Nov 4, 2007
Some nights, when you want to settle down with a movie, you may not be in the right mood to watch something with heavy social values, or an arthouse chamber piece where nothing happens for three hours, or even a lofty independent work that wants to challenge our cinematic conventions. In such evenings of indecision as these, you can never go wrong with a good western.
Outlaw Dee Bishop (Dean Martin) and his gang of varmints get arrested in a botched bank robbery, and are sentenced to hang. His estranged brother Mace (James Stewart) learns of the impending execution, and hatches an elaborate scheme to bust them out, posing as a hanging judge. Hotheaded sheriff Johnson (a slightly overacting George Kennedy) and his posse are in pursuit, as the outlaws head south of the border. Racquel Welch is also on hand as eye candy, as the hostage Maria, whose husband was a bystander killed in the robbery attempt. She has little to do but look fetching, spout Hispanic one-liners, and cause the entire cast to fight over her.
During the credits sequence, we are led to believe that Bandolero! is going to be another American oater of the time which attempted a more modernist approach that copied the stylistics of genre films made across the ocean, with spare shots of Jimmy Stewart riding through the desert accompanied by a Jerry Goldsmith score with the trademark whistling from that of a subversive spaghetti western. And perhaps that is true, once you consider that Jimmy Stewart's actions are more morally ambiguous than anything done by his psychotic antiheroes of the Anthony Mann westerns of the 50's. Yet at heart, it is disarmingly old fashioned, as the motivation for Mace's plans is a curious attempt at giving his long-lost brother some civility. Further, the brothers Bishop treat Maria with nothing less than dignity and exaltation- often fending off the lecherous advances of Dee's fleabitten outlaw sidekicks (among them, Will "Grandpa Walton" Geer!) In a way she represents the stability that the brothers want to have in their lives, but as we know in any western that preaches "those who live by the sword", the humble act of settling down is seldom attained.
While at first, this western is enjoyably satirical, the tone changes once the action shifts south of the border. One is surprised by the harsh violence of a film that otherwise looks and feels classically old Hollywood. Curiously some of the action sequences are rather clumsy, considering by this time director Andrew V. McLaglen was already an old hat at this genre (having recently made McLintock and Shenandoah for example), but the movie is unquestionably exciting and enjoyable.