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Dallamano's Bandidos Essay

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Despondency & Dependency: Massimo Dallamano’s Bandidos (1967)

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Critically speaking, the consensus with regard to spaghetti westerns can be defined via pyramid formation. The apex of this cinematic monolith remains, of course, representative of Leone, right or wrong. (I personally might disagree at this point in my love affair with the genre but, for the sake of unbiased overview, let’s stick by that assertation.) Beneath Sergio #1 sits the second layer, consisting of Sergios #2 (Corbucci) and #3 (Sollima), and so forth, the remainder of the construction built to the specifications of the individual fan. That genre-specific ranking is the accepted standard, let’s say, but time and ongoing re-evaluation has led to the emergence of other contenders – lone films and filmmakers alike – hell bent on toppling the throne or upsetting the established status quo. Sergio Corbucci continues to grow closest to overthrowing The King, of course, as genre filmmaker extraordinaire, but there also exists a small number of films which continue to grow in esteem and reputation, threatening to depose the elected elite.

Massimo Dallamano’s Bandidos is one such film. It’s not just an exemplary spaghetti western, but a terrific western. Hell, I’d go further still: Bandidos is a superb film, period. It’s an angry and empathetic picture about angry and pathetic people. It’s a painful viewing experience, one which flirts precipitously close to the haptic. The film is brimming with human frailty, overflowing with a raw humiliation which forces the viewer to watch through their fingers in a state of extended mortification. You feel every frame of Dallamano’s callous picture. It is his only western, and so sits comfortably within a small group of extraordinary spaghetti westerns which stand as their respective director’s only contribution to the genre, leaving the viewer gasping for more. I count the brilliant Yankee (1966) by Tinto Brass, Giulio Questi’s infamous Se sei vivo spara (Django, Kill!) (1967) and French auteur Robert Hossein’s Une corde un Colt... (Cemetery without Crosses) (1969) amongst this elect group of one-shot wonders. (Hossein also helmed Le goût de la violence (The Taste of Violence), a 1961 revolutionary western set in Latin America, but I don’t consider that similarly great film to be a SW proper.) This unique coterie of filmmakers made only one film each within the genre, yet each managed to say so very much. Each picture deserves dedicated scrutiny (especially Yankee, the least heralded of the three). On the evidence of Bandidos, it’s a crying shame Dallamano didn’t climb back in the saddle. He demonstrates real feeling for the genre, an ornate understanding of its very specific and patented spatial requirements. As well he should, given his background as both cameraman extraordinaire and key contributor during the birth of the phenomena proper.

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As well as being an accomplished picture, Bandidos might also be the very first Spaghetti meant as personal rebuke. In his book, 10,000 Ways to Die (from Kamera), writer/director Alex Cox posits a scenario (totally unfounded, as he is quick to point out) in which Bandidos might well stand as a bow-tied fuck you from Dallamano to Leone. This is most likely speculative horseshit but it’s a brilliant bit of supposition nonetheless, especially for us genre nuts. Dallamano was, of course, cinematographer for Leone on Per un pugno di dollari/ Fistful of Dollars (1964) and Per qualche dollaro in più/ For a Few Dollars More (1965), before being unceremoniously dumped in favour of Tonino Delli Colli come Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo/ The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966). Is Bandidos, then, Dallamano’s way of giving Leone the cinematic middle figure? Bandidos is, after all, a brilliantly confident work – a near-perfect distillation of pulp-western storytelling and weighted tragedy. Cinematically speaking, it’s a brilliant revenge. (The only problem with said theory is that we must cast Dallamano in the role of Richard Martin, the wronged hero, who ultimately fails in his direct attempt at one-upmanship; where Martin fails miserably, Dallamano so brilliantly succeeded.) If any part of that theory stands to scrutiny, we can only assume that Dallamano, the abused, became the abuser via his directorial debut. No other film treats its protagonist quite like Bandidos does. The entire film feels like an extended assault on its lead character, Richard Martin. From the opening scene, the film forces him down into the dirt at gunpoint and then has Martin crawl through 90 minutes of mule shit to just to cap off his indignation. You feel ashamed for watching, impotent to help, unable to intervene, hands tied by the passivity of being mere spectator.

