Cast & Crew
In the gypsy quarters of Los Angeles, gypsy king Marco Torino urges his people to donate money to fund his search for "the promised land." Marco then visits the doctor who lives above his fortune-telling establishment, where he learns that what he had feared was true: he is incurably ill. Marco conceals this information, but realizes that if he is to see his rebellious younger brother Stephano take his place as king, he must act quickly. First, he cunningly frightens away Stephano's prospective employer, Mr. Swift, the owner of a non-gypsy dancing school, by describing his brother as a "mostly reliable gypsy." Then he announces that he has arranged for Stephano to marry a beautiful gypsy from Chicago named Annie Caldash, a move that he hopes will cure the young man's restlessness. This, however, only infuriates Stephano, who accuses Marco of trying to run his life. Stephano tells Annie, her father Theodore, and her brother Xano that the wedding is off. This angers Papa Caldash, who had planned to abscond with his daughter after accepting several thousand dollars in wedding settlement money from Marco. Annie, who is attracted to Stephano and tired of the fraudulent betrothals arranged for her by her father, describes a scheme that appeals to Stephano. During the ceremony, she will simply do as her father wishes: feign illness and run away with the dowry money. Believing that Marco will stop interfering in his life after enduring such humiliation, Stephano agrees to proceed with the wedding, but during the elaborate ceremony, Annie surprises him and Papa Caldash by allowing the ceremony to proceed without a hitch. As the guests feast, dance, and sing outside the couple's door, Stephano packs his bags while advising Annie to end the marriage with the traditional declaration, "there is no love." Annie rips his shirt and wrestles with her new husband, but to no avail: Stephano leaves with Velma, his blonde girl friend and proceeds directly to Swift's dance studio. Believing Swift failed to hire him due to prejudice against gypsies, Stephano hurls the bewildered man through a plate glass window and is arrested. Marco bails him out and later reveals to Annie the truth about his illness. Determined to win over her new husband, Annie seduces him, but just after he promises to stay with her, Marco enters and declares that he and Annie have won. Stephano assumes the two are in league together and once again leaves his wife. Velma gets him an interview with an agent, but Annie, disguised as a fortune-teller, enters the club and fights with her rival. Disgusted, Stephano signs the contract and leaves for San Diego, where he and Velma perform three nightly shows in a series of sleazy bars. After several months of this, Stephano realizes that he loves Annie and returns home. He is surprised to find her dancing with Marco and apparently enduring little unhappiness as a result of his absence. While Stephano dances with Annie, his grandfather, Papa Johnny, secretly prepares a brew that will make him sick and therefore likely to stay at home. To Papa Johnny's horror, Annie drinks the potion, and later, when Stephano tries to make love to her, she falls asleep. Annie's strange behavior causes everyone to gossip, and Stephano soon believes that his wife loves Marco. Stephano, seeing that Marco plans to leave town in a trailer upon which he has painted the words, "the promised land," mistakenly assumes his brother has not only stolen his wife but swindled thousands of dollars from his people. The two men fight with their belts, "like gypsies," and Marco is injured. Papa Johnny then tells Stephano about Marco's terminal illness. At the council meeting that evening, Marco names Stephano the new gypsy king. After Stephano accepts the king's staff, Annie asks him to approve the annulment of her marriage, publicly declaring that "my husband never wanted me." Stephano apologizes to her and to Marco for his behavior but grants the annulment. After collecting more money for Marco's trip to the "promised land," he runs after Annie's car, declaring his intention to be a good husband and king. Overjoyed, Annie falls into Stephano's arms as the gypsies sing and dance.
Jesse Lasky Jr.
Frank [a.] Tuttle
The trouble here is that he didn't digest much or drink deeply enough. Part of Ray's indecisiveness about where to take the film stemmed from the fact that he was simply tired, still drained by the unforeseen effort of completing Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Ray didn't even stick around for the film's final editing. Coming in at a trim 86 minutes, it may not have much to say, but at least doesn't take long to say it as it lurches through a plot in which Wilde's American urban gypsy prodigal playboy is shaped up by the jolting news of the impending death of his older brother, gypsy king Marko, played by Luther Adler in a far more detailed and thought-out way than the leads.
Bringing to the role a gravitas that is nowhere else matched in the film, Group Theater pioneer Adler almost overcomes the fact that he's fundamentally miscast. Yet his focus and intensity come close to justifying rebel Ray's insistence on casting him against type. Wilde's Stephano is on another plane entirely, bulling ahead with crude vitality, convincing us that he'd make a terrible successor to his able older brother. Crashing crudely through the role, he's headstrong, heedless, warped by sibling rivalry issues, a creature of the moment, utterly devoid of the skill set and shrewdness it takes to steer the gypsy community through an unwelcoming environment determined to marginalize them. This would seem to be rich psychic turf for Ray, with his innate sympathy for -- and identification with -- marginalized outsiders in They Live by Night (1948), Knock on Any Door (1949) and In a Lonely Place (1950) before Rebel. Wilde even gets a speech denouncing stereotyped views designed to keep gypsies disenfranchised.
