Saturday, October 18, 2008


Seasoned Spaghetti western cinematographer Massimo Dallamano who lensed both Sergio Leone's "A Fistful of Dollars" and "For A Few Dollars More" with Clint Eastwood as well as Ricardo Blasco's "Gunfight at Red Sands" with Richard Harrison settles into the director's chair with this rugged, violent Euro-western about revenge. "They Paid with Bullets: Chicago 1929" cinematographer Emilio Foriscot's evocative, widescreen camera work and "The Assassination of Trotsky" composer Egisto Macchi, who provides a traditional Ennio Morricone style orchestral soundtrack complete with vocals, make "Bandidos" (*** out of ****)both look and sound good. Scenarists Luis Laso and Juan Cobos have penned a fairly gripping outlaw opus about revenge. A grown-up student betrays his older mentor in this bullet-blasting Italian western about revenge. The villainous student maims his mentor permanently, but the stubborn mentor never relents in his efforts to square accounts with his murderous pupil. Laso and Cobos insert a surprising revelation about an hour into this lively horse opera that gives it a deft twist. "Bandidos" takes a cynical approach to issues involving life and death typical to most spaghetti westerns. Namely, life is as cheap at the bullet it takes to kill you. The only real flaw is that Cobos turns the tentative hero from the first hour into a hopeless victim and a secondary character emerges as the true hero.

"Bandidos" opens with a train conductor shouting: "We're doing you a favor," after he has thrown a man without a ticket off a Southern Pacific Company train. The conductor confiscates the guy's saddle for the company. Scrutinize this scene if you haven't watched "Bandidos" before because it figures prominently later in the plot. Yes, this is an example of an Italian western worth seeing twice! The conductor's triumph is short-lived. A trigger-happy outlaw, Kramer (Marco Guglielmi of "The Battle of El Alamein"), stabs him to death in the stomach not long afterward. The same gunman shoots both the locomotive engineer and the fireman in cold blood. Kramer halts the train. A lean, mean, unshaven Billy Kane (Venantino Venantini of "The Killer Likes Candy") and his cronies show up but show no mercy. They rob the passengers and then massacre them all without a qualm. Incidentally, the train is another of those Spanish engines modified to resemble an old West relic and the producers forgot to put a tender filled with either wood or coal behind the locomotive to fuel it.

One passenger gives them more grief than they had expected. He is a well-dressed individual in a white hat, Richard Martin (a mustached Enrico Maria Salerno of "Hercules and the Captive Women"), that we earlier saw polishing his Smith & Wesson revolver. He steps off the train to face Billy in a showdown. Billy surprises Richard and shoots his holstered six-gun off his hip with surgical skill. This amounts to Billy's calling card. The outlaw leader explains his indiscriminate homicidal urges, ". . . only beginners leave witnesses. I never do. Ain't wise. I don't like to have my picture up on walls and have people shoot me in the back to get a reward." Clearly, the train massacre distinguishes "Bandidos" from an American western where the villains would have worn bandanas. "Bandanas" wouldn't have made as commanding a title as "Bandidos." Nevertheless, despite this self-avowed philosophy, Billy lets Martin live. Instead, he shoots his mentor in both hands, crippling him so that he cannot wield a gun again. The chief problem here is that the hero behaves foolishly when he acquiesces to Billy's demand for a trackside showdown.

After an unspecified number of years, Richard Martin reappears, looking drastically different. An unshaven, cigar-smoking entrepreneur, he owns an itinerant, one-wagon, Wild West sharp-shooting sideshow. Since he cannot fire a six-gun, he relies on his fists in close quarters combat with his opponents. Martin has experienced his unfair share of woes. The first time that we see him after the train massacre, he is boasting to his crowd about his latest sharp-shooting sensation Ricky Shot. An armed spectator casually guns down his sharp-shooter without the least provocation. This is another example that sets "Bandidos" apart from the conventional Hollywood western. Martin attacks the gunman in a saloon brawl with his bare hands and an unidentified hombre pitches in on Martin's side. Later, the man (Terry Jenkins of "Paint Your Wagon") signs on as Martin's next sharp-shooting attraction Ricky Shot; Martin calls each sharp-shooter Ricky Shot. Later, we learn that the new Ricky is a fugitive on the lam.

Anyhow, Martin teaches him how to shoot, and they split the concession money fifty-fifty as they travel from town to town. Meanwhile, Kramer defects from Billy's gang, and Billy is hot on his trail. At the same time, Martin has tried to get money out of the treacherous Mexican bandit Vigonza (Chris Huerta of "Ursus, Son of Hercules") so he can kill Billy for him. Billy shows up in town and wounds Kramer in a saloon shoot-out. After Billy leaves town, Ricky arrives at the saloon where the wounded Kramer flaunts his six-shooter and talks defiantly. Ricky plugs him and then rejoins Martin. On their way to another town, Ricky proves that his marksmanship has improved when Martin and he happen upon three Mexicans that have just robbed a stagecoach. Ricky wipes them out with his swift, accurate shooting and they rescue Betty Star (Maria Martin of "Dr. Zhivago") and her saloon girls.

Director Massimo Dallamano and company have crafted an entertaining oater on a low budget. One famous Hollywood producer has been quoted in a book about "The Virginian" TV series as saying that a low budget western usually can afford to have only four horses drawing the stagecoach while an expensive western always has a six horse team hauling the stagecoach. "Bandidos" relies on a four horse team, but it doesn't look cheap. Nevertheless, this leather slapping saga belongs in the top 50 Italian oaters. Dallamano stages several neat shoot-outs. Altogether, "Bandidos" qualifies as an above-average Spaghetti western.

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