A Bullet for Sandoval Review (Scherpschutter)
From The Spaghetti Western Database
A Bullet for Sandoval - Los Desesperados - See Database Page
During the Civil War, Confederate corporal Jack Warner (Hilton) becomes a deserter when he wants to be with his Mexican fiancée, who’s about to have his baby. He is captured and court-martialled, but escapes from the labour camp with a fellow deserter and a third convict. Upon his arrival at the parental home of his sweetheart, the girl has died in labour and Hilton is told by her father, Don Pedro Sandoval (Borgnine) to take the baby and leave the premises immediately. In the meantime a cholera epidemic has broken out and when farmers refuse to give milk to the baby, Hilton loses his child too. Outraged by grief and anger, Hilton assembles a marauding mob and starts terrorising the region, both sides of the border, challenging both the Confederate Army and Don Pedro to hunt him down.
A Bullet for Sandoval is a gritty and mean western with rather complex characters: At first Hilton seems the hero of the movie and Borgnine the villain, but Hilton’s behaviour is quite extreme, even for an anti-hero, and we learn that Borgnine really loved his daughter and that he is a man of honour, who doesn’t want to break his word. With a Spanish director and a predominantly Spanish and Latin American cast, the film is often closer to a classic Spanish drama about honor and redemption than a spaghetti western about a bloody vendetta. Actually the film was not meant to be a western at all, but an adventure film about Spanish bandoleros, patriotic bandits that were active on the Spanish country side in Napoleonic days. The script was originally based on the history of a gang called Los niños de Ecija, but with the prospect of an international release, the producers decided to transfer the story to the American-Mexican border and sell it as a spaghetti western (*1).
It seems to me that - apart from Spanish drama and spaghetti westerns - Peckinpah was a major influence. There are many flashes of Mexican street life, the gritty opening is reminiscent of Major Dundee, and the violent conclusion will remind viewers of The Wild Bunch. It’s unlikely that director Buchs had already seen Peckinpah’s film (completed shortly before), but Borgnine might have told him about it. Many sources list Lucio Fulci as co-director, but that is a mistake: Fulci was not involved in this Buchs movie, but in another one: The Man who killed Billy The Kid (1967) (*2). Both the melodramatic opening and the anti-heroic conclusion, set within and around a bull-ring, are well-directed and exciting. Hilton, better known for his more light-hearted parts, turns in one of his better dramatic performances and Borgnine, in his only European western, even overcomes the handicap of his nationality; he is virtually the only American in the cast (quite bizarre to pick him to play the Mexican Don!), but he plays his part so fanatically that most people won’t have trouble to accept him. But in spite of these strong points, A bullet for Sandoval is a rather uneven, often confusing movie and things are made even worse by the fact that most releases are cut.
# The different versions
I watched a composite version, running 102 minutes, featuring the subplot starring Annabella Incontrera (cut from most chopped-up versions) as well as a couple of other scenes cut from most releases. The film now feels more smooth and coherent, but still not completely uncut. Bruckner and Giusti both mention longer versions (107 and 108 minutes respectively) (*3). Apart from Annabella (as beautiful as ever), the subplot also gives us a first indication that there’s something wrong with the character of One-Eye (José Manuel Martín), but it doesn’t really change the movie.
# The different titles
The English title, ‘A Bullet for Sandoval’, is quite bizarre: watch the movie and you’ll agree with me that ‘A Bull for Sandoval’ would have been more to the point. The Spanish title ‘Los Desesperados’ is more appropriate (it’s a film about desperate men), but not very spectacular. The Italian title is a bit over the top, but certainly spectacular: Quei disperati che puzzano di sudore e di morte (Those desperate men who smell after sweat and death).
- (1) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'italiana. Breccio a member of the French spaghetti western movie forum even noticed a Scallop Shell at the Sandoval Ranch, which would mean it was on the route to Santiago di Compostella.
- (2) In an interview George Hilton declared that he had such bad experiences with Fulci that he swore to himself that he would never work with the man again after Massacre Time, see: Tempo di Massacro DVD Review (Under: Extras)
- (3) According to Chris Casey (on the film's thread), there are three uncut versions: Finnish VHS, Greek VHS and an Israeli release
Director: Julio Buchs - Cast: George Hilton, Ernest Borgnine, Alberto de Mendoza, Antonio Pica, Gustavo Rojo, Leo Anchoriz, Anabella Incontrera, José Manuel Martín, Manuel De Blas, Jorge Rigaud, Mary Paz Pondal, Carlos Bravo, Lorenzo Robledo, Dan van Husen, Music: Gianni Ferrio
#Los Niños de Ecija
Los Niños de Ecija was a gang of so-called bandoleros, Spanish patriotic bandits who fought the invading armies of Napoleon between 1814 and 1818. They became folk heroes, but their activities would eventually lead to the formation of the Guardia Civil in 1844. Their leader, José Ulloa, knickamed 'Tragabuches', was a torero who had become an outlaw after he had discovered that his wife had betrayed him; he drowned her lover (the infamous ‘milk scene' is probably a reference to the incident) and threw his wife from the balcony. In 1917 the gang was arrested and executed, but Tragabuches escaped and it’s not known what became of him.
Hilton’s character Jack Warner is partly based on Tragabuches, but the character is merged with an another historic bandolero, José Maria Hinojosa Cobacho, knicknamed ‘El Tempranillo’, whose young bride died in childbirth.