BR: Bandolero! (1968)

May 12, 2020 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  May 21, 2019

Genre:  Western

Synopsis: After escaping a hanging, a band of bank robbers and their hostage trek through a dangerous valley while a relentless posse is gaining speed.

Special Features:  Audio Commentary with Dean Martin biographer Tony Latino, Cinema Retro’s Lee Pfeiffer, and film historian Paul Scrabo / Isolated Stereo Music Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and and Twilight Time.




Twilight Time’s stellar Blu-ray features one of the heaviest fact-filled commentary tracks by Cinema Retro’s Lee Pfeiffer, historian Paul Scrabo, and Dean Martin biographer Tony Latino, and a stunning HD transfer of this odd but quietly remarkable western which returning Fox production chief Darryl F. Zanuck assembled in his usual fast-thinking and astute fashion after the studio had run into rough financial circumstances.

First, package Dean Martin with James Stewart and contract starlet Raquel Welch for western based on a short story outline by occasional writer (The Undefeated) and mostly TV producer Stanley Hough (Planet of the Apes, the 1980s Gunsmoke teleplays), and get James Lee Barrett, the writer of Stewart’s recent hit Shenandoah (1965) to flesh out a full script for prolific TV and film western director Andrew V. McLaglen. Then engage Jerry Goldsmith to write a score that softens the story’s gradual transition from amiable action-comedy to hard drama, hire editor Folmar Blangsted (A Star is Born, A Cry in the Night, Colossus: The Forbin Project), and William H. Clothier (The Sea Chase, The Alamo, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) to exploit the ravishing beauty of isolated towns and arid valleys.

Bandolero! is an odd little film that’s perhaps aged better than its rivals because Barrett’s script is both tight, very linear, and focuses on just a handful of conflicts once the key players have been set up.

Dee Bishop (Martin, quite good playing a mean anti-hero) and his vicious gang drawn from Quantrill’s Raiders bungle a bank robbery, and in killing a local landowner Stoner (former Tarzan Jock Mahoney), are sentenced to hang within a few days. Elder brother Mace Bishop (Stewart) hears about the blunder while passing through a nearby town, and after intercepting and impersonating itinerant hangman (Guy Raymond), some slight of hand trickery enables the bank robbers to flee.

Mace could’ve left town and remained innocent, but not unlike his brother, he can’t resist finishing what’s turned into child’s play; after robbing the bank properly, he heads out to track down Dee and his men who’ve taken Stoner’s widow Maria (Welch) hostage.

Sheriff July Johnson (George Kennedy), Deputy Roscoe Bookbinder (Andrew Prine) and a posse are in slow pursuit, and their trek takes them through a dangerous border canyon where patient bandits ruthlessly pick off the lawmen.

There’s a final battle in a deserted village, and that’s all that happens in this unusually tempered western in which scenes keep unfurling more character details, relationships are fleshed out, as are the quiet yearnings of Sheriff Johnson for Maria, and the more carnal ambitions of Dee’s thugs.

By the time all characters literally converge among sand-blown ruins, we know exactly what’s at stake among the two brothers (Mace tries to tease Dee with a real chance at setting up a farm with no money worries); Dee’s fatigue from crime and sensing a soul mate in fellow longtime sufferer Maria; Dee’s remaining men going through their usual self-preservation maneuvers with no other end goal; and the bandits who may well foil everyone’s plans.

It’s a very elegant curve from light to dark, and Goldsmith’s score is pivotal in nudging that transfer with sparse, strategic cues which still make use of his amiable, cheeky main theme, but transform the material into edgier variations that match the superbly choreographed action scenes and mayhem.

Taking a very obvious cue from Ennio Morricone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Bandolero’s main theme is a semi-comedic melody that’s whistled as each colourful character and archetype flows across the scene, with veteran character actors stealing attention with their inimitable nuanced performances, but once Dee’s gang flee and it‘s clear Sheriff Johnson’s goal is to rescue Maria for himself, Goldsmith drops the charm and starts coloring scenes to track the emerging subtext and conflicts as grey and dark characters converge in the film’s shockingly nihilistic finale.

Barrett sticks to a solid structure that never indulges in superfluous character bits nor dialogue exchanges, and perhaps at McLaglen’s urging, the film’s tight tempo ensures all the beats are given their due without detracting from the constant movement of the core two character groups – the law, and the lost.

Stunt coordinator and future director Hal Needham (The Cannonball Run, and Smokey and the Bandit, the latter penned by Barrett) choreographed beautifully fluid, interwoven action scenes, and several simple one-shot stunts that are just as bold (such as a weary traveler who turns over in his sleep too far, and drops like a dead weight onto a hard floor). Shootout sequences and what’s basically a massacre in the finale are first-rate, and integral to the fates that befall the central characters.

The flaws are more typical of the era’s use of women in otherwise all-men oaters. With Welch being the only notable female character and co-star, her wardrobe changes are only outdone by the ridiculous shifts between realistic tied-back hair and mega-bouffant creations whenever she’s not riding a horse, and especially seated by a fire. There’s also the obligatory attempts at rape, of which the second by bandit leader Frisco (snarling Perry Lopez) is blatantly contrived, but serves its purpose in a climactic showdown.

Genre fans will easily spot character actors Harry Carey Jr., Dub Taylor, Denver Pyle (TV’s The Dukes of Hazard), Will Geer (TV’s The Waltons), and be impressed by George Kennedy’s co-starring role that offers a greater range than the Airport films for which he’s perhaps best-known, and Prine in a supporting (and sympathetic) role that’s a contrast from playing weasels and slimeballs in subsequent exploitation films and TV productions (Wonder Woman).

Starlet Welch was being built up by studio Fox, and although her next western, 100 Rifles (1969), is way more fun with broadly drawn archetypes, instead of playing a rebel leader, Bandolero’s Maria is a more measured, careful heroine, and her sympathy for rebel Dee instead of nice but bland guy Sheriff Johnson works because her past is perhaps more ugly than Dee’s, yet she shares his dream for a relationship built upon trust and mutual support. (Welch’s physique is more heavily exploited in 100 Rifles, a choice that works for rebel Sarita, but she nevertheless remains a caricature.)

Twilight Time’s disc includes theatrical trailers, Goldsmith’s score isolated in crisp stereo, and the commentary track is loaded with excellent production and bio sketches. The trio also clarifies what could be described as a quandary for some viewers: by reading a dialogue exchange snipped by the director in a less-is-more state, it clarifies whether Mace kills the hangman, leaves him to fend for himself by a rocky riverbed, or something else.

Julie Kirgo’s booklet notes celebrate the obvious pluses of the production (and similarly cite Raquel Welch’s outrageous hairstyles), and Dean Martin’s able tackling of a flawed character who admits he’s more than a little directionless. The commentators also point out this was among the last major starring roles for James Stewart. After the western The Cheyenne Social Club (1970), Stewart reteamed with director McLaglen and actor George Kennedy for Fool’s Parade (1971), and again with Kennedy in Airport ’77 (1977), and his final western, Don Siegel’s elegiac The Shootist (1976), which starred John Wayne in his final film.

McLaglen directed a slew of films starring Wayne – Hellfighters (1968), The Undefeated (1969), Chisum (1970), Cahill U.S. Marshal (1973) – and the WWII action classic The Wild Geese (1978).

Martin would co-star with Kennedy in the original Airport (1970), and Welch would star and co-executive produce the cult rape-revenge western Hannie Caulder (1971). Jerry Goldsmith also scored McLaglen western The Last Hard Man (1976).



© 2020 Mark R. Hasan





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