Our review of Bite the Bullet (1975) (Blu-ray), published April 10th, 2012, is also available.
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A newspaper holds a 700 mile horserace, and the usual suspects apply: the comely lady of the night, the young upstart, the grizzled veteran…and, err, the animal advocate? In this star-studded Western, a disparate group of folks head west to collect a prize of $2,000. Facing each other's sabotage, tired horses, and the rugged climate of the West, they have their work cut out for them. A Mexican man (Mario Arteaga) wants to make money for his family; an old-timer cowboy (James Coburn, Affliction) gives it a try, and a cocky youngin', Carbo (the Jan Michael Vincent we all know and love from TV's Airwolf) just doesn't know when to quit showing off. Anchoring the story is cowboy Sam Clayton (Gene Hackman), who cares for horses as much as his fellow man. Clayton signs up at the last minute, and serves as the main point of view of the film.
Dear readers, I have a question: isn't the term "Western" equivalent to "Adventure"? If so, this movie fails to make the grade. Bite the Bullet is a snooze. The characters are interesting, their pitfalls and triumphs have potential, but each scene goes at a snail's pace, with lagging silence between the action. Even the scenes with fistfights and conflict—one in which Miss Jones gets attacked by ne'er do wells in the countryside—are loaded down with unnecessary footage and plodding choreography. There's a few good lines here, such as when old buddies Clayton (Hackman) and Luke Matthews (Coburn) team up to knock some sense in animal-abusing Carbo:
Hackman: "It's like old times."
Alex North's score is beautiful if misused, rarely underscoring tense moments when needed. In sum, the tools for a great adventure are all there, but I suspect that director Richard Brooks (In Cold Blood) wanted to get all artsy and thoughtful on us. That has to be very judiciously done on a Western. Bite the Bullet misses its target, despite a dramatic and meaningful ending.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 sound is without much depth and hardly highlights the Oscar-nominated score by North. Some softer phrases and sounds seem swallowed up by competing noises and effects. Visually, the anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer is a nice fit to the beautiful scenery of the Wild West, and of course I don't recommend the full screen transfer on side B (evil! evil! evil!). Unfortunately, the picture itself looks milky and fuzzy. There are minimal white blotches and a smidge of grain in the transfer, but the colors are not as vibrant as expected. The whole film looks like it was shot with a camera covered with nude hosiery. Then again, the print is almost thirty years old, so I'll give it the benefit of a doubt. There are also few extras on the disc—just subtitles and scene selections. I definitely won't forgive this great waste of talent. Bite the Bullet…well, bites.
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