Grab yourself a sarsaparilla, pardner, and join Judge Bill Treadway as he reviews this underrated Western.
High-stakes drama of crime, punishment, and Western-style justice!
The Bishop gang, led by Dee Bishop (Dean Martin, Kiss Me, Stupid), has just been captured by Val Verde sheriff Jimmy Johnson (George Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke). The charges include armed robbery and murder. The sentence: death by hanging. Into town comes Mace Bishop (James Stewart, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) under the guise of a hangman. In a few well-coordinated moments, Mace helps Dee and his gang escape. But then three problems arise. First, Dee and his gang take the Widow Stoner (Raquel Welch, Myra Breckinridge) as a hostage. Second, Sheriff Johnson goes after them, since he fancies the Widow Stoner as the future Mrs. Johnson. Third, all parties end up in a hostile area of Mexico, filled with mercenaries and bandits.
In 1968, Bandolero! seemed dated and routine to audiences accustomed to traditional Westerns. The year before our film, United Artists released the classic "Dollars" trilogy, directed by Italian master Sergio Leone. Right around the corner were the revolutionary Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Wild Bunch. Those films forever changed the definition of what a Western could be. By comparison, Bandolero! looked awfully undistinguished indeed.
Fast forward to 2004. With few notable exceptions (Unforgiven, Open Range), the modern Western is pretty much dead in the water. Now that we can approach it with a less jaundiced point of view, we can see that Bandolero! is one of the finest examples of a traditional Western available. Director Andrew V. McLaglen manages to combine good old-fashioned filmmaking with great performances to make a Western that actually works. In part, what killed the Western was its tendency to present the world as good guys versus bad guys. Bandolero! is unusual in that the heroes are just as immoral as the villains and the lone law figure is a corrupt sleazeball.
The acting is the main attraction here. After making a series of lighthearted, often silly family comedies, James Stewart entered a new, Western period of his career. Firecreek was the first of these Westerns to be released. After our film, he would make The Cheyenne Social Club, released in 1970. While those pictures were routine, Bandolero! features one of Stewart's very best performances. He has the challenge of making a hero out of a character that is technically a villain. He makes it look so easy that one may think he is phoning in the performance, but if there's one thing Jimmy Stewart never did, it was phoning in a performance. He gives Mace many of the admirable, likable qualities he gave his full-fledged heroes. Dean Martin may seem like an unexpected casting choice, since one looks at him and sees the "drunken singer" persona he made his own during this period of his life. However, Martin could act with the best of them when he wanted to. The Young Lions, Toys in the Attic, and Kiss Me, Stupid are proof of that, and Bandolero! can be added to that list. As with Stewart, Martin was given the challenge of making a good guy out of a heel. He succeeds with conviction. As for Raquel Welch, no one will ever mistake her for a great actress. While she has been in some good films, her thespian abilities often seemed nonexistent. Imagine my surprise when I saw her give a fine, textured performance as the Widow Stoner. And George Kennedy follows up his Oscar-winning work with another strong portrayal of a man on the opposite side of the fence.
Fox presents Bandolero! in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a very handsome print. The colors look perfect and lifelike, grain is kept to an absolute minimum, and edge enhancement is not a problem here. There are only a few specks that appear every now and then. Overall, Fox has provided us with a clean, crisp print of a film that has yet to receive the critical reappraisal it deserves. Thank the Lord that no fullscreen version was offered here. Bandolero! was shot in Panavision, a widescreen format that dies a bloody death in pan-and-scan. With the widescreen version, you get the whole image without the slowing down of the pace that often occurs when watching a hacked-up transfer. If you do not believe me, just try watching Lawrence of Arabia or Doctor Zhivago in pan-and-scan. Then screen the widescreen versions and watch them come alive!
Contrary to what the keep case states, Fox offers you a choice of sound mixes. You can choose either Dolby Digital 2.0 mono or surround stereo mixes. My advice is to stick with the stereo mix. It is the only mix that allows the Jerry Goldsmith score to be heard in majestic glory. Dialogue is much easier to comprehend in stereo than the shallow mono mix. Also, since the film was mixed for stereophonic sound, to listen to it any other way is just nutty. As further evidence of the superiority of this sound mix, Bandolero! was one of the first stereo VHS tapes ever issued under the 20th Century Fox Video label. What more do I have to say?
As is the case with most Fox budget line discs, Bandolero! only features several theatrical trailers. Both the English and Spanish theatrical trailers for Bandolero! are offered here. The Spanish trailer is in the complete 2.35:1 aspect ratio and looks stunning. The English trailer is cropped to 1.85:1, with no anamorphic enhancement. Also featured are theatrical trailers for other films in The Raquel Welch Collection. The one glaring omission from the extras is a commentary track from director McLaglen; he has sat down to discuss some of his other Westerns of note (Chisum, Cahill United States Marshal), and it seems likely he would have talked about Bandolero! if given the chance.
Still, despite that minor problem, Bandolero! is selling for $14.95 or less in most stores. Armed with an excellent video transfer and stereo track, it is too irresistible a bargain to pass up.
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