From The Spaghetti Western Database
Bandidos (Crepa tu... che vivo io!) / View Database Page
Bandidos remained unnoticed in the stream of spaghetti westerns that deluged the market in the late sixties, presumably because neither director Dallamano, nor his actors were familiar names among western fans. Ironically both Massimo Dallamano and lead actor Enrico Maria Salerno had worked with Leone. Dallamano had been his cinematographer for A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars more, and Salerno had dubbed Eastwood in the Italian versions of the dollar trilogy. Salerno was also Leone's first choice as Mr. Choo Choo Morton.
A train is assaulted by a gang and all the passengers are killed because the gang leader, Billy Kane, ‘doesn't want his face to end up on walls’. One passenger, Richard Martin, an unusually skilled gunman and an old acquaintance of Billy Kane, is not killed but mutilated so severely that he will never be able to hold a gun again. Martin makes himself a living with a travelling Wild West show, all the time preparing his revenge by educating a young man, Ricky Shot, as his replacement killer. The plan seems to work, but the young man has his own reasons to chase the bandit. And it's all related to the assault on the train, as the lyrics of the main theme tell us ... from this train, there's no return ...
With Leone's former cinematographer in the director's chair it's no wonder that Bandidos looks great (*1).There's even one dolly shot of the victims of the train robbery, that might have inspired the maestro himself to a similar scene in Once upon a Time in the West. Alex Cox thinks Dallamano made Bandidos out of frustration. He had helped establishing the visual conventions of the genre, but was dumped for the third and final part of the Dollar trilogy. Bandidos is indeed a film about betrayal, it’s a variation on the familiar master-pupil theme, in which, in this case, the master is duped twice by a pupil, respectively Billy Kane and Ricky Shot. There are several low-angle camera shots that bring the first two parts of the Dollar Trilogy to mind, but we also get a camera whirling its way through a crowded saloon, or trailing a sliding bottle. Dallamano often films his actors diagonally from behind, and in one scene he makes us look, along with the character, through a hole in the brim of a hat. The owner of the hat pretends to be sleeping, but is observing the situation, waiting for the right moment to draw his gun. It seems to announce some of the more controversial ‘voyeuristic’ moments – usually involving very young girls - in his later work.
Like in For a Few Dollars more, the exact relationship between the hunter (Richard Martin) and his intended victim (Billy Kane) is revealed only relatively late into the movie, but there is no redemption for the avenger, his cry for revenge is not answered, all he can do, is beat his crippled hands against his enemies, or against a wall. Ricky Shot, the man he has trained to become his replacement killer, finally steps in his boots, but only after his master has already been shot in the back (the third and most despicable act of betrayal). The touches of wry humour, so characteristic for Leone, are nearly completely absent. The only real joke in the entire movie, are the words addressed to a man who is particularly loquacious in his dying moments: Shut up and die! What is also absent, is the characteristic flashback structure. The three lead characters have met before, but we never get a flashback to one of the crucial moments in their mutual past.
The script has a linear structure, but it’s also intricate and multi-layered. The problem with the average revenge western is that we feel distant from the main character. We have witnessed the slaughter of his family so we know why he is seeking revenge, but we don't feel his pain, nor his grief. Salerno, the avenger of the movie, looks more like a dandy before he gets mutilated and we do not worry much about his mutilation; only later, when we witness his gradual degradation into an emotionally crippled man, we start to care about him. The villain, Venantini, is presented as a ruthless killer, but he remains human nonetheless. More and more we realize that he is also emotionally affected by what happened. He can desert Martin, humiliate him and shoot him in the back, but a man can’t run from his own past, no-one can shake off his own shadow. Ultimately Bandidos is a film about betrayed friendship, not about revenge, and we realize that the outcome will be tragic, whatever it may be. Freudians will certainly notice some homosexual overtones. They will also observe that the shooting of Salerno's hands is a symbolic castration.
Both Salerno and Venantini turn in magnificent performances. Jenkins is less convincing; he was an ex-model without any acting experiences, and the producers had probably taken him for somebody else. All things considered, he does his job quite well. The gunplay in the movie is impressive, apparently the actors took shooting lessons from Giuliano Gemma. The trumpet dominated score by Egisto Macchi must be one of the finest of all spaghetti western scores. The main theme, instrumental during the credits, sung in the movie, is of an incredible, heart-stirring beauty. By the way, it is sung in English on the German and English soundtrack, in Italian on the Italian soundtrack. I tend to agree with Alex Cox. Bandidos is a sort of anti-Leone movie. Dallamano was older than Leone, and his movie is about feelings of revenge of an older professional, directed against a younger man. Bandidos was made with only a fraction of the budgets Leone had at his disposal by this time. Ironically, while trying to be anti-Leone, Dallamano probably comes closer to Leone than any other director of spaghetti westerns. Like Bill San Antonio (Pauli Hirtolahti) has said on the forum, Bandidos can only be compared to Once upon a Time in the West: both are very distinct movies, that have little in common with other spaghetti westerns, but still have the right "spaghetti feel"
Master, pupil, maestro - Dallamano versus Leone
- (1) Dallamano did most of the cinematography himself, after he had fired the original Spanish director of photography (whose name couldn't be removed from the credits for contractual reasons), see: Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'italiano
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