Bandolero! (1968)


Dir: Andrew V. McLaglan - Cast:  James Stewart, Dean Martin, Raquel Welch, George Kennedy, Denver Pyle, Will Greer, Harry Carey Jr, Don “Red” Barry, Andrew Prine - Screenplay by J.L. Barrett, based on a story by Stanley Hough 

An enjoyable piece of nothing, as one critic put it. Dean Martin & James Stewart are cast against type as bandit brothers, Dee & Mace Bishop, and they’re not the kind of rascals who steal from the rich to help the poor. They’re selfish, mean and lethal, but note that the movie is basically a comedy. Dino is as charming as ever, smiling his trademark winning smile, while Jimmy is mainly poking fun at himself, walking and talking slowly, commenting his own and his little brother’s actions with a knowing smile.

The first thirty minutes or so, with Jimmy impersonating a hangman, are the best part of the movie. After Dee and his gang are arrested in a border town, we watch Mace overhearing a conversation in an open air bathhouse, where a self-sufficient hangman is bragging about his job and the upcoming hanging in the town of Valverde. When Mace finds out who’s about to be hanged, he joins  the hangman outside of town, has a conversation with him about the finer points of the profession and ... the next moment we see him riding into Valverde, wearing the hangman’s top hat and frock, complimenting the sheriff with the fine job he did, both in arresting the gang and in building such a wonderful scaffold, the perfect platform for the show he’s determined to give.

Of course Mace saves his brother and his men from the gallows, but before riding out of town, he also robs the bank. With virtually all townspeople in hot pursuit of the escaped convicts, it seemed a logical thing to do, as he explains much later into the movie:

“The bank was there and I was there, and there wasn't very much of anybody else there ... so it just seemed like the thing to do.

The kind-hearted sheriff (Kennedy) is on the trail of the two brothers, not only to arrest them and get the townspeople’s money back, but also because he has the hots for the woman they took with them as a hostage, Mrs. Stoner (Raquel), the richest women in the area after the gang has shot her husband. And then there’s also a gang of Mexican bandits, the bandoleros who gave the film its title. They all meet in a small Mexican town for large-scale shootout that will leave very few alive.

Raquel has other qualities ...
Both script and direction leave a lot to desire. Mrs. Stoner seems to enjoy herself a lot in the company of the men who have just shot her husband, but before we may start frowning, we’re told, by the lady herself, that Mr. Stoner had bought her from her poor father ‘for five cows and a gun.’ Andrew V. McLaglen’s direction is very workmanlike, almost absent in some scenes, but then again, Dino & Jimmy know how to play a scene without any director and Raquel, well, she has other qualities. The main problem of Bandolero! is that the second half is less compelling than the first. There’s too much talk and riding around and that grand finale with the bandoleros attacking the Mexican town, has a lot of spectacular stunt work (Hal Needham  coordinating), but also looks quite chaotic. William Clothier’s cinematography of the landscape is impressive, but too many scenes are shot against a blue screen.

Note: Some have suggested that the movie was influenced by the spaghetti westerns. In spite of the comedy it is quite violent and the soundtrack, by Jerry Goldsmith, is dominated by a laconic whistling theme and some of the upbeat tunes we know from Morricone’s scores for the Dollar movies. There are a few similarities to the Enzo G. Castellari’s caper movies in spaghetti western style (often starring an American B-actor like Edd Byrness, John Saxon or Frank Wolff) such as Any Gun Can Play or I came, I saw, I Shot, but they had not yet reached American cinemas when Bandolero! was filmed (*), so it might all have been coincidence.

* Any Gun Can Play was released in September 1968 in New York City, three months after Bandolero!

A unpretentious but colourful comedy western with a great cast and some fine cinematography.