A new series launches on Multitude of Movies. Six-Gun Reviews looks at various westerns from all around the world. The series begins with Michael Hauss taking a look at Italian entry Bandidos (1967) starring Enrico Maria Salerno, Terry Jenkins and Venantino Venantina.
SIX-GUN REVIEWS: BANDIDOS
**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**
There was a basic methodology in the production of spaghetti westerns: the audience these films were made for responded favorably, in box office terms, to the basic structures and the characters depicted. Thus the spaghetti western formula was repeated time after time with only slight variations: in essence, one formula used time and again. While having a similar look to the American westerns, the spaghetti entries varied significantly in style. The Hollywood-style focused on the star while the drama unfolded around them as a secondary concern. The spaghetti-style – influenced by the cinematic French New Wave movement – focused more on the story rather than being merely a star vehicle.
Bandidos begins with a beautifully animated opening credits sequence. When the action begins, a man is thrown from a train for not having a ticket, his saddle held to cover the cost of the ticket. This is seemingly an unimportant scene: the man is never clearly shown but the film eventually comes back to him (we have to wait for the facts to be revealed to us later in the film to find out who he is). The action continues upon the train, as the conductor makes his way in and out of cars, stopping long enough to speak to a man we learn is Richard Martin (Enrico Maria Salerno), a dapper sharpshooter who, when we first glimpse him, is cleaning his pistols.
Bandits on horseback begin to chase the train, while the conductor continues his journey through the carriages. A man standing on a car’s landing reaches into the saddle the conductor is carrying and grabs a knife. In a smooth quick motion he plants it in the conductor’s stomach. The bandits, with the help of their inside man, overtake and stop the train. They massacre and plunder their way through the train, but suddenly they are shot one by one. The leader of the gang, Billy Kane (Venantino Venantini), realizes the shooting must be being done by a professional and calls for Martin to come out. It becomes obvious Billy knows Martin’s been looking for him. Martin slowly exits the train and there is a sense of acknowledgement between the men. Billy and Martin eye each other up; Martin tells Billy he has come to kill him. Martin goes to draw but before he can even get his gun out of its holster, Billy shoots the holster and gun clean off his belt. Martin is pushed spread-eagle against a train car while Billy shoots him in the hands. Martin falls to the ground, leaving two bloodied bullet holes in the train car where his bloody palms slid down it. Billy Kane is a bastard and only shows sympathy by allowing Martin – the man who was his teacher and taught him the tricks of shooting – to live. Billy rides off, instructing that the Mexican bandits who aided the raid and their leader Vigonza (Cris Guerra), must stay behind. He tells them if they follow he will kill them. Billy rides off with his men, while the Mexicans (without their split of the bounty), ride off in a different direction.
The train passengers lay killed, the compartments and the green meadow where the train was ambushed littered with corpses.
We move forward an undisclosed amount of time to a small dusty western town, where a downtrodden, unshaven, dirty-looking man barks out the name “Ricky Shot! The cowboy who made a coward of Jesse James!” The dirty man is Martin, and he is introducing a new sharpshooter in his travelling show who uses the generic name Ricky Shot. The locals in the town wait for the show and three cowboys laugh, one of them scornfully declaring he could out-draw Ricky Shot. The man pulls his gun and shoots down Ricky Shot in cold blood. Martin stews for a while, then finally marches into the saloon where the men sit drinking. Despite having damaged, mangled hands, Martin challenges the cowboy to a fight. The other cowboys jump in and another man comes to Martin’s aid, defeating the three himself in a well choreographed fight scene. Martin offers the young man a job as his new sharpshooter, and when asked his name the young cowboy replies: “Ricky Shot ” (Terry Jenkins).
Martin becomes a teacher to the young pupil. (This device has been used in many spaghetti westerns, all descended from the Monco and Colonel Mortimer characters in For A Few Dollars More).
A sheriff, transporting an escaped convict back to prison, rides into a camp set up by Martin. The sheriff says he’s still on the lookout for another escapee. He hands a wanted poster to Martin and asks if he has seen the man. Ricky Shot recognizes the convict and exchanges a knowing glance with him. Martin realizes the man in the wanted poster is Ricky, but doesn’t turn his new protege over to the sheriff.
The movie becomes more of a splintered affair as it progresses. Various factions seem to be out to kill Billy Kane, including Vigonza and his Mexican bandits, Billy’s own gang (who despise him), and of course Martin. Martin feels that he must somehow kill this bastard. He views Billy as an evil man whom he created himself, and who has grown without his guidance to become a murderous, feared outlaw. Eventually, Billy’ s men arrive in town ahead of Billy to carry out a bank robbery. They go straight to Vigonza’ s camp and reveal details of where Billy will be. Billy’ s men are afraid of their boss’s quick gun, and tell Vigonza they will not kill him – if they want the deed done, Vigonza and his gang must do it themselves. Vigonza enlists Ricky’s help with a wad of money. The plan is for Ricky to lure Billy in; he agrees, but ultimately he has other plans. When Billy arrives at the bar, Ricky tells him where Vigonza’ s men are hiding. At the signal, Ricky helps Billy kill the Mexican bandits. At this point we get some loose ends tied up. When asked by Billy why he helped him, Ricky says that he needs one of Billy’ s men to go speak to the authorities and clear him for stabbing the conductor at the start of the film. You see, the authorities found Ricky’ s knife in the conductor’s stomach and wrongly locked him up for 30 years. Billy hands over one of his men who he knows has double crossed him. “Now we’re even” Billy says.
Martin knows now that Ricky was never going to kill Billy Kane for him. He is consumed with hate and anger, and goes into town the next morning to wait for Billy to come down from his room at the saloon, shotgun at the ready. He hears footsteps and fires… but he kills the wrong man. Martin hears a coin hitting the floor by where he stands. He sees Billy walking down the steps and tries to load his shotgun as tears well up in his eyes. Martin throws the gun down and turns his back on Billy… but Billy shoots him in the back and he falls dead. The gold coin was from the Dallas County Fair and was awarded to Richard Martin and Billy Kane for the shooting competition. They gave shooting exhibitions together until Billy turned evil, wanting more money and using his gun-slinging skills for robbing banks and trains. Martin taught Billy everything about shooting and felt it was his duty to put an end to the evil’s man reign of terror.
Ricky is angered and decides to avenge his teacher. He disposes of Billy’ s gang, then faces Billy himself in a barn where they play an extended game of cat and mouse. Billy think he sees Ricky, but it is only a reflection in a mirror. He shoots at it, and Ricky capitalizes on this trickery by shooting Billy dead. The director does not go for a classic showdown in the street. We never find out who is faster, only who is more cunning. Ricky Shot (whose real name is Phillip Raymond) must now run because he has lost his witness. The barmaid says that she will tell the sheriff that Phillip Raymond was killed, thus freeing Ricky Shot.
Bandidos is a very good example of a spaghetti western. The idea of a ‘creator’ destroying, or attempting to destroy, his ‘creation’ is a device that has been done many times both in literature and film. The use of the name Kane is a religious reference to Cain and Abel – in this instance Kane kills Martin who is like his brother. The film is beautifully framed, and the direction keeps good pace, never bogging down. The actors turn in fine performances and there’s not a lot of the excess that spaghetti westerns could at times display.
A solid story with engaging characters, packed with all the familiar plot devices like old teacher helping young student, double crosses and the-man-with-no-name…, but doing so in subtle ways which keep it all fresh. I would say without a doubt that this film is a solid 7 out of 10.
(Thanks as always to the spaghetti western expert Tom Betts for his help on this review).
MoM Rating: 7/10