Sunday, January 2, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#2) A BULLET FOR SANDOVAL (Los desperados)

(It should be noted up front that Netflix almost, kinda, let me down on this one: going into it I thought I was getting, at least half-way, a Lucio Fulci movie.  That is when you go on to their site, or are on the Instant-Netflix watch, it credits him alongside another director, Julio Buchs.  As it turns out, after at first giving the benefit of the doubt that Fulci wasn't credited in the opening titles, he had nothing to do with the picture according to the lead actor, George Hilton.  So if one is a hardcore Fulci fan trying to get as much out of the proverbial Netflix Buck, then one may be disappointed to see it's just your common garden-variety "spaghetti western".   But hey, on those terms it could still be okay right?)  

A Bullet for Sandoval isn't one of those 'Spaghetti Westerns' that one might try, perhaps somewhat in vain or for the sake of sounding like a smarty pants auteur-enthusiast, to put into the ouvere of a known-director in the genre, like Sergio Leone or Sergio Corbucci or the League of Extraordinary Sergio's (you know they're out there, oh yes).  At the end of the day since the Lucio Fulci co-director credit has been de-bunked, it's just another western that has a credit to a guy who only directed a few other films, Julio Buchs (among others that have under 100 votes on include I'll Kill Him and Return Alone, which is a bad-ass title, and Django Does Not Forgive, which sounds pretty straightforward).  It may also tempt some of those die-hard Ernest Borgnine fans out there, you two or three of you reading this around the world.

But what else is there?  On the surface it's a revenge story that takes off during the Civil War.  A Confederate soldier, John Warner (George Hilton), needs to leave the army to tend to some trouble that's a-brewin' back in his old village regarding his wife and small baby.  But alas, this makes him a deserter, and when he's found out he's taken back to dig his own grave.  Somehow by some very sudden chance of occurance (that is a moment of luck that seems out of left-field somewhat and isn't given enough time to marinate in the mind), Warner is freed from his duty-of-death by a couple of other soldiers, and head on back to town.  But when they get there they find out from the one-note hot-head Don Sandoval (Borgnine) that Warner's wife, Sandoval's daughter, has died, not from the cholera that's been sweeping the town but by Warner because, uh, Sandoval says so!  He gives Warner his baby and sends him off, but he soon dies of Cholera too without any assistance.  Some fine luck to his grandson there.

Warner swears revenge, and gets together alongside his other ex-Confederate compadres a host of other gunmen, the likes of which Sandoval knows all by name and description oddly enough without having met any of them up close (how they're all identified is one of the film's moments of unintentional hilarity as Sandoval describes each, like a one-eyed gunman, in detailed voice-over as each gunman enters and exits the screen).  Warner's plan isn't too complicated: get past Sandoval's entourage and storm at him, though there will be some resistance as Sandoval tries to rally up an army to stop them cause, you know, Warner's leading a trained cadre of gunmen who aren't exactly amateurs.  Some side-steps come and go, but the mission stays the same, up until the climax.

Rhode scholars, the lot of em.
And what a climax it really is.  Seriously, one just need to look at that poster to see a hint of it, as Warner and his men are in an arena and dozens of gunmen come flooding in the seats surrounding them in the middle.  I can't say what happens, if the one or two of you decide to watch it, but it is a thrilling build up to a shoot-out that echoes its same-year movie The Wild Bunch, albeit without that film's real dynamite focus on screen violence.  But up until then, a lot of A Bullet for Sandoval is a bit lame, which is a shame as the story could lend itself to better handling of its premise.

It is actually a pretty tragic story as it deals with an innocent man (albeit a Confederate soldier which knocks some sympathy points there) who comes home to find his life destroyed, and further made awful and irredemable by a father-in-law who is at best a prick and at worst one of those evil fuckers who makes a law banning smoking in restaurants.  And oh, such a man Borgnine plays in full one-dimensional splendor... and yet one-dimension it is, from start to finish, even in a scene that should emphasize what little remorse he feels over his daughter's cholera death (where he tells a maid "she never existed" and then proceeds to cry in her absence) is hammed up.  Under the surface it... loses much of its potential after the first half-hour, becoming a by-the-books revenge picture with a few decent stylistic fluorishes.

In lieu of being able to find a single still of Borgnine from the picture, here is a kid's science fair project.... um...
It also doesn't help that all other actors are also equally one-note, workmen, basically there either as ham-matrons or stick figures just waiting to be shot, or if one is a woman then a moaner and coverer-of-child's-ears-from-bad-language (which is none really).  Some of the scenes are also quite silly, such as a wound that Warner sustains in his right arm that is little more than a little puncture with a little blood only requiring for a few scenes the need of a sling via bandana.  What kind of bullet is that, a toothpick?  And Buchs just can't resist the kind of shot one has to equally laugh and roll ones eyes at which is all four gunmen near the climax walking in step, all same foot at the same time, with the imitation-leather-Morricone music in tow.

And yet there is kind of a charm to it not-quite-goodness.  It hasn't dated well and some of the dialog is equally silly as some of the action.  Nevertheless if you're hankering for some of that spaghetti-western meat, there is some here, like in the aforementioned climax in the arena, or what leads up to it with the big showdown between Warner and Sandoval (and there is a bull thrown in!  and a bull-ring that is hardly up to regulation!)  I only wish it had a director who, frankly, seemed to give more of a shit, to his actors or is under-used star Borgnine in a villainous role that has nothing really worthwhile to offer outside of the hambone quotient.  There is some decent grime and grit, a few noteworthy "macho" moments like two irate gunmen using their knives to make a point- one after another in the same friggin' spot- but it's mostly forgettable.

ADDENDUM: Another fault on Netflix's end: this version, apparently, has about fifteen minutes chopped off, if one is to believe IMDb's credit of 105 mins vs the 90 mins the film was on instant-view, and worse-off its a pan-and-scan version of a 2:35 widescreen movie, which is more painfully obvious on a widescreen digital TV.  Come on guys, throw me a bone here.  Sadly one may take some of this review as moot as half of the screen and 15 minutes were lopped off - even with an average movie its worth seeing the full-averageness of it.  L'Sigh.

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