Monday, March 2, 2009

A Bullet for the General (1966)

Director: Damiano Damiani

Starring: Gian Maria Volonte, Klaus Kinski, Lou Castel, Martine Beswick

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: When the bullet turns red... the General will be dead!

Plot: El Chuncho's bandits rob arms from a train, intending to sell the weapons to General Elias' revolutionaries. They are helped by one of the passengers, Bill Tate, and allow him to join them in their adventures, unaware of his true motives.

My Rating: 9/10

Would I watch it again? Si!

#116 on Drive-In Delirium Volume 2 (part of the TRAILER TRASH PROJECT)

The largest sub-genre of the Spaghetti Western is revenge. You'll find more Spags about revenge than aything else. But there are a few more, one being the political SW, and and that's where this one sits firmly on top.

BULLET is one of my all-time favorite SWs. There's so much more than a simple story here. As I mentioned it's not about revenge. It's about friendship, trust and betrayal; betrayal of yourself, others and honor.


Gian Maria Volonte delivers a top-notch performance as the bandit leader, El Chuncho, fighting for the people, doing what he thinks is right for his people and his country. Recognize him? He played the bad guy, Ramon Rojo, in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) and El Indio (the bad guy) in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965). He's also in another outstanding Spag, FACE TO FACE (1967), which I'll probably get to this week. I haven't seen it in a few years but after seeing Volonte last night in BULLET for the first time in years, I think it's time to revist that one as well.

Castel, as the American Bill "Nino" Tate, is fine. The first time I saw this I was put off by his looks. He's too much of an Austrian-looking pretty boy and he didn't belong in this picture. Knowing the politics of the film makers and one of the points they were trying to get across it now makes more sense as he's supposed to look like a foreigner's view of America as America portrays itself to the outside world. He still looks way too much like Leonardo Di Caprio to me.

And then there's the always enjoyable Klaus Kinski. He's not in it an awful lot but everytime he's on screen he's captivating. He plays El Chuncho's half brother (same mother, different father - we're given the impression that their mother was a prostitute), a priest with a taste of vengeful violence. You can see a piece of it in the trailer (I couldn't find the international trailer which is 4.5 minutes long and has the meat of this scene intact) but his scene with the hand grenades is great fun, throwing a grenade at soldiers, one at a time, saying, "The father (throws grenade), the son (throws grenade) and the holy ghost (throws grenade)". Classic!

The story is taut and dense. Unlike so many Spags, there's an awful lot of story here and it moves fairly quickly, enough so that there's never a dull moment in the near two hour run time. There's lots of action and betrayal, enough to keep you from thinking too much about how this is going to play out. And when you do get to the end it might not be what you think and that's a huge achievement.

I cannot finish without talking about one of the finest scores of the SW genre. Luis Bacalov and Ennio Morricone wrote a very rich score filled with what feels like genuine themes of Mexican liberty and revolution. It's rousing, poignant and emotional. It cuts to the core of the film's themes while leaving you whistling the tunes long after the "fine" has rolled. In fact, it's because I was humming the tune yesterday that I decided that was going to be the second half of the double feature that night. Great stuff. Buy the soundtrack.

BULLET came pretty early into the Spaghetti Western era (which ran from 1964-1977) and it's a superlative example of Italian cinema and film in general. BULLET isn't just a great Spaghetti Western, it's a great film.

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