DT Moviehouse Review: A Bullet For The General

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!

bulletforthegeneralposter

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:

bulletforthegeneralA 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.

bullet-trainLike 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.

quiensabe7It 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.

bulletblu4_originalLou 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.

Chuncho_02I 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!).

Best Dialogue/Line:

Chico: Senor, senor! Are you an American? Do you like Mexico?

Nino (without missing a beat): No. Not very much.

Best Scene:

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.

505365252_8b866ec46e_oChuncho: “Nino you’re a very intelligent boy and you never make mistakes, eh?”

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.”

Nino: “Why?!”

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

DT Moviehouse Review: Bonnie And Clyde

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 Arthur Penn’s groundbreaking Bonnie And Clyde.

(1967) Directed by Arthur Penn,

Screenplay by David Newman and Robert Benton

Tagline:

They’re young….they’re in love….and they kill people.

Bonnie & Clyde poster

What It’s About:

You’ve read the story of Jesse James

Of how he lived and died;

If you’re still in need

Of something to read,

Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde. – Bonnie Parker

bonnie-and-clyde-1962-07-gIn Depression-era Texas, Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty), tries to steal Bonnie Parker’s (Faye Dunaway) mother’s car and winds up taking her along instead on an armed robbery, initiating a torrid if somewhat platonic romance which gradually escalates into a storied, violent career of bank robbery and murder along with Clyde’s brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and his shrill wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons), and mechanic turned getaway driver C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard).

Why I Bought It:

A classic that changed the landscape of American film along with Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch and kicked off the so-called New Hollywood movement inspired by the French New Wave, it was popular in my household since my dad and uncle both rebuilt 1931 Model A Fords and much of my childhood was spent around classic automobiles of that era, going to shows and on long drives through the country on road rallies (sort of mobile rural scavenger hunts) reading comics in the backseat, or squinting into the roaring wind in a rumble seat.

I also clearly remember the soundtrack to Lester Flat and Earl Scrugg’s Foggy Mountain Breakdown being my personal favorite among my dad’s 8-track collection. I guess it must’ve been some kinda single. It was a red cassette with a pair of Model A’s on the front, and when you played the track, it was overlayed with sounds of screeching tires and gunfire. I used to listen to it over and over again, bouncing on the sofa, pretending I was shooting it out with bad guys. I don’t know if it was actually sounds from the movie or not.

Anyway in Bonnie And Clyde, what you have is perhaps the pre-eminent outlaw love affair movie. Sure movies had come before, Gun Crazy was supposed to be a big influence, and since, Mickey and Mallory in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers is an obvious successor, as  is Widsom, and Terrence Malick’s Badlands, which is outright dedicated to Arthur Penn, but nothing quite captures the romantic notion of outlaws in love like this movie.

faye-dunaway-bonnie-and-clydeYet, it’s not clear why, at first. Bonnie and Clyde’s love affair is anything but typical, idealized romanticism. In fact, Clyde is unable to perform sexually with Bonnie through most of the picture, and the violence, robbery, and gunplay actually takes the place of their physical copulation, with each new caper becoming bloodier and bloodier, much like Taxi Driver.  Unlike Travis Bickle, the ultimate bullet riddled showdown doesn’t provide the physical release that allows the protagonists to continue on with their lives. In Bonnie And Clyde, when the lovers finally are able to actually make love, there is nothing left for them but to die, as in Romeo and Juliet. A cursory perusal of the actual history reveals that there might have been something to the plot device of Clyde’s sexual dysfunction. History records that Clyde’s first recorded murder was of a cell mate who repeatedly molested him in prison, where he had spent time for armed robbery. And in the film, when Clyde rebuffs Bonnie’s initial furtive sexual advances following their first robbery, he stammers that he’s ‘not much of a lover boy,’ but hastily adds that ‘there’s nothin’ wrong with me. I don’t like boys.’

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWe meet Bonnie, the lovely, sensually photographed Dunaway, lounging in her little girl’s bedroom, obviously suffering from some kind of titanic malaise, literally represented by the distressed look she fixes on the camera through the bars of her brass bed, when she gets up and peers through her window and happens to see Clyde skulking around her mother’s automobile with a look of ill intent. Thus, Clyde’s first sight is of a tastefully framed nude Bonnie standing behind the screened in window. I love the looks on their faces in this scene, and the playful talk. When Clyde literally shows her his pistol, it early on becomes a stand in for his manhood when Bonnie daintily strokes the barrel.  But again, all this buildup doesn’t really pay off in the traditional sense. As Bonnie says, Clyde’s “advertising is dandy….Folks’d just never guess you don’t have a thing to sell.”

So how does a romance work without romance?

Maybe it’s because despite the lack of physical affection, Dunaway and Beatty are still a great, charismatic match and Bonnie and Clyde are very much infatuated with each other. That’s plain in their actions, in the pained way Clyde makes excuses for her to Buck about being rude to his annoying sister-in-law when a tried and true hardcore outlaw would’ve just kicked her out of the car, in the panic he displays when she runs through a field from him and tearfully declares she wants to see her mother, in the lies he tells her mother for her benefit. Clyde can’t or won’t roll Bonnie in the sack, but it’s almost as if he feels she’s too good for that, and he makes Bonnie believe it, or at least accept it, too. Then bloodshed and violence becomes their passion. Never quite outright, in a psychotic way. They don’t revel in violence, but they definitely enjoy the thrill….until it starts to wear thin.

733_3They have a mission, and I think that’s part of the vicarious enjoyment you get from watching this movie. They’re both down and out kids, one an ex-con, the other an ex-waitress in a dead end life. Yet somehow, when they come together, magic happens. Early on they stop at a foreclosed farm and meet a pair of old sharecroppers, black and white, who’ve just had their place taken away by the bank.  Clyde lets both old men blow holes in the windows and in the foreclosure sign. They thank him, and introduce themselves.

