of Boetticher’s run as one of the great directors of the 50s, but it’s not in the genre he’s best known for, the Western, and it’s much longer than most of his other very compact films.
Bullfighting in Mexico is at the centre of the film. Boetticher had been a bullfighter, so it has an autobiographical side and that might be why it’s one of his better movies. It stars Robert Stack as Johnny Regan, a young gringo who goes down to Mexico to train with a famous Mexican bullfighter. The kid has some Hollywood connections, so clearly reflects the director’s experience. Regan is a brash, self-centred American who is trying to learn from an experienced matador. However, he is not giving the lessons his full attention—he’s trying to impress Anita, played by Joy Page.
The characterisations are all really great, most likely because the director knew this world inside and out. The cinematographer was Jack Draper, an American who mainly shot Mexican films after a start in the silent era in the US—also unique for a Hollywood film in this era. Draper shot part of Orson Welles’s never-finished Don Quixote. It’s really well-shot, especially the location stuff. It’s also not the worst of its ilk when it comes to falling back on lazy Mexican stereotypes.
It was all shot in Mexico, which was rare for a relatively big American movie at that time. It has a very good sense of place, and shows the reality of being a bullfighter, which is not great. The film was taken away from Boetticher by Wayne, who then reported got John Ford to chop it down into a B-movie. It took the director 35 years to get this cut out there, with help from Stack—they got back together while making a documentary about bullfighting, which is also one of the extras on this release. It’s a solid movie, but not as good as his classic Seven Men From Now.
As a lifelong Unsolved Mysteries fan, I’ve always liked Stack, although it’s strange seeing him here with blond hair. Stack has said this was the first film her ever did where he thought he’d given a good performance, and it was one of his first major leads. He went on to act for Douglas Sirk and Samuel Fuller in the ’50s before perhaps his best-known role which was on TV as Elliot Nash in The Untouchables, Kevin Costner plays his role in 1987 film version.
The disc comes with quite a lot of extras, including the 1985 documentary My Kingdom For…, which was mentioned earlier and both the new theatrical cut (restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive) and the original 87-minute theatrical cut. It is accompanied by a new audio commentary with critics and authors Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme, a new interview with Mary Boetticher, and a 2001 audio interview with the director by film preservationist Robert Gitt. The limited edition booklet includes a new essay by Matthew Thrift, an archival letter from Budd Boetticher about his love of bullfighting, archival profiles of actress Katy Jurado, an overview of contemporary critical responses, new writing on My Kingdom For…, and full film credits.