El Bandido Malpelo review

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El Bandido Malpelo aka Il lungo giorno della violenza Giuseppe Maria Scotese 1971

El Bandido Malpelo is not as stylish as the great Zapatas, it doesn’t have a Morricone score, and it is obviously made on a smaller budget. On the other hand it is harsher, bleaker, more reflective, cynical and violent than most of them. Set in Mexico 1914 during the final months of Huerta’s dictatorship, the historical context of the film seems to be roughly in line with the actual ongoings of the period, as expected from a director merited mainly for his documentaries.

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Diego Medina, a young intellectual revolutionary, has stolen documents containing information crucial for the defense of the city of Zacatecas. The documents are stolen from the office of general Medina Barros, who happens to be his father’s cousin. Diego plans to go to the front with the general under the pretext of being a war correspondent for a San Francisco newspaper, so as to smuggle the documents to Pancho Villa. This plan falls through, as he is immediately suspected by the police. Diego makes a narrow escape, and the government issues a 10.000 pesos reward for him.

A government agent is sent to Aguas Calientes to offer the Sierra Madre bandit Malpelo the reward and the rank of Captain in the federal army for the capture of Diego Medina. This is accomplished easily enough, as Medina is in bed with Malpelo’s favourite Aguas Calientes prostitute when Malpelo arrives at the posada on the same errand. However, Malpelo does not stand by his agreement with the police; as Medina, hearing of it, offers him 50.000 pesos and the rank of Colonel in the revolutionary army to take him to Pancho Villa’s headquarters instead.

From here on we follow the two protagonists’ ride north towards Pancho Villa’s lines, with the feared tracker Blas Fuentes snapping at their heels. At the same time we witness Malpelo’s reluctant transformation from a bandit into a revolutionary, and Medina’s journey from untainted idealism through the grim realities of revolution and on to a bleak end.

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The film deviates from your usual Zapata western, in the respect that the Diego Medina (played by the otherwise unmerited actor George Carvell) is not a gringo, not an American, nor is he a European, as assumed by some critics. He comes from a wealthy Mexican family, and Madero used to be a family friend. However, he has studied at Berkley University, and he plans to take his Mexico City girlfriend, a dancing girl, back to California after his mission is completed. But, as the gringo always does in every Zapata western, Diego ends up staying in Mexico.

Malpelo, on the other hand, is a man of simple philosophies, who believes in the Virgin of Guadalupe who he thinks more forgiving than the man upstairs, with a strong contempt for revolutionaries and a strong taste for women. The latter is by the way the only thing he has in common with Medina. Eduardo Fajardo does some real admirable work on the Malpelo character. Still I have some mixed feelings about the casting of him for the part, for reasons I cannot exactly put my finger on.

Between the two men stands Malpelo’s comrade in arms and bed companion, Lupe, who also is attracted to Medina, a gentleman of a kind she has no previous experience with. Lupe is strongly played by Charo López, who by the way studied philosophy before her acting career. López also played the female lead in Anda muchacho, spara! released the same year as Malpelo.

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The film is unusually violent, even for a spaghetti. It starts out with a group of revolutionaries in front of a federales firing squad. Then, in between the opening credits, we see the dead or dying on the ground receiving the head shot, one by one. This is cut in the Spanish version; here we only hear the shots. Parts of the massacre of the people of the city of Rechipango, as well as some other random killings at the hands of the federales are also cut. As Malpelo's conversion is not caused by Diego’s eloquent speeches, but by what he sees with his own eyes (an old woman shot, a young girl raped, a child fleeing shot in the back) these cuts do considerable damage to the story.

Malpelo is an ambitious film. It is perhaps not as good as it tries to be. But, the low budget taken into consideration, I think it comes pretty close. The acting is good, and the Giombini score serves it well. Also it has a good story and a well drafted script, much needed for a film that relies as much on dialogue as on visual style. The uncut Italian version is the one you want to see. An English version was not made, but English subs are around.

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The battle of Zacatecas

The battle of Zacatecas, also known as the Taking of Zacatecas, took place in June 1914. It was the decisive battle in the campaign to overthrow President Huerta, and the bloodiest one. The attack on Zacatecas was staged by Pancho Villa's División del Norte, and the defense was led by General Luis Medina Barrón. Huerta fled into exile on the 15th of July 1914.

--By morgan

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