"Blood and Sand" [is] opulently Technicolored, resplendently caparisoned in the gold and pink brocades of Spain, and languid as midafternoon. Such a succession of sumptuously colored stills has not dazzled Broadway in quite a while. With infinite care Rouben Mamoulian, the director, has arranged his cast in striking tableaux; lovingly the camera eye lingers on burnished candelabra, El Greco altarpieces and rococo interiors of Spanish haciendas. In themselves they are good calendar art; as film drama they are … hopelessly static….
[There] is too little drama, too little blood and sand, in it. Instead the story constantly bogs down in the most atrocious romantic cliches, in an endless recital of proof that talented young bull-fighters are apt to become arrogant and successful; that Curro, the critic, will sing their praises, and that thereafter their love life becomes very complicated.
Now and again for brief moments the film takes on some of the harsh vitality it might have had. Sometimes the camera hovers far above the corrida to catch the pageantry of the entrance and later the precise dance of death between a flaring cape of scarlet and a charging bull. In the darkness of the entry to the ring itself a door opens and the afternoon light flashes like a sword upon taut faces of waiting matadors. Or again the camera catches the frenzy of the crowd at the "moment of truth" in a woman's hand smearing lipstick across her face. These are glimpses of a stunning romantic melodrama with somber overtones.
But most of the essential cruelty of the theme is lost in pretty colors and rhetorical speeches.
Theodore Strauss, "'Blood and Sand'," in The New York Times (© 1941 by the New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 23, 1941, p. 3.