Sometimes It’s Hard To Tell The Good Guys From the Bad – Bandolero! (1968)

***SPOILER WARNING! Yeah, the movie is almost 50 years old, but as I’ve often noted, if you haven’t seen it before, then it might as well have come out yesterday. Plus, it’s not one of those that’s well enough known that the plot twists (and there are a few) would be popularly known, and this is the kind of movie that does depend on bringing a couple of twists to the table. Plus, I’ll be discussing, at least in vague ways, the ending of the movie, so the warning, while perhaps not necessary, does seem appropriate. SPOILER WARNING***

band1Flipping through Netflix a couple of nights ago, trying to find something quick and easy to watch, (nothing foreign, nothing too complex, nothing that would be too much of a downer) I ran across the 1968 western Bandolero!. (Yes, the onscreen title does include the exclamation point.) Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, and starring Dean Martin, James Stewart, Raquel Welch, and George Kennedy, Bandolero! is the kind of relatively light western movie that I really tend to enjoy.

(Here’s a quick rule of thumb: if a western stars either Jimmy Stewart or Dean Martin, then it’s probably going to be right up my alley. Put them together, and well…)

The story opens with Martin’s character Dee Bishop and his gang arriving in a small Texas town with a plan to rob the local bank. Unfortunately, they are noticed by sheriff July Johnson (George Kennedy) who immediately goes on guard. When things go wrong during the robbery and the just arriving Maria Stoner (Welch)’s husband is killed, the gang is arrested by Johnson, locked up and sentenced to be hanged.

Word of the gang’s capture quickly spreads, and Stewart, upon hearing it immediately heads toward the town. In a seeming coincidence he just happens to meet the hangman who is scheduled to perform the hangings, and finds out all he can about the gentleman and his profession. That evening, the hangman arrives in town, but it turns out to be Stewart in disguise. It turns out that Stewart and Martin are actually brothers, and Mace (Stewart) has come to rescue the gang.

band2After a dramatic escape, Dee and his gang come upon Mrs. Stoner and take her hostage as they flee across the Mexican border from Sheriff Johnson and his posse. Unfortunately, they have escaped right into bandolero country so not only do they have to deal with the lawmen behind them, but the bandits all around also.

Finally arriving at the small town they had planned to use to gather supplies and refresh themselves before moving further into Mexico, the outlaws find themselves instead in a ghost town. Nonetheless, they decide to hole up there for the night. Unfortunately, it’s not long before the posse catches up to them and then the bandoleros also enter the fray.

I started this review calling this movie a relatively light western, and while that’s true, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the film has a happy ending, nor that everyone one might want to comes out unscathed or even alive.

band3One of the most interesting things that the film does is to use the natural and easy-going charm of both Martin and Stewart to get the viewer to root for them even though they are nominally the “bad guys”. This is also achieved by making the rest of Dee’s gang even worse than they are, and by Kennedy’s portrayal of Sheriff July as single minded in his pursuit of the gang not so much in order to bring them to justice, but because, as Mrs. Stoner notes, they have taken the one thing that he has always wanted: her.

So in the end, while Bandolero! may not have the “gravitas” of many of today’s westerns, nor is it filled with special effects and explosions, opting instead to explore its characters and give them some depth and dimension beyond simply being stereotypical “good guys” and “bad guys”, it is definitely a very entertaining way to spend 106 minutes on an otherwise quiet evening, and it’s a movie I would highly recommend for those of you just looking, as I was, for exactly that.

Here’s the trailer:

By the way, I have never read the book nor watched the mini-series that it inspired, but according to Wikipedia,

Larry McMurtry, the author of the novel Lonesome Dove, reportedly paid homage to Bandolero! by using similar names for the characters in his book. Both tales begin near the Mexico border and involve bandoleros. Both have a sheriff named July Johnson and a deputy Roscoe who travel a great distance in search of a wanted criminal and the woman who has rejected the sheriff’s love. Both stories have a charismatic outlaw named Dee, who is about to be hanged and who wins the love of the woman before he dies. In the Lonesome Dove miniseries, the main characters twice pass directly in front of the Alamo—or at least a set built to replicate the Alamo.

Hmmm… sounds like there might be just a bit more than simply “paying homage” to me, but I’ll let those of you who have seen it form your own opinions.

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