Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Jimmy Stewart and who??

A James Stewart western that I have not blogged about before is Bandolero!, which shows up tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM ET on the Fox Movie Channel.

The movie opens with Dean Martin leading a gang of bank robbers somewhere in the ranchlands of Texas in the years not long after the Civil War. Unfortunately for them, the bank heist doesn't go well, and the gang gets caught, put in jail, and sentenced to be hanged. Cut to James Stewart. He's in another part of Texas, and hears about this gang. The next morning, he meets a man with a whole bunch of rope who informs Stewart that he is a hangman, and is on his way to hang the Dean Martin Gang. Cut again, this time to the town where the gang has been held, and is going to be hanged. Enter the hangman -- well, actually, enter James Stewart. Obviously, he's dispatched the real hangman, and has the intention of freeing Martin and his friends, for reasons that are revealed not long afterwards. Martin and Stewart, it turns out, are brothers, and Stewart, the "good" brother, wants to convince the bad one to give up his life of crime and move someplace in the northern plains and become a peaceful, law-abiding rancher. Of course, there's the small matter of a price on Martin's head. So, he and his gang set off to escape across the Rio Grande, far enough south of the border that the sheriff (George Kennedy) won't follow them.

The sheriff has his own ideas, however. The gang has taken a rancher's widow (Raquel Welch) hostage. He's been after her to do something with the ranch -- namely, to do something to let him have it, either by selling to him or by marrying him. He's also in love with Welch (and who wouldn't be?), so it's clear that he'd follow her to the ends of the earth, matters of legal jurisdiction be damned. That's not the only thing to be damned, though. Welch's character is originally from the south side of the Rio Grande, and she knows that the more northerly parts of Mexico are filled with bandits (the bandoleros of the title), and that these bandits have no compunction about killing gringos. Everybody, possibly even her, is in danger if they continue going into Mexico. Of course, with the law coming after them, there's not much choice....

Bandolero! is entertaining enough, if nothing great. You get the impression that Stewart had done so many great westers before that he could have sleepwalked his way through this one, although he's the consummate pro and actually puts in an effort. Martin wasn't a bad actor, but he's a bit ill-suited here. Welch is lovely even if somewhat miscast, too, while Kennedy comes across as just enough of a creepy character with an almost perverted obsession for Welch. For some reason, his character here reminded me of his character in Strait-Jacket.

One other reason to watch the movie is for the anachronisms. The movie is set in the late 1860s or early 1870s, but there is a surprisingly high number of things in the movie that are of a much later time. Bandolero! is available both by itself, and as part of a box set that includes Welch's Mother, Jugs, and Speed.

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