The brilliant Milanese actor Enrico Maria Salerno is cast as Martin. He’s perfect in the role. Dallamano sets the actor a near-impossible task, demanding Martin sink low, wallowing in self pity and making all the wrong decisions whilst somehow retaining viewer sympathy. Salerno succeeds magnificently. At this stage in his career, the actor was already an established star, having transitioned seamlessly from stage to screen (via a short stint on Italian television) and having already collaborated with the likes of Rossellini, Mario Monicelli, Antonio Pietrangeli and Dino Risi. (For Italian genre acolytes, it’s worth noting that Salerno dubbed Eastwood for the Italian prints of Leone’s Dollar films, and – legend has it – was Leone’s original choice for Morton in C'era una volta il West/ Once Upon a Time in the West [1968], a role that ultimately went to [the equally talented] Gabriele Ferzetti. Further to this, Salerno also kickstarted the poliziotteschi proper with his iconic leading role as Commissario Bertone in Steno’s 1972 classic La polizia ringrazia/ Execution Squad. Salerno would go on to direct Anonimo veneziano/ The Anonymous Venetian in 1970, a tragi-romantic melodrama featuring Tony Musante and Florinda Balkan, the film proving a huge hit in Italy. Salerno, then, had a very long and successful career.)

But, whilst Salerno might be the nominal star, his character is far from being the hero. As far as I can tell, the film has no real hero, which may be its most exciting attribute. Dallamano compels you to watch as Martin falls from grace, hitting every butte lip, tree branch and cactus on the way down. The actor can afford no ego, as the character can exhibit no shame. Bandidos brings to mind Edward Dymitrek’s brilliant 1955 American western, Warlock. That, too, was intricate of plot and emotionally complex, and despite having Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn headline, I’ve never been quite sure as to who the hero of that film is, either. Ditto here. Sure, courageous acts are committed – some for altruistic reasons, some in the name of selfish motivation – but no character emerges as particularly heroic. But that’s what the Italian western did best as the more recalcitrant offspring of the traditional western – it entangled good and evil until those two strands proved impossible to pick free, leaving only a knotted morality.

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Like so many Spaghetti westerns, the backbone of Bandidos’ narrative is vengeance, at least superficially. But that’s not what the film is about. Not really. Bandidos isn’t overly concerned with the application of violent retribution as much as it is the need. It treats the driving obsession for revenge as ruinous canker, as a malignant tumour. Unlike many westerns, there is no corrupt body in the film – at least not in the traditional terms of socio-politics or crooked agent in an elected position of power – save for the corruption of the body itself, of the soul. Our hero allows such a cancer to overtake him and spiritually deform him. Normally we would champion such a dedicated hero’s quest. But here, Dallamano demonstrates that by holding onto and nurturing his thirst for redress, Martin is only dooming himself. Billy Kane might well pull the trigger, but it is Martin who provides both opportunity and guarantee. Taken like that, Bandidos unfolds as nothing more than its lead character’s slow burn suicide; genre cinema as seppuku. And so, Richard Martin seeks revenge, abandoning all notion of personal honour or cowboy code. The liberation of such weighty ethical chains should make for guaranteed success, but Martin fails even here. His effort is doomed, pitiful. He dies in the throes of deep embarrassment, unceremoniously dispatched as if blasted by buckshot born of crushed humiliation. Martin dies a failure and a coward, as do most of us when all is said and done, I suspect. It’s a disturbing thing to behold. Salerno gives us one of the all-time great death scenes. Martin dies slowly, in real time, left with enough breath to recognise his final and ultimate failure in a life dominated by the pathetic. We watch, our only emotional response being that of cold indifference. Neither Dallamano nor his film strive for sentiment. Should we, the viewer, not be more shaken? More affected? Or did Martin get exactly what he deserved, led to such an unavoidable fate via hubris and ego? We mourn him and lament that he never got to settle his blood debt, yet we understand that Martin brought it all on himself. In many ways, Martin’s killer has performed an act of deep altruism. He has put down a mangy dog, ended the suffering of a maltreated animal. Should we not be cheering Martin’s demise, glad that his torment is over? I’m not sure. Dallamano seems to thrive on our discomfort. He lets the sequence play out far beyond its natural rhythm, unwilling to let editor Gianmaria Messeri cut to the next scene in an act of mercy or respite. He wants the viewer to squirm, to process the complexity of response he has engineered. It’s agonizing to watch, mostly because Salerno has brought to life such a believably fallible human being: this has-been, this huckster, this never-was, this snake-oil salesman, this old fool. But more on this later.

