"Franco Solinas' heavily ironic political allegory is perhaps the best screenplay ever written for a spaghetti western. An Oscar-winning writer, Solinas turned briefly to the genre in the late 1960's, drafting the story for four oustanding entries: "La Resa dei conti," "Tepepa... Viva la revolución," "Il Mercenario," and "¿Quien sabe?"--known in the US as "A Bullet for the General." He reportedly also highly influenced two more of Sollimas' films-- "Corri, uomo, corri" and "Faccia a faccia." But Solinas' work is never more topically biting than in "¿Quien sabe?" Lou Castel (in a wonderfully opaque performance) plays a mysterious Gringo who sets up a happenstantial meeting with Gian Maria Volonte's "El Chuncho"--an idealistic but sometimes naive bandit turned revolutionary. Gradually, Chuncho comes to realize that the Gringo is an even "purer" form of the character Eastwood made popular a few years earlier: an American with "not much heart but a lot of money." Indeed, money is ALL the Gringo EVER cares about in this film. The conclusion is both cynical and revolutionary--and perhaps one of the most damning portraits of American imperialism (Solinas claimed that the Gringo is a symbol of CIA involvement in Latin America) ever put to film. Damiano Damiani's direction is at times both inspired and inspiring: the opening of the film is near-brilliant (demonstrating the lengths both the Mexican military and Chuncho will go to achieve their goals) and Volonte delivers his greatest performance next to "Faccia a faccia." Luis Enríquez Bacalov's scoring and Antonio Secchi's exquisite panoramic photography (his one great work) lend the film a style to match its substance. A movie as engaging politically as it is entertaining, it puts to shame the "professional westerns" made by American directors during the same period and is matched aesthetically only by Peckinpah's "Wild Bunch." Perhaps not a masterpiece, but easily worth the highest of general ratings and a must-see for those who enjoy leftist entertainment."
DAMIANI - KINSKI - VOLONTE : THE GOOD, THE BAD AND.. THE BAD
wdanthemanw | Geneva, Switzerland | 07/18/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Directed by italian director Damiano Damiani in 1967, A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL is a pure marvel released now in the DVD standard by Anchor Bay. Just two trailers as extra features but imperial sound and images justify a must-buy status for this movie.Now for the actors. Gian-Maria Volonté is exceptional in the role of El Chuncho, a rather likeable outlaw who considers that the mexican revolution is a good opportunity to make money by selling rifles to the revolutionaries. His brother Klaus Kinski, as blonde as El Chuncho is black, is more disturbing as a priest convinced that social justice must be brought into this world by all possible means, preferably with the help of explosives and machine-guns. El Niño, the character played by the colombian born actor Lou Castel, is even more intriguing with his attitude à la Clint Eastwood. He's the meanest of all but nonetheless develops a strange friendship for his alter ego Volonté.Four years before Sergio Leone's A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE, A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL is already visiting the mexican revolution but with an engaged point of view that doesn't leave unharm politicians, working-class people, wealthy ranchers, pistoleros, revolutionaries or americans. Great fun with food for the mind, what more can you expect from cinema ?A DVD zone your library."
Lots to enjoy
wdanthemanw | 11/15/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"anyone who has seen For a few dollars more knows that the partnership of kinski-volonte is potentially explosive, unfortunately while volonte is hypnotic kinski suffers from a small part and poor dubbing. However Kinski goes further than his For few dollar performance, this time totally taking on the mantle of religious icon, shouting 'in the name of the father' whilst throwing grenades and dressing in messianic fashion (perhaps the producers had seen his infamous 'jesus tour' where he proclaimed himself christ only to have abuse hurled at him from the audience and more worryingly because he perhaps believed it: see 'my best fiend'). It is a shame so few volonte films are available in the US and britain (investigation of a citizen above suspicion for one)the overtly political screenplay is by franco solinas, rare for so good a writer to be employed on a spaghetti western, rather than extreme violence this film is a thoughtful meditation on themes both political and personal, concerning friendship is very touching though the film makes sure where it stands on the issue of politics and friendship conflicting with the end. the film as a whole carries surprisingly heavy emotional weight.The best of damiano damiani's mise en scene is breathtaking and in this dvd version the photography is finally appreciable . With morricone involved in the music (though not writing it,luis enrique bacalov using some of his score from django, himself a fine composer for film)there is a lot of audio fun to be had with this film too.There is a wonderful ending and a casualness that reminds me of films like the roaring twenties, when volonte shoots a comrade for threatening the life of his new friend a subordinate asks him 'but why? guapo was your friend too?' volonte replies 'eh, guapo is no more'.Being honest it is not really a spaghetti western as such, the violence is often shown without stylistic camera work, merely the killing (alot of the time summary executions of unarmed prisoners) being in the centre of the frame without cutting during the deed. there is no tense pause or close ups, just casual violence. It is more a historical drama of mexican revolution, it would be thought so if the language was subtitled rather than dubbed. Maltin misses the point, is plenty of bloodletting but at no point is it sensationalist or 'gory'. It is a mature film unlike most 'spaghetti' westerns.interesting moments and comedy abound, but the bottom line is, if you have seen for a few dollars more and the prospect of seeing kinski and volonte riding through the desert accompanied by a thunderous score doesn't give you a smile, you should probably avoid this one. Me, i love it. It is a fine film in its own right and a firm rebuttal to the nay sayers of european westerns, powerful and driven by a performance of immense character (as usual) by kinski and pricipally volonte (pleas anchor bay, more of his films, he is wonderful)."
