[box cover]


Shame on Fox for plastering Raquel Welch's famous cheekbones on the DVD boxcover of 1968's Bandolero!. It's bad enough that the film is an ensemble piece rather than — as the artwork might suggest — a saucy sequel to bikini-clad Fathom set in the old west. What's worse is that Welch's also-ran co-stars are none other than James Stewart, Dean Martin, and George Kennedy. You know… those guys. Martin stars in Bandolero! as outlaw Dee Bishop, a Civil War veteran who's turned to robbing banks in Texas with his gang of ne'er-do-wells. But it's Dee's bad luck to wander into the town of Casa Verde and hold up the local depository — sheriff July Johnson (Kennedy) gets the drop on the Bishop gang and throws them in the local clink. Because they murdered one of the state's most prominent ranchers during the robbery and left his wife Maria (Welch) a young widow, the judge fixes them for a noose. July sends for a hangman — but it just so happens the Oklahoma executioner crosses paths with Mace Bishop (Stewart), Dee's older brother. And before anyone's the wiser, Dee rides into town wearing the hangman's top hat and black garb, prepared to spring his wayward brother at the last minute. The ruse works — the only problem is that Dee takes Maria hostage in order to escape, and the only way to go is south, across the border and into bandolero country, where Mexican bandits will kill a white man just to take his boots. Mace rides along, conveniently neglecting to tell his brother that he robbed the Casa Verde bank after the botched hanging. While there's nothing genuinely distinctive about Bandolero!, it's a fine example of a cast's ability to elevate routine material. Director Andrew V. McLaglen was a veteran of TV and feature westerns, and he directs with a journeyman's skill: perfectly competent, and never distracting. The project would mark the only screen pairing of James Stewart and Dean Martin, which might come as some surprise — considering that the script doesn't require a whole lot of comic relief, the pair get plenty of mileage from their sarcastic, bickering brothers. Stewart also has fun playing the executioner, quickly adopting the clipped, professional mannerisms of the man he bushwhacked on the trail a few days earlier. George Kennedy is as reliable as they come, and always welcome in a western. And while Welch fulfills her primary task (looking delicious), she brings a convincing Latina accent to the role, and thankfully nobody asked her to wear a fringed leather bikini. The foursome make the film worth a spin, but don't miss McLaglen's expert direction in two action scenes — the posse's showdown with the Bishops and the final bandolero battle in Mexico each feature up to a hundred horses and riders at full gallop. The fact that so many riders will willing to hurl themselves into the dirt at high speed proves that old-school stuntmen back in the day were worth every last peso. Fox's DVD release of Bandolero! features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a colorful, nearly pristine source print. English and Spanish trailers for this film, and trailers for other Raquel Welch titles. Keep-case.

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