The film kicks off in traditional style, with one of those marvellous animated title sequences so favoured by the spaghetti western. The images are ably backed by maestro Egisto Macchi’s majestic, trumpet-heavy score. Bandidos literally opens with a key moment – a seemingly innocuous detail which will ultimately prove integral to the plot, wherein a passenger is kicked off the hurtling Southern Pacific train for non-payment of fare. We then meet passenger Richard Martin – dapper, dignified and confident as he cleans his cherished pistol. It won’t last. The film wastes no time in ruining this man. Bandit Billy Kane (Venantino Venantini) and his men hold up the train, robbing both cargo and passengers alike. Martin attempts resistance, but Kane recognizes his sharpshooting skills and seeks to make an example of this gentleman pistolero. “Kill me, Billy,” Martin tells Kane, “or by God I’ll kill you”, making it immediately apparent that these two men have history, but the film refuses to divulge any workable detail at this early stage. Kane opts to humiliate rather than exterminate, however, and he forces Martin to hold up both hands in surrender before putting a bullet through each appendage. It’s a sadistic and highly personalized act, ensuring the crippled Martin will never draw on anyone again. Kane and his men then murder everyone on the train. In the first of many bravura technical moves, Dallamano’s camera glides along the length of carriages, casting an eye over the carnage, the soundtrack all death chimes and melancholy dirge. It’s both a visually shocking moment and a technically impressive one. Nobody has survived the massacre except Martin, yet he will somehow prove the unluckiest of them all. It’s a great opening, strong and savage, and vaguely reminiscent of the death train which pulls into the station at the beginning of Giuseppe Colizzi’s Dio perdona... Io no!/ God Forgives…I Don’t! (1967).

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The film then leaps forward several years. We know this because Martin is now a shadow of his former self. Scruffy, bearded, fingerless gloves (a la Django) covering his wounds and a scarecrow’s top hat. Unable to draw or shoot himself, he is reduced to playing carnival tout, travelling from town to town by wagon, dazzling the public with his younger protégé’s skill with a firearm. In all walks, Martin is now a dependant, propped up only by the flimsy crutch of regret (and maybe a little hard liquor, one would assume). His young gunslinger, named Rickey Shot, is swiftly killed in his introductory scene, shot by a drunkard who takes exception to such showboating. Martin attempts revenge by confronting the man in a saloon; you’re never quite sure if it’s due to patriarchal attachment for his dead charge or the fact they have just effectively killed off his sole means of income. Struggling against multiple attackers, Martin is helped by a young stranger, who quickly agrees to become the new and improved ‘Ricky Shot’ (the name seemingly trademarked to Martin, © All Rights Reserved). He does so for 50% of the takings. The viewer expects the new Ricky to be an ace with a pistol, but Dallamano subverts this hilariously: the new Ricky Shot can’t shoot for shit. He’s hopeless. Martin must teach him the way of the gun from scratch, and we bear witness to his education, which is a slow and believable process (as opposed to captured via montage and unbelievably swift). Ricky is played by Terry Jenkins, an English-born actor with only three professional credits to his name (the others being a guest spot on the Robert Wagner TV series It Takes a Thief [1968-1970] and a featured role in Joshua Logan’s 1969 musical Paint Your Wagon). It’s a shame he didn’t do more, as Jenkins is very good here; he and Salerno conjure a nice, gently antagonistic chemistry. (Because of said rapport, many have taken to liken Bandidos to I giorni dell'ira/ Day of Anger (Tonino Valerii, 1967) or any other of the old hand/young gun westerns, but I personally have never placed it in that category.)

