Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Brave One (1956)

The Brave One (Irving Rapper, 1956) An almost essential film for children that has fallen by the way-side in the public consciousness, but its story of a boy and his bull, each with their own battles to fight in an uncaring world filled with cruelty will create that sense of wonder in a child (or an adult), while delivering a message of empowerment to the short—and dismissed—in stature.*

There's nothing better in a kid's film, whatever the genre, be it The Wizard of Oz, Willie Wonka, or The Yearling, or even (dare I say it?) Star Wars or Harry Potter.  If you're gonna plop your kid in front of a movie, it's a bonus if there's a life-lesson that will resonate, rather than merely amuse or create short-term product demand.

Like a lot of these, the story involves bonding.  A child, Leonardo (Michel Ray), saves a young bull, separated from its herd, from a terrible storm.  He adopts the bull, names it "Gitano" (for "Gypsy") and raises it (I guess, to "bullhood"), only to have it taken away, because technically, the bull belongs to the wealthy rancher Leonardo's father works for.

But, because of Gitano's rebellious spirit (with anyone but Leonardo), the unruly bull is sent to Madrid for the bull-fighting ring in the nation's capitol. Knowing the bull's chances of surviving the competition don't exist, the boy travels to Madrid to plead mercy for the bull, exhibiting the same courage against the rigid rules of the bullring and of government bureaucracy. 
Now, it's interesting to consider...if one is drawing parallels between films (and one tends to do that)...that the author of this film—"Robert Rich," a nom de blacklist of Dalton Trumbo, who, because of his dealings with Communist publications during the 1940's, would run him afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the '50's and "blacklisting" throughout that decade—would, in three years, be producing another script about another rebel sent to a ring to fight to the death, and started a revolution of his own. That film is Spartacus, and one can't help seeing the similarities between the death-battles in the bull-ring and the gladiator-coliseum, both in the script by Trumbo and the direction of a young Stanley Kubrick.
The director of this one was Irving Rapper, a bit of a maverick in his career as a Warner Brothers dialogue coach and director (Bogart once told him "Skippy, you have one more suspension and you'll be on the San Francisco Bay Bridge!"—this from an actor who had his own run-in's with the Warner brass) Rapper had a varied career (from the classic Now Voyager to the less-than-classic The Christine Jorgenson Story), but he was an intelligent, intuitive director (and he gets a marvelous performance out of young Ray), who could make the most out of good material and struggled mightily with bad.

When it cam Oscar-time, The Brave One won an Oscar for its story credited to "Rich," and the Academy ("brave" industry reps that they were and are) kept up the studio-imposed subterfuge.  It wasn't until 1975 that Trumbo was acknowledged by them as the author of The Brave One.

* It may also be difficult to find as it shares the title of a fairly lousy Jodie Foster vigilante revenge movie, made in 2007 by Neil Jordan.  Make sure which one it is before showing it to your child.

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