The rich, brutal, cynical culture of Italian westerns (aka spaghetti westerns) is dominated by Sergio Leone’s great movies, but there is a whole legacy of cynical, hard-edged, and even politically daring Italian westerns of the sixties and seventies. A Bullet for the General (Italy, 1966), set in the culture of mercenaries and bandits operating in the lucrative chaos of the Mexican revolution, is one of the best of these.
Gian Maria Volonté stars as a charismatic bandit leader who passes himself a revolutionary guerilla as he robs military transports and sells the arms to the revolution for hard cash. Klaus Kinski gets second billing as Volonté’s brother, a wild eyed warrior priest in bandoleros dedicated to the cause, while Lou Castel (who became a regular in Fassbinder’s movies) plays the American gangster who signs on with the crew as cover for his own mission, riding through the desert in a neatly-pressed three-piece suit even on the hottest days.
Damiano Damiani directs it like a twenties gangster picture in the sun-baked desert and white-dust hills of the cutthroat west, where life is cheap, loyalty is rare, and rival gangs constantly battle for guns and contraband. But it is also a portrait of the evolution of a bandit from mercenary to revolutionary, a transformation that puts him at odds with his own gang and especially Castel, the devil on his shoulder and his strangely loyal comrade in crime. There is a sophisticated story of personal commitment and political awakening behind the brutality and cowardice and betrayals, and an unexpected twist on friendship and loyalty.
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A Bullet for the General [DVD]
A Bullet for the General (2-Disc Special Edition) [Blu-ray]
The Blu-ray debut features the International cut with both English and Italian soundtracks and the slightly shorter American cut (English only), plus a five-minute interview with director Damiano Damiani (he explains that his intention was to make a parody of a western, but it doesn’t come off that way) and a bonus disc with a feature-length Italian documentary on actor Gian Maria Volonté.