Martin learns that Billy Kane and his gang are approaching from Texas. Ricky is warned that Martin is a groomer of younger, more able men (though, thankfully, not in the modern sense – that would have been a very different film). He seeks to exploit them; turning them into a factory line of highly skilled killers in the hope they might execute the revenge that he himself and his crippled hands are unable to exact. Martin stops off to visit a Mexican bandit/ would-be revolutionary leader named Viganza (Chris Huerta). Vigonza, too, is troubled by Kane’s impending arrival, and so Martin offers his services, willing to kill Kane for a price. Vigonza refuses, doubting Martin’s ability. Martin is humiliated yet again here, and not for the last time. He then asks for supplies. Vigonza and his men agree if – if – Martin can place a single playing card atop a stacked house with those crippled hands of his. Amazingly, he succeeds, but Vigonza does not honour the deal. Even in success, Martin remains a joke, a figure of public ridicule, the frontier Pagliacci, and our Sad Clown is forced to pawn his pistols in order to pay for basic food and water. Eventually, Martin’s past catches up with him in the form of Kramer, one of the men who held up the train. Kramer has run out on Billy Kane and thus incurred his wrath. With Kane on the approach, Martin realizes this is his chance to get even. Things don’t go to plan. What follows is sixty minutes of deceit, betrayal and mercurial allegiances.

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In one of many outstanding scenes, Kane catches up with Kramer in a saloon and guns him down, but not before Dallamano dazzles with a camera shot of epic proportion. Kane slides a bottle of whiskey the length of the bar, the camera following it as if mounted to the glass. It’s a ballsy, bravura bit of camerawork – hugely impressive without feeling like Dallamano is showing off (well…maybe just a little). We can thank cameraman ‘Emilio Foriscot’ here, but I think we all know that credit is dubious at best. As many SW historians have pointed out, Dallamano was likely the cameraman on Bandidos. He must have been. The film is ludicrously well-mounted, as well it should be. Dallamano was an ace cameraman. His framing, lighting and composure are all impeccable, as it was on most of his work. This technical prowess continues throughout the scene. The camera swings around Kramer as if stalking the actors. Kramer draws. Billy Shoots. Kramer spins. His hat falls off. Kane shoots again. A chair topples. Kramer falls. This all occurs in one shot. It’s as clean and as exciting as action cinema gets. Tension + Action + Reaction = Resolve. But because Bandidos is all about the extension of sufferance, mental and physical, Kramer doesn’t die. He crawls to the staircase and talks. He rambles incessantly. One of the saloon girls hilariously tells him to, ‘Hurry up and die’. Before he does, however, he imparts Kane’s plans to Ricky Shot. Shot then finishes him off, albeit only after Kramer threatens to shoot the dancers. All this amounts to Dallamano gifting a minor character with a five-minute curtain call. If this is how he sees off his periphery characters, what the hell does he have in store for Kane or Martin? It’s a fabulous prospect for the viewer.

We’ll find out, but not yet. In the next scene, Martin and Shot happen upon a random stagecoach robbery. They intervene. The bandits are dispatched. In a terrific visual comic beat, Martin hands back one of the female passengers her stolen wig. It’s a brilliant moment, an unforced detail, funny as fuck. One of the victims in the stagecoach turns out be an old acquaintance of Martin’s, a madame by the name of Betty Star. Together, Martin and Shot escort Betty and her girls safely back into town. Meanwhile, Vigonza and his men plan to kill Kane in the saloon that evening. He enlists the help of Ricky, forcibly splitting him from Martin. Has Ricky sold out Martin already, trading in friendship for monetary recompense? The bandit and Ricky conspire to kill Billy via distraction and subterfuge. Kane is so dangerous that Vigonza opts for the dishonesty of ambush rather than an honourable kill. This seems to be an underlying theme of the film, that there is no such thing as a virtuous or clean kill. Murder is a messy business. Their plan is simple: Billy will converse with Kane whilst Vigonza and his men hide within the saloon. On Ricky’s signal, they will all fire on Kane and kill him. It’s a great set-up terrifically executed: tense and preposterous, unnerving and unpredictable. Here Dallamano thrills again with further expert camerawork, turning an extended POV shot into high art. Dallamano works his camera just like his cowboys and killers work their pistols, knowing when to spin and where to point. But Dallamano and Ricky aren’t playing ball – Dallamano with us, the viewer, and Ricky with Vigonza. Ricky reveals the plan to Kane, tipping his hand, betraying the betrayer and shifting his allegiance yet again. The Spanish guitar plays, the bandits look on, sweat pouring down their faces in a frozen agony of anticipation. It’s a distillation of all things spaghetti; a greatest hits package whittled down to montage. It’s fantastic. Together, Kane and Ricky gun down Vigonza and his waiting bandits and then drink. In doing so, has Ricky’s betrayal to Martin now run even deeper? Siding with Vigonza was one thing, but has this young Judas now joined forces with the very devil at the centre of his mentor’s misery?