But the thorough research of Jean Evans into gypsy life as a submerged subculture in Manhattan was jettisoned except for accurate depictions of wedding and other ceremonial scenes. We are not talking Tony Gatlif and Latcho Drom (1993) here, or even King of the Gypsies (1978). But we could have been. Still, it was the film's Vincente Minnelli-like embrace of studio artifice that the French New Wave picked up on and celebrated. Jean-Luc Godard lauded its gaudy colors. Francois Truffaut praised its devil-may-care vitality, soft-pedaling the fact that the vitality is mostly visual. In place of veracity and conviction, it offers exuberance and visual extravagance, with the less said the better about cameraman Ray June's pan from Russell's face to her ample bosom where the camera remains for a few more than telltale seconds.
Russell is the reason the film was pushed through. Ever since she stole The Outlaw (1943) from Pat Garrett, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday with a roll in a haystack that caused the Howard Hughes film to be banned and make oodles of money, Russell was America's pre-Marilyn Monroe sex goddess. But Hot Blood was her fifth film in thirteen months. She had produced and starred in a demanding musical made in Europe, Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, quickly segued to The Tall Men, and was, by her own admission, exhausted, spending her lunch hours in restorative steam baths. She liked working with Ray when he took over for fired director Josef von Sternberg in Macao in 1952, but in her autobiography says she didn't give him or Wilde much.
Her fondest memory connected to the movie had to do with getting small parts for her brothers. Jamie played her brother in Hot Blood. Wally played the gypsy king's right-hand man. Still, she's fiery when she has to be, which is most of the time, starting with her entrance, when she's bailed out of jail by the gypsy king who has arranged her wedding to his brother. She throws the desk sergeant the first of her many smoldering glances and snaps, in spitfire fashion, "Just one little fortune I told in Peoria!" Nor does she bat an eye in what we now would cringingly dismiss as unacceptable brutality during a whip dance with Wilde and other bits of I'm-the-king-of-the-gypsies-and-I'm-the-king-of-you sexism. She delivers more spark than she perhaps realized.
In a role without shadings, Wilde delivers nothing but vitality. As a young fencer good enough to make the US Olympic team, the New Yorker of Czech-Hungarian ancestry switched to acting, was discovered on Broadway as Laurence Olivier's Tybalt (and fencing instructor) in Romeo and Juliet, and enjoyed a successful film career as a swashbuckler and in crime melodramas. Ironically, his command of body language as a fencer didn't translate to the dance numbers, where choreographer Matt Mattox served as his dance double. Other piquant bits of casting include Russian diva and vocal coach Nina Koshetz as a gypsy stalwart and, to give you an idea of the music's detour from original gypsy sources, it was supplied by easy-listening king Percy Faith, with songs by Armenian composer Ross Bagdasarian, famous for his hit, "Come on'a My House" (recorded by Rosemary Clooney among others). Both were rewarded with small roles, as gas station attendants. Speaking of which, Wilde has a snazzy entrance, too in an aquamarine Thunderbird convertible accessorized with a blonde behind the wheel. Jacques Demy would have died for it. Hot Blood suffers from an identity crisis indicated by its succession of prior titles No Return, Tambourine, Bad Blood. But it never suffers from tired blood. For all its problems, it's easy to succumb to its wacky non-stop verve.
Producer: Harry Tatelman, Howard Welsch
Director: Nicholas Ray
Screenplay: Jean Evans, Jesse Lasky, Jr. Cinematography: Ray June
Film Editing: Otto Ludwig
Art Direction: Robert Peterson
Music: Les Baxter
Set Decoration: Frank Tuttle
Cast: Jane Russell (Annie Caldash), Cornel Wilde (Stephano Torino), Luther Adler (Marco Torino), Joseph Calleia (Papa Theodore), James H. Russell (Xano), Nina Koshetz (Nita Johnny), Helen Westcott (Velma).
by Jay Carr
Bernard Eisenschitz (translated by Tom Milne): Nicholas Ray An American Journey
Jane Russell: My Path and My Detours
The film's working title was Tambourine. Although the film is set in Los Angeles, a letter is shown during the picture that bears the address: "Marco Torino, Gypsy Quarters, New Market, PA." This was the last film of actor Mikhail Rasumny, who died on February 22, 1956, just before the film's March release. The Variety reviewer noted that the film had "an occasional sociological note on the effect of city living on the free-souled gypsy...however...the footage is assembled to stress a charming, carefree, somewhat roistering existence."
Modern sources add the following information about the film: Jean Evans was the pen name of Jean Abrams, director Nicholas Ray's first wife. In 1949, Ray wrote a treatment based on Evans' original research among the gypsies on New York City's Lower East Side and submitted it to RKO. In 1951, Ray worked with writer Walter Newman on a first draft of a script about urban gypsies which was then entitled No Return. Columbia finally agreed to make the film, but insisted that the script be re-written. Ray then collaborated with Jesse Lasky, Jr. on a new screenplay. Ray had wanted producer Gabriel Pascal to play "Marco Torino," the King of the Gypsies, but Pascal died before the film was made. According to modern sources, Ray also considered Edward G. Robinson for the role, which eventually was portrayed by Luther Adler, a veteran of the Group Theater. Modern sources also add that choreographer Matt Mattox substituted for Cornel Wilde during the dances.
Released in United States Spring March 1956
Released in United States Spring March 1956