Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Bandoleros! posterBandolero! opens in Val Verde, Texas. It is 1867. Dee Bishop (Dean Martin) and his nefarious Bishop gang are finally captured, while robbing a bank and killing a man in the process, after a long history of crime and destruction. The town’s sheriff, July Johnson, is hard on crime, and sentences the gang to hang. The day of the hanging is the Bishop gang’s lucky day, because Dee’s long-lost brother Mace (James Stewart) is posing as the hangman and helps them escape. They ride off into the dusty desert, and Mace stays behind to take advantage of the fact that the town is empty after the hullabaloo, robbing the bank of $10,000 and making his own way out of town. The Sheriff and his men also ride out of Val Verde, seeking to hunt the Bishop gang down.

Dee and his gang find Maria Stoner (Raquel Welch), the beautiful young Mexican widow of the man they killed, and her carriage a few miles out of town. They rob the carriage and kidnap her. Suddenly, they are ambushed by the Sheriff’s men and there is a big shootout. The Bishops get away, taking a struggling Maria with them and heading south for the Mexican border. They agree that the deeper they get into Mexico, the safer they are from the Sheriff, whose dogged pursuit is mainly because he is in love with Maria and wants to save her. As the chase continues and the gang makes camp for the first night, the gang members start harassing Maria, but Dee protects her vehemently. Mace joins the gang that night. Though Mace hates Dee’s way of life, he plays the big brother role by constantly helping him out and trying to convince him that he is better than the scum he rides with. Here, we discover more about the beautiful Maria, who reveals that she was “a whore at 13, and [her] family of 12 never went hungry” and that her deceased husband bought her from her tiny Mexican village and brought her to his big ranch in Texas. We also begin to see some chemistry between Maria and Dee.

As the gang reaches Mexico, Maria warns them against entering Bandolero country, a region of lawless bandits who “kill every gringo they find.” It is Sheriff Johnson and his men, however, who are the first to encounter the bandoleros. The bandoleros hide in the rocks, armed with straps of bullets, sombreros, and handlebar moustaches; they drop down onto the men at the back of the Sheriff’s entourage and butcher them with machetes, stealing their clothes and horses. The rest of the Sheriff’s men get away and continue the chase. The Bishops, meanwhile, have found a ghost-town, abandoned by citizens terrorized by the bandoleros, and stop to rest. Dee expresses his love for Maria, who reciprocates. Just then the Sheriff’s men show up and capture the gang, turning the tables. Shortly thereafter, the bandoleros storm into town, shooting wildly into the air, and there is a massive shootout in which many men from all sides die. In the middle of the melee, the evil-looking bandit leader catches sight of Maria and tries to rape her in one of the abandoned houses. In his efforts to save her, Dee is stabbed with a machete. Mace kills the bandolero leader and then is shot. Without leadership, the bandoleros become cowards and ride off. Both Bishop brothers die dramatically, as Maria sobs nearby. The end of the film shows Maria and the Sheriff riding off back to Texas, having buried the dead men.

In Bandolero!, Mexico is a lawless, wild country of rocky deserts and abandoned towns where bandits rule and civilization is apparently absent. For American bad guys, Mexico is a place where they are safe from American law; however, the dangers of Mexico make this safety an illusion. The Mexican bandits are evil-looking, savage men who kill with machetes and shoot crazily into the air when they make their entrance. They force themselves upon women and generally wreak havoc, but when they lose their leader, they run away just as thunderously as they’ve attacked. The Americans, both outlaws and law enforcers, are familiar and comfortable in the harsh desert environment of Mexico because it matches their own; what is missing in Mexico is the law.

Maria’s character shows another aspect of the hard life in Mexico. Her story of prostitution at a young age and her purchase by an American for a price of “five cattle and one gun” is a heartbreaking one, but she tells it with a hard face and a hard heart. She says her father became “the richest man in the village” after she was sold, and that her life in Texas was easier than in Mexico; she was treated well by her husband. She is returning to her home country for the first time since she was bought, and there is no evident connection between her and her “compadres”; she is a fine and beautiful woman while they are a bunch of violent animals. Her softness and vulnerability show through in her sudden love for Dee, who also becomes softer in Mexico, repenting for his life of crime and making plans for a better future. Alas, these plans are not to be realized. Dee and his brother die in the dusty, lawless, and lonely place that is Mexico.

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