No. Massimo Dallamano and his co-writers reveal their hand here in a stunningly casual fashion. Ricky reveals that he was the man we saw being thrown off the train for non-payment of fayre in the opening scene. That nondescript moment? That insignificant stuntman being tossed down a banking? That was Ricky Shot. Seems he was framed for the robbery thereafter and is now a wanted man. He wants – needs – one of Kane’s men to hand himself in and thus exonerate him from blame. It’s a little trite with regard to construction, sure, but you don’t care – you’re too busy kicking yourself for not picking up on Dallamano’s earlier visual clue. The viewer realizes that Ricky has been using Martin as bait in much the same way as the elder mentor was using the young shootist as his own avenging avatar.

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And so, Ricky and Billy Kane ride off. It’s worth talking a little about Venantino Venantini here. He’s very good as Billy Kane, the film’s ostensible villain. The Italian actor was a major player in the Italian genre boom during the Golden era, beginning his career proper with an uncredited role in Wyler’s Ben Hur (1955). Venantini was always a reliable, stoic presence, and he appeared in such prestige productions as Battle of Anzio (Edward Dmytryk, 1968), alongside Roberts Mitchum and Ryan, and Carol Reed’s The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), as well as having prominent roles in such notable cult fare as Leopoldo Savona’s WII actioner La guerra continua/ Warriors Five (1962), alongside Jack Palance and Folco Lulli, and Lucio Fulci’s Paura nella città dei morti viventi/ City of the Living Dead (1980). Always a welcome screen presence, Venantini continued to work until the very end. As recently as 2015, he was well cast as Jean Dujardin’s father in the enjoyable romantic drama Un + Une. He died in 2018 at the age of 88.

Martin has witnessed the betrayal, however. He watches Ricky and Kane ride off together, slumped in defeat. He is wounded but not surprised, inured as he must be by now to life’s endless stream of blows. Experience has stolen all hope; disappointment is as assured to this character as death. Salerno plays the scene beautifully. No self-pity, no histrionics. Just resignation to the obvious.

Kane and Ricky land back at Kane's hideout. Looking to pay back his debt, Kane handpicks one of his men to act as sacrificial lamb in Ricky’s bid for legal exoneration. It’s another gut-kick scene. Dallamano seems intent on milking high drama from low-stake scenes. We watch as Kane debases his men via personalized mockery and dealt home truths. None dare draw on him, his talent with a pistol no doubt proven time and time again. It’s hard to overestimate Dallamano’s composition here. He fills his Techniscope frame with interesting actors and positions them with an artisan’s eye to precision. I think Bandidos might be the most beautifully shot of all spaghetti westerns, including, ironically, Tonino Delli Colli’s work on Once Upon a Time in the West. That film remains undeniably beautiful, but it carries an enforced lyrical weight, a striving for classic status. Here, like select Corbucci works, Dallamano takes pulp material and elevates it to art merely by getting on with the job.

