Bandolero! (1968)

Mace Bishop is slumming his way across Texas when he hears that his brother has been caught robbing a bank and is due to be hung, along with his whole gang. Posing as a hangman, Mace manages to convince the Sheriff of his stolen identity and merrily sets about preparing for the execution. When the day comes Mace goes through the motions until the first chance he gets to slip Dee a gun unseen – allowing them to escape. While all the men ride out of town, Mace finishes off the bank that Dee failed on and rides on to meet up with the gang fleeing to Mexico – however even with a hostage, the Bishop gang are closely pursued by an angry Sheriff Johnson.

From the very start this film marks itself out as a strange mix that relies on its stars more than anything else. The opening scene is edgy but then the credits are laid back with an almost comic theme tune. The first half continues with this tone and is quite relaxed and enjoyable while also being a bit amusing; however once the Bishops escape, things begin to go downhill but yet there is still over an hour to go. The film forgoes the amiable tone it had in the start and tries to build a story and characters but does neither very well at all. It all drags and is never really convincing with the actual ‘chase’ sort of petering out in a distracting subplot involving Mexican bandits while the rest of the characters change and act totally unconvincing. It affected my enjoyment of the film – not because it got more serious but because it never got involving. The ending is a massive gunfight that is more silly than exciting and is just a lot of noise to satisfy the audience rather than a good conclusion to the story.

The characters are a problem because they seem to have been written to suit the stars rather than being true to the story and situations. The best examples of this are Maria (who falls in love too easily), Dee (who is just Dean Martin and not an end of the road bandit) and Mace (who is just James Stewart). People on this site have said that this film gave the stars the chance to play bad guys but this is nonsense – the ‘bad guys’ here are the gang, who are set as mangy in order to help us see how likable and honourable the Bishops are. Martin plays to his smile but does nothing else – certainly he is not the tough criminal that the opening scene would have us believe he is. Stewart suits his role but there is nothing to him other than a watered down version of his personae and a bit of relaxed charm; this makes for dull viewing though. Welch looks gorgeous and yet she cannot make us believe in her character at all and she is all about being Raquel Welch rather than being a character – heck, even an attempted rape seems to have been shot to show off her back and legs. Kennedy just saunters along in a wasted role and the rest of the gang just do the best they can with thin characters.

Overall this is a pretty poor film that has an enjoyable little first half but then unsuccessfully opens up into an attempt at a story with characters and such. The story is weak and falls down in the second half, partly due to the characters just not convincing at all. The stars try to work with the material but they are only ever partly successful – Stewart being OK, Welch forcing the emotion and Martin just smiling and relying on his celebrity status. The first hour is OK but this is one for real fans of the actors but nobody else.