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Bandidos
(1967)

Director: Massimo Dallamano  
Cast:
Enrico Maria Salerno, Terry Jenkins, Venantino Venantini


Yes, I will freely admit it - I have a big appetite. I like to fill myself right to the brim whenever any kind of hunger enters my body. The most frequent and obvious appetite that I have is a hunger for food. How I love to fill my belly with food. Not just a few kinds of food, many kinds of food that's around me. However, I don't have the stomach for Canadian ethnic food like poutine or Canadian bacon - I go for real food, and the closest and most abundant kind of food I usually go for is good old American. How I love American food like hamburgers and apple pie. Oh, wait - I just remembered the hamburger has its origins in Europe, and the Romans invented apple pie. But I think you know what I mean. However, though I love American food, I don't just limit myself to it. One reason is that I know that a healthy diet consists of a varied diet. Another reason is that there is a lot of foreign food out there that has its own unique taste - and a lot of times this great taste is equal to or even greater than American food. For example, there is Chinese food - how I enjoy dishes such as sweet and sour pork and chow mein. I also find myself sampling dishes of Mexican origin every now and then. Burritos and tacos have a lot of flavor, if you ask me. And speaking of tacos, there is the Japanese "taco" - octopus - which surprised me with its good taste when I tried it during a trip to Japan years ago. English food also has its own charms - as the son of parents from England, I know the pleasures of bangers and mash. And then there are those great dishes from the good old Italians, like lasagna, pizza, and spaghetti.

But I don't just have an appetite for great food from around the world. I also have an appetite for great and entertaining filmmaking from all over. Except for the most part films that come from Canada, as I have told you time and time again. Most of my film appetite comes from American movies, but I make sure to add some variety every now and then by watching a film from a foreign country. Foreign filmmakers don't just make stuffy art films. The Chinese don't just make good food; they make some great movies such as Naked Killer and The God Of Cookery. The Mexicans have made crazy family movies and nutty action films. The Japanese have made giant monster movies and samurai actioners. The English have made some cool horror films like the ones from the Hammer and Amicus studios. But my favorite country when it comes to foreign films is possibly Italy. I've had plenty of enjoyment from their goofy comedies and rip-offs of American genre movies. However, my favorite Italian film genre has to be the spaghetti western. My devotion to the genre has been intense ever since I watched my first spaghetti western almost twenty years ago. When I get the opportunity to add another example to my collection, you can be sure I take it. Why do I love the spaghetti western genre so much? Well, I've said why before, but I'll say it again in an attempt to convince you to give the genre a try. The first reason is the backdrop you often find in these westerns. Shot in the wilds of Spain or Italy, they may not always resemble the American West, but they are eye-catching in their own way. The second reason has to do with the characters you find in the movies. The bad guys are usually really bad, and you have great hope they'll be polished off before the end. The good guys are more often than not smart and resourceful, and also have character quirks that make them people you'll remember long before the movie ends.

The third reason why I love spaghetti westerns so much is that their musical scores are outstanding. They don't imitate the music found in American westerns, instead having their own unique sound that often blows their American counterparts out of the water, thanks to talented Italian composers such as Ennio Morricone or Riz Ortolani. There's a lot more to like about spaghetti westerns, Bandidosbut those are the main reasons why I enjoy the genre. As I said earlier, when I get the opportunity to watch a new spaghetti western, I'm sure to take it. It happened again to me recently with Bandidos. I was surfing the Amazon web site when I came across it for sale. I knew nothing about it, but it was cheap, and I've learned that taking a chance on a completely unknown movie can sometimes deliver a pleasant surprise. I crossed my fingers and ordered a copy. The first few minutes of Bandidos start off by introducing us to two of the major players of the movie, gunslinger Richard Martin (Salerno, Candy) and bandit Billy Kane (Venantini, The Agony And The Ecstasy), who also happens to be a former student of Martin. Martin is riding a train, which is held up by Kane and his fellow bandits. After robbing the passengers, Kane starts killing them. When he gets to the car that Martin is in, Kane decides to spare his former teacher, though cripples Martin by shooting him in both of his hands. Years later, Martin is part of a traveling carnival, where he trains young gunfighters as a part of the show. One day, shortly after the young protégé of Martin's is killed, Martin meets a mysterious young man (Jenkins, Paint Your Wagon) who wants to train under him. Martin agrees to take the stranger on, and the young man is given the name "Ricky Shot". But Martin does not know that "Ricky" has a secret reason for wanting to train under Martin...

