Bandidos (1967)

Dir: Massimo Dallamano – Cast: Enrico Maria Salerno, Venantino Venantini, Terry Jenkins, Maria Martin, Chris Huerta, Marco Guglielmi – Music: Egisto Macchi

poster for Bandidos

A train is assaulted by a gang and all the passengers are killed because the gang’s leader doesn’t want his face to end up on walls. The last passenger offering resistance is a famous sharpshooter who is recognized by the bandit. After being unarmed, he is not killed but mutilated so severely that he will never be able to hold a gun again. To make a living he starts to work as a promoter for a Wild West show, preparing at the same time his revenge by educating a young man as a sharpshooter. The plan seems to work, but the young man has his own reasons to chase the bandit. And it is all related to the assault on the train, as the lyrics of the main theme tell us ... from this train, there’s no return ...

Bandidos remained unnoticed in the stream of spaghetti western that deluged the market in the late sixties, presumably because nor director Dallamano nor its leading actors were familiar names among western fans. Ironically both Dallamano and lead Salerno had worked with Leone. Dallamano had been his cinematographer for A Fistful of Dollars and For a few Dollars more, and Salerno had dubbed Eastwood in the Italian versions of the dollar trilogy. Moreover Salerno was Leone’s first choice as Mr. Choo Choo Morton.

With Leone’s former cinematographer in the director’s chair it’s no wonder that Bandidos looks gloriously. Actually Dallamano did most of the cinematography himself, after he had fired the original Spanish director of photography (whose name couldn’t be removed from the credits for contractual reasons). There’s even one crane shot with a panning camera showing the victims of the train robbery that might have been copied by the maestro himself in Once upon a time in the West. But the reason it works so well, is the multi-layered, tight script, reminiscent of a thriller or a Greek tragedy. The problem with the average revenge western is that we feel distant from the main character. We have witnessed the slaughter of his family so we know why he is seeking revenge, but we don’t feel his pain, nor his grief. Salerno, the avenger of the movie, looks more like a dandy before he gets mutilated and we do not worry much about his mutilation; only later, when we witness his gradual degradation into a emotionally crippled man, we start to care about him. The villain, Venantini, is presented as a ruthless killer but he remains human nonetheless. More and more we realize that is he is also emotionally affected by what happened. Ultimately Bandidos is a film about betrayed friendship, not about revenge, and we realize that the outcome will be tragic, whatever it may be. Freudians will certainly notice some homosexual overtones. They will also observe that the shooting of Salerno’s hands is a symbolic castration.

Unless you’ve read the outcome on one of those sites that have a tendency to reveal too much, the film will keep you guessing what is the exact relation between the three leads. Both Salerno and Venantini turn in magnificent performances. Jenkins is far less convincing, and apparently the makers had contracted the wrong actor! By his walk they knew right away that he was an ex-model, so Dallamano decided to take as much medium shots of him, in which his walk wouldn’t attract too much attention. The melancholic score by Egisto Macchi must be one of the finest of all spaghetti western scores. The main theme, instrumental during the credits, sung in the movie, will stay with you for days. By the way, it is sung in English on the German and English soundtrack, in Italian on the Italian soundtrack. The dismissal of the Spanish director of photography, who had no idea how western scenes were supposed to be shot, was not the only set-back the team had to deal with. On location in the South of Spain, they had to work under atrocious circumstances, due to a heat wave, and the Egyptian horse trainer (and double for Venantini) threatened to quit the scene when one of his horses was confiscated.

This is truly a great spaghetti western. Tom Betts thinks the film ought to be discussed more and said it would be in his Top 10. He also thinks this is, along with The Forgotten Pistolero, one of those lesser known spaghetti westerns that every fan of the genre needs to check out. Don’t miss it!

The best way to view this film is probably the region 0 release of (German) New Entertainment World. It has DD 2.0 English, Italian and German audio and the film is presented in (more or less) the original aspect ratio of 2,35:1. This disc is slightly cut but the (very short) cuts are of minor importance. Another German release is uncut but has no English audio and does not respect the OAR.

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