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THE BRAVE ONE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Michael Ray, Rudolfo Hoyos, Joi Lansing, Elsa Cardenas
Director:  Irving Rapper
Audio:  Dolby Digital Stereo
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  VCI
Features:  Theatrical Trailer, Talent Files
Length:  100 Minutes
Release Date:  August 1, 2000

Film **1/2

The Brave One is a decent but flawed Disney-esque type story set in Mexico about a young boy and his pet bull:  how they grow up together, and ultimately, how the lad tries to save the animal from the fate of the bullring.  

When the family cow dies under a fallen tree during a storm, young Leonardo (Ray) manages to save the life of the boy calf, whom he befriends and names Gitano (Spanish for gypsy).  But two complications loom like a shadow over their friendship.  The first is the issue of legal ownership.  Though the mothering cow had been given as a gift by a wealthy rancher to Leonardo’s father, they have no initial documentation that verifies the animal belonged to his family (and later, they manage to lose the once piece of paper that proves their case).  The other problem is the bleak future of the bullring, where most young bulls eventually wind up.  It’s not reasonable to expect Gitano will escape it.

Gitano eventually reaches the age of four (of course, the BOY doesn’t get any older during those years), and when the ranch owner dies in a racing accident, he, like all other bulls carrying his brand, is sold at auction for bullfighting.  Leonardo cannot prove the animal is his, but he sets off on a mad race against time to find the president of Mexico, hoping for a pardon for Gitano before he enters the ring.

The final sequence, which is the film’s best, is a lengthy bullfight between Gitano and a prominent matador.  You can’t help but watch this scene with a grim sense of foreboding.  In a bullfight, there is one animal and one human being squaring off, and one of them is going to die.  Oh, but I forgot…this IS the movies after all.  There is always a way out.  I will say no more.

My main problem with the structure of the story is simply that a bull doesn’t have a lot of personality, nor much in the way of on-screen charisma.  Gitano is kind of cute as a calf, but as he grows up—well, there are quite a few bulls in this movie, and I couldn’t even always tell which one he was.  I never got as attached to him as I did, say, Old Yeller or Black Beauty.  And to be honest, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be rooting for during the finale.  Sure, I didn’t want to see Gitano die, but I didn’t necessarily want to see him kill the matador, either.  Had this actually been a Disney film, the matador would have been made out a villain through subplots along the way—we would have seen him engaged in evil acts and lies and manipulations.  It would have been cheesy, but there wouldn’t have been any confusion at the climax.

Young Michael Ray is a fairly decent child actor, but no master of accents.  He’s actually English, not Mexican, and as such, sometimes his dialect slips back and forth between Spanish and British, occasionally right in mid sentence.  His character in the story is completely defined by his love for Gitano, which also provides his only motivation from point to point.  You get a feel for his sense of loyalty, but it still leaves him a fairly two-dimensional character which the audience likes, but never completely embraces.

One interesting bit of trivia:  story writer Robert Rich, who won an Oscar for this film, never claimed his prize.  That’s because Rich was a pseudonym used by legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who had been blacklisted as a result of the McCarthy hearings.  That blacklist remained unbroken until Kirk Douglas bravely credited him with his real name as the writer of Spartacus.

Video *1/2

This is my first experience with a DVD from VCI, and I have to say, I was thoroughly unimpressed.  Though this doesn’t really fall under the category of video quality, I want to start by complaining about the VCI promo at the beginning, which is a full minute’s worth of cheesy computer animation—and you CAN’T skip past it.  You can’t even press stop in the middle of it.  How annoying!  As for the picture quality, the print itself is mostly clean, with only a few noticeable spots and smudges here and there, but the overall look is poor.  There are many darker scenes in the picture where images are completely undistinguishable.  One of these involves a fight between Gitano and a wildcat, and through most of it, I couldn’t even tell what I was looking at.  Everything in darker images take on the same dull, murky hue, and defining lines generally completely disappear—dreadful.  Sunlit scenes fare a little better, but still with mostly muted looking colors and a great deal of softness.  I noticed no compression artifacts for this single layered disc:  no grain, no shimmer, no chroma noise, and no color bleeding.  But overall, this is one of the worst looking color films from the 1950’s I’ve yet seen on disc—and lack of anamorphic enhancement certainly didn’t help the cause much.

Audio **

Though the box claims stereo, I’d personally swear this is two-channel mono.  If I’m wrong, I apologize, but if it IS stereo, there are no distinguishable split channel effects, and it’s one of the thinnest sounding stereo tracks I’ve ever heard.  The audio is clean, with no noticeable noise or hiss along the way, and the dynamic range (particularly the musical score) is fairly good, but overall, the thinness makes this a less than stellar listen; it’s as though you were hearing everything through a hollow tin can.  Dialogue is generally very clean and well rendered, as well as most sound effects such as a thunderstorm and the pounding of the bulls’ hooves in the ring.

Features *

The disc contains only a trailer and a few talent files.  And whoever created the chapter stops didn’t bother to check his spelling, listing Leonardo and Gitano as “Denato and Etano”.  Oh, and get this—the little leaflet that comes with the disc actually proclaims proudly that ALL VCI discs feature interactive menus and chapter search.  Gee, our cup runneth over.

Summary:

The Brave One is a perfectly adequate, if a bit flawed and thin family film.  It misses the real sense of emotion and character of more famous movies that mix children with their animals, but manages a good and solid finale in the end.  Gitano may be a noble animal, but it’s the terrible overall quality of this disc that’s most likely to have you screaming “Bull!” in your living room.