A Bullet For Sandoval – Julio Buchs – 1969

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Julio Buchs’ Los Desperados, (later re-titled A Bullet For Sandoval), is a weird fish. It starts with an incredible atmospheric scene at night of a man robbing the corpses of civil war fallen. The music and photography are tight and exciting. But as soon as the acting starts it drops into cornball mode and never lets me get into George Hilton’s character. The entire film suffers from this kind of schizophrenic duality between a gritty mood and tone versus a hokey funny one.

George Hilton plays Warner, a deserter who leaves his company to try and get to his wife before she has his child. After a daring escape Warner reaches his father-in-law’s estate only to find his wife dead. Ernest Borgnine, a pretty forgettable villain gives Warner his infant child and tells him to leave.

No one will help Warner and his child, because they have come from a village where cholera has taken hold, and everyone fears the sickness. The story is very cruel and pushes our man down a hole of devastation and loss from the very opening. It is interesting to see the villagers equate the presence of the war with the presence of the sickness, blaming the quantity of corpses for the pestilence.

As his personal tragedies mount, Warner is met by a series of misfits who team up with him and find his cause a sympathetic one. These characters are all fairly generic and half the time the scenes where these men are supposed to relate to each other it seems goofy and pulls me out of the movie a bit. Perhaps it is intentional relief due to the tragic nature of the story, or perhaps the actors doing the English dub for some of the performances simply couldn’t nail the nuance of the language and humor. Either way, it’s almost always a jarring tonal shift that keeps the film from being actually great.

The film ends in an interesting infiltration of Sandoval’s ranch home, which is somehow adjacent to a bullfighting arena! There is a pretty great knife fight between George Hilton and Ernest Borgnine, but the real cherry on top is the scene with the bull! The end of the picture is pretty hopeless but about 50% of the film is goofy anyway so it’s really hard to feel the tragedy of the situation.

The cinematography by Francisco Sempere is sometimes chilling and awesome, particularly the night scenes, but often in the daytime the film looses its magic and looks pretty plain. It’s the surreal colored lighting of the night photography that helps the picture find what is its coolest tone.

The score by Gianni Ferrio is actually quite excellent and probably saves the film from being a bit more generic. Quentin Tarantino used Ferrio’s One Silver Dollar, (UN Dolaro Bucato), in Inglorious Basterds. The music in A Bullet For Sandoval is both tragic and exciting and the themes get stuck in your head.

Overall, the film was good, not great. I would recommend this film only to lovers of the Spaghetti Western genre, lovers of cholera, and US Civil War Enthusiasts.

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