As much as I love spaghetti westerns, I have to admit that when they dealt with a revenge plot such as this, they would more often than not do it in a standard fashion. Still entertaining, yes, but you could correctly guess a lot of things that would happen to the characters during the journey to the inevitable end. I thought that Bandidos would more or less be the same, but I was pleasantly surprised by a lot of it. Although the screenplay contains some unexpected touches, most of the credit for the movie coming across as different is due to work by director Massimo Dallamano. Though the world in spaghetti westerns is often bleak and cruel, Dallamano makes it especially harsh. After the opening massacre of the train passengers, for example, Dallamano slowly pans past the dozens of dead bodies lying on the ground in one unbroken shot. It's kind of a wake-up slap in the face to those audience members who dig gratuitous violence, and not the last reminder. This is a world where someone can be killed for the most trivial of reasons, like when Martin's protégé is killed by an audience member seemingly only because to get a quick laugh. It's also a world where violence can have long-lasting consequences. When Richard Martin is first seen, he is neat and tidy in appearance and behavior. But when the movie jumps ahead several years after he was shot in both hands, we see that life for him with his crippled hands is often frustrating and exhausting. He also doesn't look in the best of health; he is starting to go bald, he's badly dressed, and he hasn't used a razor for quite some time. He's clearly a broken man, and the question that keeps coming up is if he will have enough will power as well as general ability to face Billy Kane should the two of them ever face each other again.

The locations Dallamano shot the movie on are not your typical spectacular desert spots. It's on literally greener pastures, but the plant life looks small, scruffy, and downright ordinary, with muddy tracks mixed with the greenery. The various towns seen during the journey are not looking their best; one Mexican village has been scorched by a fire in the past, making the building feel hollow and possibly inhabited by the ghosts of the former residents. This does not feel like a land where heroic deeds and the heroes that make them live. Indeed, the character of Richard Martin is not only physically poor, he's impoverished financially, and he practically begs for money from townspeople on more than one occasion. Before you start thinking that the western world of Bandidos may sound too depressing and lacking in genuine entertainment, let me assure you that while Dallamano may make this world a sometimes harsh one, he doesn't forget about the audience's demands when it comes to a western. There are a number of action sequences, for one thing, and they are pretty well done for the most part. There is both a significant body count as well as skill put into adding all those corpses to the body count. Dallamano uses a few techniques that while they may not be original, still grab your attention, like when someone swings a fist into the camera lens, or showing the point of view of someone firing a pistol. He also uses some techniques I can't recall seeing in a western before, like showing someone who gets shot not directly, but by the reflection of a window across the street from the victim.

As I said earlier, Dallamano is aided by a screenplay that has some unexpected touches. For example, while you may be lead to believe that Ricky Shot's secret motivations involve getting the chance to murder someone, it turns out he has a different plan in mind for Billy Kane and his gang, at least at first. Also, there is an unexpected development fifteen minutes before the end that I think even many die-hard spaghetti western fans will not be expecting - it's a jolt that helps to reliven the movie after being somewhat calm and sedate (and dangerously close to being boring) for an extended period. While I'm on the subject of script flaws, I might as well bring up the problem I had with the character of Billy Kane. Although he's the principle bad guy of the movie, I don't think he's fleshed out enough. He doesn't get the opportunity to do that many bad things, or show his personality enough to be someone that the audience will really wish will be bumped off at the end. Venantino Venantini does his best with what he's given, I'll admit, and the other actors in the movie do a servicable job as well, especially Enrico Maria Salerno and Terry Jenkins as the gunfighting teacher and student. They get to show their talents are up to snuff because the screenplay doesn't make their relationship the typical one you get in westerns such as this. Jenkins' character, for one thing, is more selfish-minded than you might expect, and the relationship between the two characters never becomes akin to a father/son relationship. As you can see, this cinematic spaghetti dish has been given plenty of new spices, so even if you've sampled spaghetti many times before, the taste in this dish manages to be new and different enough to make the dish worth consuming completely.

(Posted April 15, 2014)

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See also: Compañeros, The Deserter, The Five Man Army

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