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by Jay Seaver

"Notable for ending Budd Boetticher's career - and, sadly, little else."
1 stars

Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate" is generally held up as the gold standard of movie debacles, and it's hard to argue with a film which nearly bankrupted a studio that had been in existence since the silent days. But for all the carnage it caused, it just bled money. Budd Boetticher's "Arruza" was a more total disaster for the people involved.

Boetticher's idea, apparently, was to make something like The Jackie Robinson Story, a fictionalized biography whose subject would star as himself. The man who captured Boetticher's interest was Carlos Arruza, widely considered Mexico's greatest matador, who had retired at the top of his game, purchasing one of the nation's top cattle farms where he would breed champion toros. When one of his animals gets loose, he herds the beast back on horseeback, which inspires him to learn a different form of bullfighting, rejoneador rather than picador. Michael Jordan retiring from basketball to try his hand at professional baseball is not a bad analogy, although Arruza's new sport was considered less prestigious than his old one (and Space Jam is a better movie). Boetticher's wife, Debra Paget, would be the leading lady.

What went wrong? Everything. Financing was difficult to come by, and when Boetticher did get money, he went over budget. The quasi-documentary nature of the film meant there was no script to follow. Boetticher's marriage fell apart.

Oh, and Carlos Arruza died in a car accident long before filming was complete.

There is, I suppose, the possibility that this could have come together as a good movie if not for Arruza's untimely death. Bullfighting is a subject close to Boetticher's heart - he actually used the cape and sword himself as a young man, had an early job in Hollywood as a technical advisor on Blood and Sand, and was the writer/producer/director of Bullfighter and the Lady (whose star, Anthony Quinn, provides the narration here). His western and genre pictures, while not flashy, were solid pictures generally considered to hold up well to this day.

I don't see it happening, though. The parts which were staged or recreated look fake, and the documentary footage looks like nothing so much as home movies. I don't think we ever hear Carlos Arruza speak - in either English or Spanish - so it's difficult to get a sense of his personal charisma. We just don't see the pieces of a great movie here. And that's before trying to sell an American audience on bullfighting; we're given a chance to see it as popular and taking skill, but the footage we see doesn't highlight it as beautiful or exciting

And that's all Boetticher has, leaving him to try to assemble a feature documentary with what seems like mostly b-roll footage, no follow-up with his subject, no real ending, no more money, and no goodwill left in Hollywood. What he inevitably winds up with is a dry, meandering hour and a quarter that likely has little appeal to those who are not already fans of bullfighting but isn't pitched to a knowledgeable audience.

Boetticher would form a production partnership with Audie Murphy upon returning to Hollywood, but Murphy died after making just one film. After that, Boetticher became persona non grata, not directing another film before his death in 2001. It raises the question, was "Arruza" worth it? Maybe for Boetticher, but likely not for anyone else.

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originally posted: 01/20/06 02:01:23
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User Comments

8/19/06 José Ramírez A wasted opportunity to make a great film 3 stars
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  23-Aug-1972 (PG)



Directed by
  Budd Boetticher

Written by
  Budd Boetticher

  Carlos Arruza
  Anthony Quinn

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