Jeffrey Leach | Omaha, NE USA | 08/14/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Spaghetti westerns are, in my opinion, generally the best fictional films about the American West. You can argue that John Wayne made a bunch of great movies about life in the Old West, and you would be right to say so, but for some reason the Italians captured perfectly the specific elements of the era that made their movies seem more realistic. The frontier was a dirty, violent place full of unsavory types trying to get rich quick. Italian westerns capture this mood expertly whereas American films portray characters whose outfits look like they just came back from the dry cleaners. Hollywood films also tend to apply a black and white dichotomy onto their characters, the old "good guys wear white, bad guys wear black" philosophy that obscures the reality of the time and place. Not so in Italian films, where even the good guys often have distinctly unsavory traits. It's too bad spaghetti westerns went the way of the dinosaurs a few decades back; I never tire of watching these films even though I am not an expert on the genre. "A Bullet for the General," part of the larger Anchor Bay "Once Upon a Time in Italy" spaghetti western box set, serves as an excellent example of how powerful the genre once was.
If you enjoy spag westerns, you're going to love "A Bullet for the General." Like many other spaghettis, the film takes place in Mexico during the raucous revolutions of the early twentieth century. Bandits roam the countryside robbing and killing under the guise of revolutionary armies seeking social change. One band, led by a scruffy looking Mexican named El Chuncho (Gian Maria Volonte), earns their living by stealing weapons and selling them to a powerful warlord named General Elias (Jaime Fernandez). El Chuncho's band preys on federal army patrols, trains, and any thing else that allows them to realize their goals. Along with his holier than thou former priest turned revolutionary brother El Santo (Klaus Kinski) and a beautiful woman named Adelita (Martine Beswick), El Chuncho and his thugs make a good living at what they do. When the group happens to rob a train loaded with armaments, they run smack dab into a dapper gringo named Bill Tate (Lou Castel), a mysterious man who initially poses as a prisoner so he can get into the good graces of El Chuncho's army. Amused by the American and thankful for his help in stopping the train, the group decides to take him on as a fellow bandit and revolutionary. Chuncho even nicknames him "El Nino" in the process because of his baby-faced good looks.
Tate's hidden agenda remains hidden for most of the movie, but in the meantime he earnestly joins the guerilla war in Mexico. El Chuncho's band takes the rifles off the train and holes up in a poor village until it's safe to transport the arms to Elias's headquarters in the mountains. Regrettably, the local villagers convince the desperados to dispatch the brutal local landowner, a truly revolutionary action leading to land redistribution amongst the poor. Since the federal government opposes such actions, the village is certain to encounter an invasion force of substantial size. Suddenly, and probably due more to the pretty local women than any altruistic reasons, El Chuncho and El Santo take an interest in protecting the village from annihilation. The rest of the gang decides money is more important than a heroic stand, and heads off to Elias's fortress with the weapons. The now former bandit leader cannot stand to miss out on any of the action (or the money), and before too long is off riding after Tate, Adelita, and the rest of his compatriots. The conclusion to the movie, with Tate's true mission in Mexico revealed and the subsequent bloodbath that follows, is classic spaghetti western grit. Until the very end, you're just not sure what's ultimately going to happen.
"A Bullet for the General" is most notable for its strident political themes. All spaghetti westerns engage in the old good versus evil debate, but by the late 1960s the directors and writers of the films in this genre began inserting left wing rhetoric and pro-socialist situations into the pictures, thus turning the Old West into a mirror image of the turbulent social movements of the 1960s. Whereas in earlier movies you might see good guys and bad guys battling over money, in films like "A Bullet for the General" you see the good guys protecting the poor from money-grubbing big business interests such as railroads, oil companies, and landowners. El Chuncho's conversion from a greedy bandit to a socially conscious revolutionary symbolizes the transformation the New Left hoped most members of society would eventually undergo in the real world. Even the Church takes a shot on the chin in the movie, as El Santo becomes more authentic when he rejects the passivity of the pulpit in lieu of a socially active gospel requiring violent action against the propertied classes.
Unfortunately, a few problems plague "A Bullet for the General." First, the filmmakers failed to utilize the full potential of the volcanic Klaus Kinski. There is an intriguing scene where we see El Santo roaring biblical quotations from a rampart while tossing grenades into a mass of troops, but for most of the movie his character simply disappears. Second, the dubbing is awful--truly, ear achingly awful. But the good outweighs the bad. Anchor Bay performed miracles with the pristine picture transfer, the story is intriguing, and there's plenty of good shoot 'em up action. The DVD unfortunately only contains two trailers as extras, but the movie's good enough that you won't miss the behind the scenes stuff and interviews usually included on most discs. "A Bullet for the General" is must see viewing for spaghetti western aficionados, and a good introduction to the genre for the beginner. "
One of the best spaghetti westerns, a cheesy masterpiece
Raymond Rice | 04/28/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First off if you do have a brain you will know that any film that isn't directed by Sergio Leone will be nothing like a film directed by Sergio Leone even if its in the same genre. Kind of how Lucio Fulci's movies are nothing like George Romero's yet they share or even steal the same ideas, aight?
This movie is probably my favorite non-Leone spaghetti western there is, and interestingly enough this is one of the few of the genre I've seen that makes no attempt to be like a Leone film unlike the hundreds of others made at the same time. This will be a problem for most people who will expect it and its rough edges which are mostly bad dubbing will turn most people off but I can seriously say I like this movie tons.
To keep it short there's tons of shooting, tons of explosions, 3523352523 double crossings which will make you wonder if you should be mad or cheer when you see who dies in the end, hilariously horrendous dubbing, cheesy "typical" Mexican music, and well, lots of shooting and killing. As simple as this film is I still say its far better than The Great Silence, while it has a great score, cool setting and cool ending, thats about all it has. This movie is way better."