Made at the height of the Spaghetti Western craze, Damiano Damiani’s A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL ranks amongst the similar works of Sergio Leone and Bruno Corbucci, at least in the eyes of many a film buff. Previously available as a DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment (as part of “The Spaghetti Western Collection” line), Blue Underground now revisits BULLET for a Blu-Ray disc housing two different versions of the film.
During the 1910 Mexican revolution, a band of guerrillas led by El Chuncho (Gian Maria Volonté) and his insane, idealistic “holy” brother El Santo (Klaus Kinski) ambush a train in an attempt to collect the arms it’s carrying. American passenger Bill Tate (Lou Castel) shoots the engineer in cold blood and bluffs his way into the alliance of El Chuncho and his men by claiming to be a handcuffed criminal being escorted aboard. With Tate now part of the outlaw revolutionaries, more soldiers are slaughtered and more weapons are stolen with the ultimate plan being the assassination of General Elias (Jaime Fernández) of the revolutionary army.
In the town of San Miguel, El Chuncho and his mercenaries murder their wealthy governor (played by the familiar Andrea Checchi, Dr. Kruvajan in Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY/MASK OF THE DEMON), appoint a literate juvenile the new ruler, party all night with the local women and teach the poor citizens how to defend themselves. Although El Chuncho and his seemingly loyal brother don’t want to leave, Tate convinces several others to scram in fear that the village is on the verge of a military attack. El Chuncho is eventually persuaded to exit, making his way to General Elias's camp, planning to sell him a precious gold machine gun and a number of other collected weapons. After being given a generous payment, El Chuncho is accused of treason and is about to be shot (by his own, fanatical brother); fortunately a singled-out golden bullet is about to make its way to the back of the general’s neck from the gun of sniper Tate.
The plot is actually much more involved with that, as “friends” Tate and El Chuncho are confronted with a climatic situation involving the splitting of a large sum of government gold pieces. You see, the characters are well thought out; with El Chuncho’s sometimes psychotic behavior (shooting one of his mates in the stomach for a slight threat towards Tate) and sometimes thoughtful instincts (instructing a line of ill-informed peasants how to operate firearms in an amusing sequence), and Tate’s unflinching, cold manner and the fact that he’s not all that he seems, all making circumstances fairly unpredictable despite a fairly standard plot as far as these types of westerns go (courtesy of Salvatore Laurani and Franco Solinas, who also wrote BATTLE FOR ALGIERS).
Filmed on location in Spain, nearly every shot of this epic piece of cinema is magnificent and there’s a sufficient amount of gunplay and fiestas to make things lively. Damaino’s direction is also admirable, with the expected doses of violence and a number of standout scenes, including an army general being tied up crucifixion-style on a railroad track as his frantic lieutenant (Spanish character great Aldo Sambrell in a cameo) finds himself trapped under the moving locomotive. The music by Luis Bacalov and Ennio Morricone is up there with the best American and Italian Western scores, accenting the spirited Mexican revolutionary activity and the more somber moments of the film very nicely.
Gian Maria Volonté had already essayed villainous outlaws in Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, so it was inevitable that he’d have a meatier part here, and it’s one of his best performances, one he really sinks his teeth into. Kinski is miscast as his brother (with long blonde hair and green bandana), and his religious zealot murderer character seems to be something of a gimmick, but it’s always fun to see the animated Klaus, especially as a heavy in a Western (his best scene is where, dressed like a monk, he takes out a number of Mexican soldiers while screaming some nonsense about their sins). Columbian-born Lou Castel (PARANOIA) is appropriately baby-faced as the murderous gringo known mostly as “Nino” throughout the running time. His resemblance to Neil Patrick Harris is remarkable! Former Bond girl and three-time Hammer horror queen Martine Beswick plays bandit girl Adelita. With her exotic features and a little dark make-up, she looks more beautiful than ever and is quite memorable as a woman who can hold her own with a rifle while still being dainty riding off into the sunset holding a parasol.
For this Blu-Ray release, Blue Underground has newly remastered the film in High Definition. First and foremost is the longer International version (118 minutes), under the title of QUIEN SABE?. Presented in flawless 1080p HD resolution and maintaining the film’s original 2.35:1 (anamorphic) aspect ratio, colors are brilliant and detail equally impressive. The audio is presented in English DTS-HD mono or Italian DTS-HD mono (neither track has the recognizable voices of Kinski or Beswick, who obviously never did any post synching on the project). Subtitles are available for this version in English SDH, French and Spanish. The American version (115 minutes) is what AVCO Embassy Pictures released here theatrically in 1968. This trimmed cut contains an English language track only, which is different (and inferior in execution and playing quality) to what’s heard on the one on the International version (the opening narration and some of the dialog differs, so it’s interesting when comparing the two). The American version also carries the same subtitle options.
Extras include the 5-minute featurette, “A Bullet For the Director”, a brief and to-the-point interview with Damiani, possibly shot a few years ago for an existing documentary. The director here expresses how he doesn’t consider the film a Western, but rather an affectionate satire on them, and touches briefly upon Volonté and Kinski (describing him as “Germanic”). The original American theatrical trailer and the much longer International trailer are included, as well as a still gallery with posters, lobby cards and various video and DVD cover art. The package includes a bonus DVD, the 112-minute documentary, “Gian Maria Volonté: Un Attore Contro”. Presented non-anamorphic and in Italian with English subtitles, it contains interviews with many of the actor’s colleagues and is a great supplement to the feature film. (George R. Reis)
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