Written by: Carroll Jenkins on November 12th, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: USA, 1968
Director: Buzz Kulik
Writers: Robert Towne, Sam Peckinpah
Cast: Yul Brynner, Robert Mitchum, Maria Grazia Buccella, Charles Bronson, Herbert Lom, Robert Viharo, Frank Wolff, Alexander Knox, Diana Lorys, Bob Carricart, Fernando Rey, José María Prada, Antonio Ruiz, Jill Ireland
DVD released: June 3rd, 2008
Approximate running time: 122 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Legend Films/Paramount Pictures
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $14.95
Synopsis: An American running guns during the Mexican revolution becomes an unintended guest of Pancho Villa and his life is spared only due to his abilities as a pilot. Villa is a bandit turned revolutionary who fights to protect President Madero from counter revolutionary forces (the Colorados). Another key player is General Huerta who is in the good graces of Madero following his defeat of the Orozco insurgency.
Written and directed by Sam Peckinpah – that’s the way it was supposed to have been. Yul Brynner was upset that his titular role was written as an anti-hero and had Peckinpah replaced with Buzz Kulik and brought in Robert Towne to doctor the script. Despite his efforts to bolster his starring role, it is Charles Bronson who steals the show as the vicious Fierro, and it is his interactions with Robert Mitchem’s self serving American that are the heart of the movie.
At its core still a Peckinpah creation, this is reflected in the operatic violence. The film also has a very spaghetti western flavor reflected in both the large scale battles and the small scale atrocities (and by the presence of Maria Grazia Buccella as the love interest). There are hangings, rapes, machine guns, and debauchery. One of the most shocking scenes has Charles Bronson playing turkey shoot with captured foot soldiers, similar to a scene in Django. When Mitchem is repulsed, Brynner observes that, as a gun runner, Mitchem didn’t care who was killed as long as he didn’t have to watch.
Just as that scene was certainly fired from the Peckinpah cannon, the sequence where Pancho Villa proves his machismo by doing a Wright Brothers (flying the plane 1 foot off the ground) is entirely superfluous. Obviously intended to strengthen the appeal of Brynner’s Villa, it is saved only by Bronson’s performance. Thoroughly miscast, Brynner tries to walk through the film on the strength of his charisma, but it’s not enough. Robert Mitchem, on the other hand, does exactly that successfully, and Herbert Lom is effective as the scheming General Huerto.
This is a 2:35 anamorphic interlaced transfer and closed captions are included, but zero extras. Still a very nice presentation by Legend.
Despite Yul Brynner’s tampering and lackluster performance, the film is still a violent and exciting look at the early stages of the Mexican revolution. Viva Peckinpah!