After a long hiatus, it’s time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I review the 1966 Spaghetti/Zapata classic A Bullet For The General.
A Bullet For The General AKA Quien Sabe?/Yo Soy La Revolucion
Screenplay by Salvatore Laurani (story) and Franco Solinas
Directed by Damiano Damiani
Tagline: Like the Bandit…Like the Gringo…A bullet doesn’t care who it kills!
What It’s About:
In Mexico during the Revolution, mercenary bandit Chuncho (the incomparable Gian Maria Volonte) and his gang steal a machinegun from a train and free a stoic young American outlaw, ‘Nino’ (Lou Castel). They set out to sell the machinegun to General Elias (Jaime Hernandez), an acclaimed rebel commander. Unknown to Chuncho, Nino is an assassin hired by the government to kill Elias.
Why I Bought It:
A Bullet For The General doesn’t have the inimitable style of a Leone or Corbucci western, being cast in washed out Spanish hues and dull colors, but its lean, direct story is arresting from the opening scene when Chuncho’s gang ties a federale captain to the tracks to stop a train to its stunning, heartbreaking ending, which is right up there with anything Peckinpah has done.
Like The Wild Bunch or Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, A Bullet For The General is a contemplation of the camaraderie of violent men and the peculiar honor even the most mercenary and unscrupulous of them hold dear. Like Pike, Chuncho is a slave to his code, which is not evident at first to Nino or to us. Though everybody in Chuncho’s gang seems to distrust Nino at the outset, seeing him for the dangerous adder he is, Chuncho can’t help but like the young self-professed outlaw, sensing a kindred mercenary spirit out for money and unmoved by the high minded platitudes of revolutionaries. He mistakes Nino’s single-minded eagerness to help deliver the stolen weapon for efficient earnestness, and consistently interposes himself between his old gang members, siding with Nino even against his own fiery brother, Santo.
It also shares some thematic similarities with Leone’s own Zapata-western, Duck You Sucker/A Fistful of Dynamite. Both Chuncho and Steiger’s character from that film undergo a similar awakening, although, I think, Chuncho’s is a little less on the nose. Chuncho wants to be a mercenary, but in his heart he loves his country and the poor, and is in fact an idealist.
Volonte, famous for playing villains opposite Eastwood in two of his Leone outings (particularly his awesome turn as the sociopathic Indio in For A Few Dollars More), shows a fantastic range of emotion while never betraying the Tuco-esque simplicity of his character. His tired acceptance of his own rightfully deserved death and bewildered slow-burning realization at the end is unforgettable. His mugging with the peons of San Miguel when he’s training them to shoot, belies his grudging love of the peasantry that was his own nativity.
Lou Castel’s baby-faced Nino is a cold blooded serpent, a calculating psychopath barely tolerant of the simpletons around him, except for Chuncho, who he seems to consider some kind of amusing pet. He’s a monumental, unblinking liar (“Why do you carry a gold bullet in your valise, Nino?” “Brings me luck.”) and a vicious killer, looking a government officer in the eyes as he extends his hand to shake the man’s hand in greeting while plunging his pistol into his belly with the other and firing. His minimal flirtation with Martine Beswick’s Adelita is a matter of course. She’s just another distraction to his mission, yet in the end, he does have some strange personal code, like Chuncho, which motivates him to share his blood money. He’s American colonialism personified, right down to the blazing white three piece suit and brazenly cocked hat he wears at the end.
I have to mention Klaus Kinski as Chuncho’s revolutionary brother Santo. He’s a fascinating character, apparently a priest or ex-priest, still wearing the remnants of his Franciscan robes under his bandolier. He guns down a Jesuit giving last rites to a government man and in one awesome scene, doles out grenades and fire and brimstone curses down on a band of soldiers in the name of the father (BOOM!) and the son (BOOM!) and the Holy Spirit (BOOM!).
Chico: Senor, senor! Are you an American? Do you like Mexico?
Nino (without missing a beat): No. Not very much.
Without a doubt, the end scene.
Chuncho delivers the machinegun to Elias only to learn that the people of San Miguel he left behind defenseless were all massacred by government troops in his absence. An honorable man in the end, he agrees with Elias that he should be executed for his own selfishness. Santo dutifully steps from the crowd and volunteers to carry out the sentence.
As Santo marches Chuncho off to pick his killing ground, Nino assassinates Elias with his golden bullet and kills Santo with his next shot, saving Chuncho.
Weeks later Chuncho catches up with the immaculately dressed Nino in a hotel, intending to kill him, but Nino gives him half the 100,000 pesos he got for killing Elias, and offers to make a gentleman out of him and take him to America.
After a night of carousing and high living, Chuncho accompanies Nino to the train station in his new suit, and shrugs off the attempts of an earnest peon to shine his shoes.
He watches Nino cut to the front of a line of Mexicans at the ticket counter, and something snaps in him. As he escorts Nino to the train and hears all about how he was never an outlaw, and used the gang to get him near Elias.
Nino (smiling): “You can save the compliments. Jump on. Train’s about to leave.”
Chuncho: And you’ve been a great friend to me, haven’t you? Isn’t that true? I like you. It’s a shame I have to kill you.
He flings the valise of money away and draws his gun.
Nino stares at him, genuinely confused, even hurt.
Nino: “But Chuncho that’s nonsense! I’ve made you into a rich man, why do you have to murder me?”
Chuncho: I must, Nino. I must.
Nino: Why should you want to kill me?
Chuncho: “Quien sabe?”
Nino: Tell me why you must do it!
Chuncho shakes his head wonderingly, staring up at Nino, not wanting to do it.
Chuncho: “Quien sabe?”
Nino: “What do you mean Quien sabe? You don’t know the reason? You must know!”
Chuncho: “I don’t know the reason. I only know I must kill you.”
He fires three times into Nino’s stomach as the train pulls away, shouting DEATH DEATH DEATH and leaving him hanging in the doorway, dead and staring.
Some men on the platform grab him and he shoves them off.
As he looks, the shoe shiner opens his castoff valise and finds the money within.
Chuncho catches his eye and laughs.
Chuncho: “Don’t buy bread with that money, hombre! Buy dynamite! Dynamite!”
He laughs boisterously, madly, shedding his good suit coat and running off between the trains as a lively Mexican tune erupts.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes
Next In The Queue: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid