While I can’t recall seeing this Andrew V. McLaglen western making any lists of all-time great western movies one things for sure, I’ve enjoyed it repeatedly having first seen it when I was likely about 10 years of age burning the action-packed sequences into my memory banks and guaranteeing I’d be a lifelong fan of the many cast members who signed on to play the parts in James Lee Barrett’s script.
It’s 1867 when Dean Martin and a ragtag gang of outlaws ride into a Texas border town run by Sheriff George Kennedy and his deputy Andrew Prine. While it’s not quite the opening scene of Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch, Dino and his gang are cutthroats who shoot down two men in the robbery yet it’s Kennedy who prevails behind a shotgun arresting the five remaining gang members still standing.
A keen eye will spot a thankless part for actor Perry Lopez getting cut in half by Kennedy’s shotgun and also Jock Mahoney seen briefly walking into the bank with his wife Raquel Welch on his arm. Seconds later she’ll find herself a widow.
Cut to the opening credits and a wonderful score by Jerry Goldsmith kicking in.
It’s the opening credits that remind me of why I love westerns so much. How’s this for name dropping. James Stewart, Dean Martin, Raquel Welch and George Kennedy score above the title billing. That 1967 Oscar for Cool Hand Luke was already paying dividends for Big George. The cast list doesn’t stop there. Andrew Prine, Denver Pyle, Will Geer, Harry Carey Jr., Perry Lopez, Clint Ritchie, Don “Red” Barry, Jock Mahoney, Dub Taylor and John Mitchum.
While the credits’ roll, we’ll see a haggard looking Jimmy Stewart riding his favorite real-life horse, Pie, through sparse country into a frontier town where he’ll overhear a Hangman saying that he’s on his way to a Texas town to hang the Bishop Gang. That catches Jimmy’s attention and with his aw-shucks style he’ll “accidently” meet the Hangman on the trail and ask just enough questions to understand the job of an executioner. Next scene is Jimmy riding on in black cloak and top hat assuming the role of the Hangman. What follows is an opportunity for Jimmy to shine as he plays it up while winking at the camera for our benefit.
O.K. there’s plenty of plot points here early on so here are the Coles Notes edition. Jimmy is Dino’s brother and is off to save him and his gang from the noose. Mission accomplished and no one the wiser where Stewart is concerned. With Dino and the boys off and running, Kennedy raises a posse leaving the border town undefended. In an ironic twist and opportunity at his doorstep, Jimmy calmy robs the bank and rides on. Meanwhile Dino and company cross paths with the fiery Raquel and take her hostage cutting across open territory into Mexico. Jimmy circles around and joins them.
Dean’s main worry at this point is if Kennedy will follow to which Raquel confirms the tough-minded Kennedy will do just that. The reason Dean asks?
“Because you have something that he has wanted for a long time …. Me.”
The deeper the gang rides into Mexico the more problems Dino and Jimmy are to face. First off is keeping the hands of gang members, Geer, Sean McClory and Tom Heaton off of his captive hostage. Maybe Dino is getting ideas of his own. Afterall he’s quick to point out, “She’s not pretty. She’s Beautiful.”
For the record, Dino and I are in agreement.
Secondly the gang are threatened by Bandoleros as are the posse that Kennedy is fronting. It’s Kennedy’s numbers that are dwindling as his men are being slowly picked off by the machete wielding bandits. The Bandoleros are led by a nasty looking Rudy Diaz who looks like he could kill Alfonso (“I don’t have to show you any stinking badges.”) Bedoya with nothing more than a glance.
All three parties are going to converge at an abandoned town south of the border leading to a violent finale with plenty of bloodletting and few left standing at the fadeout.
Best line in the film just might be from Will Geer as an unsavory old timer who Dino points out, “He was due to be shot the day he was born.” Geer’s line …. “You see, there are things a man ought never do — spit in church, scratch his self in front of his ma, and pick his nose. Yes, that’s what my pa learned me and it stood me in good stead.”
Now if one wants to get overly critical on topics like the film is far too preachy when Jimmy and Dino get to rehashing old dreams and the fact that no one is going to believe Dino needs pointers from Jimmy in the art of seducing Miss Welch, well you go right ahead. Me? I love the film for what it is. An action packed adventure with a trio of actors front and center that I’ve been a fan of since childhood. Miss Welch would catch my eye shortly thereafter.
By this point both Jimmy and Dino were nearing the end of their active years on screen. Dean who was always a welcome presence in westerns had another oater on the big screen in 1968 that I’ve always enjoyed, Five Card Stud. He’d previously shared the screen with Kennedy in the hit western, The Sons of Katie Elder and would reteam with him in 1970’s Airport and more or less call it quits following 1975’s Mr. Ricco though he’d turn up for the hell of it with pal Sammy Davis Jr. in the Cannonball Run flicks with Burt Reynolds and company.
Jimmy Stewart like Dino had another western I like released in 1968 titled Firecreek. Stewart was about to enter the world of television and cameo appearances following his final theatrical leading role in 1971’s Fool’s Parade where he was again opposite George Kennedy. George would also turn up in a pair of 1965 Stewart films, the fondly remembered Shenandoah and Robert Aldrich’s excellent Flight of the Phoenix and one final time in 1977’s Airport ’77 which for me was the most enjoyable film of that series. If you enjoy TCM tributes, have a look at this one on Jimmy with Kennedy narrating.
Raquel was playing in her first western here but easily moved into 1969’s 100 Rifles and took up the poncho herself as the vengeful Hannie Caulder in 1972. Kennedy was a western regular moving from smaller parts to leading roles and moved easily between heroic roles as in 1968’s Guns of the Magnificent Seven to downright nasty characters like the one he portrayed in the John Wayne oater, Cahill U.S. Marshall which was also directed by McLaglen.
If you were paying close attention to the credits than you would have noticed that the stunt coordinator on the film was Hal Needham. Hal got his start doing stunts for Richard Boone on the Have Gun Will Travel series with many episodes helmed by director McLaglen. In his book Stuntman! Hal mentions that the producer had to pay his fee for the film after first being lowballed. That is if the production wanted to keep leading man Stewart happy. Turns out that the only horse Jimmy would work with, Pie, belonged to the stables that Hal owned. He closes the story with “Sometimes when you’re trying to make a deal, it’s good to have a secret weapon: a director, an actor, or a horse named Pie.” Hal would become a legend in the world of stunts before moving behind the camera and directing his pal, Burt Reynolds in the stunt laden smash hit, Smokey and the Bandit.
I’d also like to mention I met the late Andrew Prine back in 2019 at a classic horror fest but of course I asked him about westerns and working with Duke, Jimmy and Dino. Can’t recall everything he said but as for Jimmy and Dino he chuckled at the thought they had been cast as brothers. Prine was very kind and nothing but a gentleman that weekend as he talked of his career and took the time to sign a 1976 one sheet of Grizzly for me which prompted him to speak very highly of his costars on that film, Christopher George and Richard Jaeckel.
Bandolero! Not a classic western but a damned entertaining one. Available on VHS, DVD and more recently on blu ray from Twilight Time. Not surprisingly my love of the film and the stars involved led me to score an original one sheet over 25 years ago for my personal collection.