“I’m Clyde Barrow and this is Bonnie Parker.” And then, after an afterthought, he grins and says, “We rob banks.”

Because what purer cause can a pair of directionless rebels who’ve found each other take on, than to assume the guise of modern day Robin Hoods? They’ll rob the rich, faceless bullies of the banks, and give to the poor (in this case, themselves).

And this socio-economic crusade resonates as well now as it did when the real Bonnie and Clyde were lionized, when this movie came out, and perhaps moreso today. What bigger villain is there to the American people than the banks and the monstrous corporate state? So, Bonnie and Clyde remain heroes, even in an inaccurate movie, even viewed eighty years after their deaths at the hands of Texas Rangers. They keep to their code too. At one point they rob a bank and Clyde tells a farmer in line to deposit his cash to keep his money. They only want the bank’s.

“They did right by me,” the farmer admits to a reporter later. “And I’m gonna bring a mess of flowers to their funeral.” Meanwhile, in a criticism of media infatuation with murderers, the bank guard and president grin for the cameras and point to a bullet hole Clyde left in the wall when he shot the guard’s hat off.

This movie has since been made again and again in various ways, but Bonnie And Clyde is the original.

3It helps that Dunaway and Beatty are surrounded by a fantastic cast. Gene Hackman as Clyde’s good old boy brother, telling the same dumb joke over and over again to anybody who’ll listen, Michael J. Pollard as their ride-along van, the tried and true C.W. whose hero worship ultimately leads to their undoing, and of course, the standout, Oscar winning performance by Estelle Parsons as Blanche, possibly one of the most hilariously annoying characters in cinema (the real Blanche Barrow, having survived to see the movie, reportedly declared “That film made me look like a screaming horse’s ass!”), to say nothing of the small but effective supporting performances by Dub Taylor and Denver Pyle. Taylor and Parsons share a pretty great scene. Blanche, having been blinded in the last shootout and apprehended after the death of Buck, sits with her eyes and head bandaged in an interrogation room as Taylor (as Texas Ranger Hamer) enters, startling her. He masterfully plays up to her simple church upbringing and hatred of Bonnie, and uses her love for Buck to find out where Bonnie and Clyde are headed. Then, as the sorrowful Blanche continues to pour her heart out, he coldly leaves the room and quietly shuts the door, cutting off her speech.

bonnie_clyde_04_thumb[3]This is also the film debut of Gene Wilder, who just kills it in a minor role as a put upon undertaker who, along with Evans Evans chases down the Barrow gang after they steal his car, and are promptly (but amicably) kidnapped by them. His portentious looks and nervous delivery are raucously funny. Watch the expressions of both Evans and Wilder when Evans tells Bonnie her real age and realizes it wasn’t the same age she told her date, or when the admittedly janky looking Pollard accidentally takes a bite out of Wilder’s hamburger and then apologetically offers to trade.

As mentioned, the movie is inspired by films like Breathless and the French New Wave, and that shows up the most in the editing, which protracts certain moments and queues while nearly jump cutting through action. Watch the great moment during the final ambush when they realize what’s coming and Clyde lunges for the car. He meets Bonnie’s eyes and she slightly smiles in a fatalistic way. Then suddenly both of them are being riddles with bullets.

bac11The ending really is shockingly violent for the period, with Clyde’s body dancing on the ground, exploding with squibs as Bonnie rocks back in forth in the driver’s seat of their V8, already dead about a dozen times over.

Before this movie it was the norm in American film to show a gun fire and a man drop bloodlessly. It ushered in a whole new era of screen violence (and sex).

Apparently Warner Bros. thought so little of the picture they allowed Beatty an unprecedented 40% cut of the film, which made him a millionaire when it proved a hit.

Best Dialogue/Line:

I like when Bonnie and Clyde rob their first store on their first ‘date’ together. As they are departing, Clyde hops into a vehicle other than the one they arrived in.

This is a 'stolen' four cylinder Ford coupe.

This is a ‘stolen’ four cylinder Ford coupe.

BONNIE: Hey, that ain’t ours.

CLYDE: Sure it is.

BONNIE (indicating her car): We came in this.

CLYDE (grinning): That don’t mean we got to leave in it.

Best Scene:

There’s a lot to choose from. The climactic ending, the bit where they get the drop on Hamish and photograph him (a famously inaccurate scene which wound up costing Warner Brothers money after Hamish’s widow sued the studio for defamation of character), the scene where Pollard, supposed to be their wheelman, parallel parks the getaway car in the midst of a bank holdup and then has a helluva time trying to pull out, but my favorite is probably the scene near the end of the movie, when Bonnie has finally induced Clyde to have sex and they are apparently doing it pretty regular. Lying in bed, holed up in C.W.’s father’s place, Clyde formally proposes to Bonnie, and she tearfully accepts. But they both know they’re nearing the end. They’ve said goodbye to their parents, Buck is dead, and they’re all alone, with what feels like the entire world coming down on them.

BONNIE: Clyde, why do you want to marry me?

CLYDE: To make an honest woman outta you.

Bonnie spreads her hands wide, dreamily.

BONNIE: Clyde…what would you do, what would you do, if some miracle happened, and we could walk out tomorrow morning and start all over again, clean, with no record, with nobody after us?

Clyde grins and exhales. It looks like he’s about to talk about family and settling down.

CLYDE: Well…I guess I’d do it ALL different.  First off, I wouldn’t live in the same state where we pull our jobs.  We’d live in one state and stay clean there, and when we wanted to take a bank, we’d go to another state…and…

Would I Buy It Again? Yes. It’s a classic everybody should be familiar with.

Next In The Queue:  The Brides Of Dracula