Friday, May 13, 2011

Manhood lessons

Any movie that includes a lengthy steam-room scene with Gilbert Roland and Robert Stack in towels, naked torsos glistening, deserves a loving post in this blog (not to mention a permanent place in the blog header).

But “The Bullfighter and the Lady” (1951) is so much more than mere beefcake. A meditation on what it means to be a man, the story is driven by the relationship between Robert Stack, a cocky American tourist, and Gilbert Roland, Mexico’s leading torero (bullfighter).

This role comes early in Robert Stack’s career. Usually he plays the Alpha male in every movie, and so it’s unusual to see him play a character who is so green. But if there’s one man who can out-macho Robert Stack, it’s Gilbert Roland.

If there's any man who can out-macho Robert Stack (left), it's Gilbert Roland.

In the opening sequence, when Robert first sees Gilbert’s prowess in the ring, he is mesmerized, as captivated as an adolescent idolizing a hero. Essentially he wants to be Gilbert – without, of course, understanding all the risks, work, and weight that entails.

Robert Stack sets eyes upon Gilbert Roland and is mesmerized.

Gilbert Roland, the torero par excellence, as gazed upon by Robert Stack.

Nevertheless, he manipulates an introduction to Gilbert, persuading Gilbert to teach him how to bullfight. Robert is strutting, over-confident, immature, while Gilbert has true adult masculine gravitas. He is the torero par excellence, revered – essentially fetishized – by both sexes. Gilbert understands, while Robert does not, the full burden of shouldering such responsibility.

I won’t spoil the film by revealing plot, except to say that Robert must learn (the hard way) what it takes to grow up and fill a man’s shoes.

The lessons are underway. Gilbert Roland close behind Robert Stack, arms encircling him to hold the cape.
He is both instructor and protector.

In a scene with interesting phallic imagery, Gilbert Roland teaches shirtless Robert Stack how to aim his sword.

The great torero.

In addition, the film is perhaps the only one I’ve ever seen (of its period at least) that doesn't take a patronizing approach toward Mexican culture, instead evoking and exploring it in all its centuries-old dignity.

[This film isn't on DVD (yet), so how can you see it? There are some VHS copies floating around (remember those?), and you can also stream it on NetFlix if you're a member.]


  1. Hy man, i never saw that film and it look interesting. There's some hot men in there and i love Robert Stack. Thank you for letting me know about that film.
    Take care my friend.


  2. You're welcome Yves, I hope you get to see it. Yes Robert Stack is definitely hot. I am planning to write about him again sometime.

  3. WOW..Mark..Just seeing Robert Stack standing shirtless in front of Gilbert Roland is sexy in it's self!...and makes my mind sexually active in,I wonder if there was any stirring in the loins during this training!it sure does look like a very interesting movie to watch.I will keep my eyes and ears peeled on the dvd trail.

  4. Hey Wally, Yes these two men do make quite a pair, don't they! This film definitely deserves a DVD release.

  5. Turner Classic Movies seems to have it in rotation lately if you get that cable channel (and shown "uncut and commercial free"). It's where I finally saw it.

  6. Thanks for the heads-up, FP. TCM is a treasure-trove of films not yet out on DVD.