Martin, soul punctured beyond repair, acquiesces to sheer desperation. He will kill Billy Kane himself, but he will do so in the most cowardly and shameful way possible: he will ambush Kane and blast him at close range with his sawn-off shotgun. Whatever semblance of the traditional hero Martin had left in him now vacates, leaving us with nothing more than a cheap, hollow act of murder. What are we, the viewer, to do? Dallamano makes us co-conspirator merely by letting us in on his intent. Do we champion this hangdog loser? Do we remain in his corner, forced to reconfigure our own moral schematic in the name of settling a blood debt? This ethical dilemma, often posed, became essential to the filone, almost like an ethical trademark. And it was never murkier than here, as Bandidos staggers, wounded, toward its dénouement. Richard Martin is such a tragic character, such a feeble hero, and Salerno such a superb actor in having elicited our sympathies that, yes, I want to see Martin have his revenge, even at the cost of conventional heroism. Ricky returns to explain his motives and, sacrificial lamb in tow, offers Martin the chance of a new life, returning with him to his family home. But Martin declines the offer. His need for revenge outweighing his need for self-exoneration and a fresh start. It’s tough to feel sorry for somebody so wilfully stubborn. Undeterred, Ricky attempts further reconciliation, but finds only the cast-off barrel from the modified shotgun. Martin has already set off to meet his fate.

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It's here that the film lands at its most crucial scene. Martin hides in the shadows, fixing to blast the unassuming Kane. It’s at this point the viewer might note an unexpected shift in sympathy. Kane may have done Martin wrong, but what act of cowardice is this, and can we really support it? It would seem the notion of honour trumps the demarcated lines of hero and villain, blending the dividing line and inducing a queasy moral confusion. An ambush such as this is a despicable act. Can you imagine the furore had Gary Cooper or Glenn Ford stooped so low? The crushing disappointment at seeing our hero embrace such dishonourable tactics? The Hays Code would have banned the film outright and the audience would have balked at such villainy. Dallamano captures the action in expert fashion, all in one shot. Whilst Kane descends the staircase in the foreground, lit to murky perfection, Martin takes aim with his bastardized weapon, hunched body in the foreground, cloaked in shadow. Our supposed hero fires from mere feet away after announcing his presence, blasting the ersatz villain. A true act of cold, calculated murder.

Or it might have been – had Martin shot the right man. As Kane appears at the top of stairs, having sent one of his men to their death in his place, we realize that Martin has failed miserably once again. This three-strike loser just can’t land a break. You get the feeling that, had Martin attempted suicide by jumping off a cliff, he would have landed in a soft bed of cacti, succeeding in only breaking his back and thus further exacerbating his troubles. As played by Salerno, Richard Martin is the human equivalent of Wile E. Coyote, bested and humiliated by his quarry at every turn, no matter how much planning and foresight has been put into place. Realizing his folly, Martin concedes to an obvious epiphany: he will never have his revenge on Billy Kane. Life will not allow it. He weeps and trembles in fear, knowing his fate is now sealed. Reaching for one last tipple, he turns his back on Kane. This is an extraordinary move, given to all kinds of interpretation. Is Martin acquiescing to the inevitable? Or is he hoping that Kane won’t shoot him in the back, working from a nobler plain than himself? We’ll never know. Seconds later and Richard Martin is dead, his sufferance over. ‘I guess that’s the end of the heroes,’ says Billy Kane in the next scene, after he and his gang have wiped out the remainder of their enemies. It’s a telling line: he could be speaking of the rise of the spaghetti western in general and its casual obliteration of the traditional American western, white hat morality and all. But he’s not quite right. Blinded by the illusion of his own infallibility, Kane has forgotten about Ricky Shot.

Ricky stands over the body of his fallen mentor as Betty doles out some late-day exposition. She reveals that Richard and Billy were once great friends; that Martin taught Billy the way of the gun, only for Billy to fall into a life of crime and anarchy. Thus, Martin felt compelled to bring down the very monster he felt responsible for unleashing. We’ve been here before (see my article on Siciliano’s Taste of Vengeance), but the theme still resonates, mostly in part to Salerno’s depiction of this lonely, embittered man. ‘They were almost brothers,’ Betty concludes, strong-arming the film into its final showdown.

