Fox has reissued its original DVD release of the 1968 western "Bandolero!" as a region-free title in its made-on-demand "Cinema Archives" line. The film is top-notch entertainment on all levels- the kind of movie that was considered routine in in its day but which can be more appreciated today. The story opens with a bungled bank robbery carried out by Dee Bishop (Dean Martin) and his motley gang. In the course of the robbery two innocent people are killed including a local businessman and land baron, Stoner (Jock Mahoney). The gang is captured by Sheriff July Johnson (George Kennedy) and his deputy Roscoe Bookbinder (Andrew Prine) and are sentenced to be hanged. Meanwhile Dee's older brother Mace (James Stewart), a rogue himself, gets wind of the situation and waylays the eccentric hangman while he is enroute to carry out the execution. By assuming the man's identity he is able to afford Mace and his gang the opportunity to cheat death at the last minute. When they flee the town they take along an "insurance policy"- Stoner's vivacious young widow Maria (Raquel Welch) who they kidnap along the way. This opening section of the film is especially entertaining, mixing genuine suspense with some light-hearted moments such as Mace calmly robbing the bank when all the men ride off in a posse to chase down the would-be bank robbers. Mace and Dee reunite on the trail and the gang crosses the Rio Grande into Mexico- with July and a posse wiling to violate international law by chasing after them in hot pursuit. Much of the film is rather talky by western standards but the script by James Lee Barrett makes the most of these campfire conversations by fleshing out the supporting characters. Dee's outlaw gang makes characters from a Peckinpah movie look like boy scouts. Among them is an aging outlaw, Pop Cheney (Will Geer), a well-spoken but disloyal, greedy man who is overly protective of his somewhat shy son, Joe (Tom Heaton). The presence of Maria predictably results in numerous gang members attempting to molest her but their efforts are thwarted by Dee, who always comes to her rescue. Before long, Maria is making goo-goo eyes at her protector, conveniently forgetting he is also the man who slew her innocent husband. (The script tries to get around this by explaining that while her husband was a decent man who treated her well, she could never get over the fact that he literally bought her as a teenager from her impoverished family). The story also puts some meat on the bone in terms of Dee and Mace's somewhat fractured relationship. Both of them have been saddle tramps but Mace informs Dee that his reputation as a notorious outlaw allowed their mother, who Dee neglected, to go to her grave with a broken heart. Every time the script might become bogged down in these maudlin aspects of the characters, a good dose of humor is injected,
The story proper kicks in mid-way through the film when the gang finds itself en route to a remote town in the Mexican desert that mandates that they cross a hellish landscape populated by bandoleros, particularly vicious bandits who appear seemingly out of nowhere and pick off individuals one-by-one in a "Lost Patrol"-like scenario. July and his gang are also subject to the eerie murders as stragglers in the posse become victims. When Dee and his gang finally arrive at the town they find it deserted, as the population has fled the marauding bandoleros. Dee proposes to Maria and they agree to start a new life ranching with Mace in Montana- but their joy is short-lived when July and his posse sneak into town and arrest them. Before everyone can saddle up to return to the USA, the town is invaded by an army of bandoleros, setting in motion a truly exciting finale. The entire enterprise is directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, an old hand with horse operas and often memorable action flicks such as "Chisum", "The Wild Geese" and "The Sea Wolves". "Bandolero!" is one of his best achievements and he inspires fine performances by all. Martin plays it unusually straight and in a subdued manner, a rare instance during this era of him playing a realistic, multi-dimensional character. Stewart looks like he's having the time of his life and Welch, then still a contract player for Fox, acquits herself very well indeed among these seasoned pros. The supporting cast is excellent with Kennedy and Prine in top form and familiar faces such as Will Geer, Denver Pyle, Dub Taylor, Perry Lopez and Harry Carey Jr. popping up in brief appearances. There is also some excellent cinematography by William Clothier and a typically fine score by Jerry Goldsmith. "Bandolero!" is one of the best westerns released during this era.
The Fox made-on-demand titles are generally devoid of bonus materials but they have wisely ported over additional content that was found on the initial DVD release. These include a trailer for the film as well as a Spanish language trailer and a gallery of very welcome trailers for other Fox Raquel Welch titles. The transfer is excellent but Fox didn't catch a blooper on the main menu which depicts Stewart, Welch and- wait for it- what appears to be an image of Stuart Whitman! Apparently some Mr. Magoo-type who designed the menu eons ago couldn't tell the difference between Dean Martin and Stuart Whitman, who starred in both "The Comancheros" and "Rio Conchos" for Fox. A minor gaffe on an otherwise fine release.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE