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Thursday, June 09, 2016

Westerns Changed --- They Didn't

More Old Men Mount Up In Bandolero! (1968)

A western Dad could take Junior to see, Bandolero! stood tall for what was left of establishment cowboys as closure of the range drew nigh. Whatever else spaghettis were, they told at least surface truth of grime and gore at heart of frontier life, Hollywood seeming childish beside them (but really, what was silly as most spaghetti westerns?). True Grit brought us up even, then advantage was Italy's again with Once Upon A Time In The West, to which we threw gauntlet of The Wild Bunch. Who knew these would exhaust the West as resource for myth-making, all of statements made and topic closed by finish of the 60's. Had movies and television wrung the genre dry? Youth didn't care save conventions being challenged, or better, demolished, as by Leone and Peckinpah. Beyond that, what was left? By new decade, westerns were for elders and stick-in-mud fans. John Wayne's began to slip, while heir apparent Clint Eastwood toted guns to better effect in modern dress. Still there were stars, less defined by the term, who'd stay in saddles for those who recalled lead men in chaps on routine basis, and prospering by it. No more, that seemed, as cultural change swept out saloons.

I went to see all the old-man westerns where fading names were paired like bulbs pitted against a room pitch dark. We could choose Bandolero! on paying basis at the theatre or stay home and watch Jim Stewart/Dean Martin gidd-yap on television, and in color by summer '68 for many families. This dealt out most movies labeled ordinary, which Bandolero! was, whatever our pleasure in it now (for me, considerable). Color TV closed widespread accounts for theatre-going, folks having less-than-ever reason to pay piper that was boxoffices. By way of sample, The Sons Of Katie Elder, with Martin and John Wayne, ran primetime ABC in January 1968, Stewart with Two Rode Together ubiquitous in syndication from 1965. All their color westerns were tube-fed, or soon would be. Had Bandolero! been made cheaper, then perhaps ... but to do outdoors well, as in wide, color, and with names, took more cash than came back in quicksand 60's. Bandolero! lost $911K, despite $7.3 million in worldwide rentals. Trouble was, it cost $4.4 million.

I liked old-men westerns as antidote to Italy. No flies lit on James Stewart, and we'd not look so close on pores of Dean Martin's skin. Bandolero! was a western on terms readily understood, not markedly different from Gunsmoke or The Virginian other than knives jabbed in deeper or Raquel Welch having back of her shirt torn off. That last was focus of advertising, a policy to persist even unto DVD release when Bandolero! was tendered as part of a Raquel Welch promotion. I was shocked at fourteen to hear Raquel's character declare that she was "a whore at thirteen," one more veil ripped from propriety of homegrown westerns. Also we got Martin killing civilians in a holdup and Stewart robbing same bank after dust is cleared, anti-heroes to give Italos a run for money (trouble was, the imports were done cheaper and so got more profit). Bandolero! was taken less serious when new for Martin clowning on Thursday night NBC and frivolous Matt Helm for increasingly sorry vehicles. It's late date, but obvious now what good and serious work he does here. Dean liked westerns and respected them, so no wink or walk through this part.

James Stewart rides in under credits to Jerry Goldsmith scoring by Jew's-harp, this not a first US nod to maestro Ennio Morricone. Bandolero! would be Jim's best western work since last with Ford. I'd forgot what humor he could invest where content allowed, this having not been case in unpleasant ones like Shenandoah and Firecreek, the first bearing stench of 60's Universal, the second an ordeal of town siege and unrelieved misery for him and most of cast. Bandolero! let Stewart relax and have fun with at least a first half, saving big brother and bottled-up stuff for very effective shading to his and other characters nearer a finish (much of Bandolero! is revamp of themes from Night Passage). Stewart, Dino, Kirk Douglas, Lancaster, Widmark, Fonda, Mitchum, Peck, a whole flock of roosters who'd flown since the war, did old man westerns right through the sixties and much of seventies. King Rooster was Wayne, of course. Going to enough of theirs, as I certainly did, could make you forget there was counterculture abroad in the land. We think of the time as all hippie beads and come the revolution, but these were still doing might is right on strict traditional terms, each a fill-up in face of times changing perhaps too fast.


Blogger rnigma said...

I remember living in Texas at that time (I was around 7) and one of the Dallas TV stations was having a live remote from the premiere of "Bandolero."

12:28 PM  
Blogger Mikeymort said...

A few years ago, on Fox News' Mike Huckabee interview show, he talked with Welch about her time on location working on this pic. She said between takes, Martin and Stewart were signing autographs for locals and chatting them up. She hid in her trailer. Either Martin or Stewart came to her trailer and insisted she come meet the people who bought the tickets. They said something to the effect of, "Once you meet them, they'll come to every movie you make and invite all their friends." On the show she said she thought that was a big part of their success.

3:20 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

That is a GREAT anecdote, Mikeymort. Thanks for sending it along.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...


Keller TV (as we say in mid-to-western Pa) went full time in 1965 courtesy of NBC, but color TV penetration didn't reach 50% until 1973. Even then, the screen didn't match the size of your local hardtop or ozoner. Yes, many of the first big color TV hits WERE westerns (although brown horses and Bill Cosby tended to have a green tint from the primitive electronics). I went to this film because of the three stars and seeing Martin on his variety show wasn't exactly the same as seeing him in good color on a big screen. I agree that the film is very enjoyable, just not very good--probably the main reason for its poor performance.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Richard KImble said...

I don't think you mentioned Bandolero is a remake, or at least a reworking, of the first half of The Bravados (1958). (Dino's other '68 oater, Five Card Stud, was a rewrite of the Chuck Heston '50 noir Dark City)

Bandolero has one of my all time fave western scenes, where Jimmy and Dean debate the number of Indians in Montana.

12:49 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

One of my pappy's favorites. He always watched it when it came on the television. I think it's a major director away from being a great Western.

I believe Larry McMurtry borrowed a couple of the character's names for his novel 'Lonesome Dove'. Curious.

5:55 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Very late to this thread but no mention is made about Andrew McLaglen, the director who guided many of the old-man movie westerns in the 1960s and 1970s. A veteran of TV oaters including GUNSMOKE and HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, McLaglen's big-screen work displayed a relaxed sense of old-school competence, often with his own revolving cast of supporting co-stars. The major players seemed to be having a good time, too, in undistinguished yet enjoyable outings like THE SEA WOLVES and THE WILD GEESE. (By the way, BANDOLERO's CBS runs in the 1971-1972 season were hacked to shreds by censors when the network ran its early-evening Sunday Night Movie, a foolish one-season replacement for the ousted Ed Sullivan and his really big shew.)
I'll leave it to film historians to take out their Roto-Rooters and plumb for thematic meanings in the McLaglen canon, because I'm in in for unpretentious entertainment that's still as comfy as well-trod bedroom slippers.

11:26 AM  

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