28 April 2008 | chaos-rampant
A bullet for the General
I have to admit I'm not the biggest fan of the political spaghettis revolving around the Mexican revolution that came out during the late 60's. It was a trend that coincided with the general left-ist sentiment that prevailed in Italy at that time and gave directors like Sollima and Damiani in this case a perfect opportunity to speak their views. However I'm a sucker for a good spaghetti western.
A Bullet for the General starts out fantastic with a train hold up by the Mexican bandit El Chucho (Gian Maria Volonte). The whole setting and the moral dilemma the captain of the train faces is just right on the money. For the next hour though the movie takes a sudden downturn in quality. There's plenty of shooting action, but it's uninteresting for the most part. We watch El Chucho's gang as they attack different posts to steal arms for a revolutionary general called Elias. There's a running sociopolitical commentary throughout the movie, but what really takes it down a notch is the heavy handed dialogue. The English dubbing is absolutely awful and the translations probably don't do justice to the original material. Some of them are so cringe-worthy that the ideas they're supposed to convey become caricatures.
The good thing is that the second hour is better as it focuses more on character drama and conflict. The last 20 minutes in particular elevate the movie from just OK and are worth the price of admission. The cinematography by Damiani is excellent, the desolate terrain becoming another character in the movie. The performances are solid for the most part, with Volonte stealing every scene he's in as the greasy Mexican bandito with a heart of gold. His change of heart during the end is a joy to behold.
Overall if it weren't for the atrocious dubbing and occasionally silly dialogue, this would be a classic. As far as political spaghettis go, Sollima's Faccia a Faccia is still the undisputed king. In the Mexican revolution-era adventure department, it doesn't top Corbucci's Companeros. However it's still very good as it is, combining bits and pieces from both worlds into an entertaining story. Recommended viewing for fans of the genre.