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Spurred into action, Ricky decimates Kane’s gang before ultimately squaring off against Kane himself during the extended climax. At one point, both men trade shots at a loaded chess board, wiping the board clean bullet-by-bullet, piece-by-piece as if negating all strategy or logic in their fight. Ricky has little to live for by this point; in choosing to avenge Martin by wiping out Kane’s men, he has effectively denied himself any chance of exoneration from the noose. As Kane says, ‘It’s too bad. No one to prove you’re innocent.’ Perhaps this is the purest form of heroism committed in the film, the note of comfort we’ve been waiting for. ‘I was Martin’s pupil, too. I knew all his tricks,’ says Ricky. ‘He taught them to me to kill you’. Ricky then fulfils his promise to his dead mentor by besting the elder protégé. It’s a strangely hollow and pessimistic conclusion. Martin didn’t live long enough to see Kane die. Ricky is now a killer of men and an outlaw, with no hope of clemency. Further scrutiny would leave the viewer to believe that – as entertaining as this journey has been – everything we’ve seen was ultimately for naught. The film then ends abruptly, following a short scene of silly end-tying with Ricky and Betty, completely inconsequential. It doesn’t matter. The film has ended on a grand note, the viewer left to ponder what they’ve just witnessed.

I re-watch Bandidos at least once a year, and it gets better and better each time. Like any great film, familiarity only increases appreciation. I rate Bandidos as one of the very best spaghetti westerns. It’s also a great filmmaking debut for a first-time director (Dallamano had helmed only a documentary prior to this). Given that Bandidos looks like a reference quality western, it’s odd that so many of the key personnel involved, much like the director, never took to the genre proper. Producer Solly V. Bianco only handled two other westerns (the interesting 1965 historical spaghetti Buffalo Bill, l'eroe del far west/ Buffalo Bill, with peplum mainstay Gordon Scott, and the middling La vendetta è un piatto che si serve freddo/ Vengeance Is a Dish Served Cold [1971], with Ivan Rassimov and Leonard Mann). Likewise, in a genre which has become synonymous with brilliantly addictive musical scores from composers such as De Masi, Lavagnino, Rustichelli and Savina, Bandidos was composer Egisto Macchi’s only foray into the Italian Western. Salerno himself only appeared in one other western, the very good Sentenza di morte/ Death Sentence (1968), alongside Adolfo Celi, Tomas Milian and Richard Conte. Which leads us back to Dallamano himself, who would continue directing key pictures in an alarming number of diverse genres. Notable films include La morte non ha sesso / A Black Veil for Lisa (1968), an interesting mystery (not a giallo, as many would categorize it, and which, unfortunately, has always remained heavily truncated in its English language version, an issue neither the current Olive Films blu-ray from the USA nor the UK 88 Film’s disc rectify); Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray/ Dorain Gray (1970), his spellbinding take on the literary classic, with Helmut Berger giving one of his finest, most controlled performances; and Si può essere più bastardi dell'ispettore Cliff?/ Blue Movie Blackmail aka Superbitch is Dallamano’s 1973 batshit-crazy sleaze masterwork, which afforded character actor Ivan Rassimov a rare starring role. In cult film circles, however, Dallamano might be best remembered for his uber-grim Cosa avete fatto a Solange?/ What Have You Done to Solange? (1972), which is generally considered one of the very best of all gialli – a serious and disturbing film with a career-high performance from Fabio Testi. Sadly, the director made only 12 films before both his career and life were cut short by tragedy. Massimo Dallamano died in a car accident in 1976, aged only 59. But the body of work he left behind is both striking and curiously eclectic, with Dallamano beholden to no single genre. His premature death surely denied audiences further great genre works from this unpredictable director, but let’s be grateful for the legacy Massimo Dallamano left behind. Despite strong competition, I think Bandidos remains his best work: a primo Italian western featuring one of the great spaghetti characters. Unlike poor old Richard Martin himself, let’s hope the film’s reputation continues to prosper.

DG Bell
DG Bell is a writer and Spaghetti Western aficionado in the UK. Click here to read more of his articles.
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