Having paid my debt to the library, I was once again able to rent DVDs from them, and I got right back into the swing of things with this western from 1968. I like westerns as much as the next guy, but honestly, I checked it out because it was a Raquel Welch film, and like most of her oeuvre, it's basically harmless but hardly ever aspires to be anything other than mildly satisfying.
There's some odd casting in Bandolero; Dean Martin (!!) plays Dee Bishop, a ne'er do well, and Jimmy Stewart (!!) plays his brother Mace (what is this, Star Wars?), a slightly more noble ne'er do well. Will Geer best known as Grandpa on the Waltons is along for the ride as a cantankerous old outlaw named Pops, and George Kennedy rounds out the cast as the simple but good-hearted sheriff with a name far better than the rest of the film, July Johnson. Lastly of course, we have Welch (note how I avoided using the 'rounding out' joke on her?), who plays Maria Stoner, a Mexican ex-whore who has married a rich man and is his trophy wife (shades of Anna Nicole Smith). When Dee kills Stoner in the first reel, Maria is left all alone, and is taken hostage by Dee after his narrow escape from the gallows.
The plot is fairly straightforward; the sheriff loves the woman who will have nothing to do with him, and he tracks her all over God's brown earth (i.e., Mexico) to get her back. Inexplicably she falls in love with her husband's murderer (Raquel falling for Dean Martin? That's like Natalie Portman falling for Patrick Dempsey. Come on) as they travel deeper into bandito country. As we get to know the characters we find that pretty much everyone other than Dee and his brother in the outlaw gang is a rotten apple (which is such a shock, seeing as how they are bank robbers), and only Mace really has any couth at all.
Martin, ostensibly the star, is okay here. I never considered him much of an actor, but he's serviceable here. Welch is okay; mostly she has to look good, which isn't hard for her (her hair and nails are always impeccable). I liked Will Geer's world-weary sarcasm and venality, mostly because it was such a change from Grandpa. And Kennedy tries his best to be a likable simpleton, playing everything straight and honest; July's a good guy, but there's not enough to him to tug much at our sympathies. The big surprise is Stewart, who doesn't really seem right for the role of an aging desperado; but his insistence on playing it just less than serious is terrific, and most of his scenes right up until the end are highly amusing. In fact he and Martin have surprising comedic chemistry, and several of their scenes play as asides, everyone stopping what they are doing to listen to the two brothers riff. Stewart imbues the film with some much-needed humor, and steals the show at the same time.
Bandolero isn't remembered as a classic, with good reason, but it isn't a bad film. It would be forgettable if not for Stewart, but with his comedic licks it rises to be a moderately engaging comedy. There are scores of better westerns, and even better Welch films (and many better Stewart films), but overall, for an evening's diversion, you could do much, much worse.