9 July 2003 | rrebenstorf
A New Old-Fashioned Western
For whatever reason, critics in the 70s were quick to pronounce dead the western genre whenever a new western opened, but that didn't stop the decade from producing some of my favorites in the category. _Bite the Bullet_ is a fine example. Where other westerns of the decade seemed to pursue the avenue of re-invention, Richard Brooks' gritty movie about a turn-of-the-century horse race/endurance test opts for sweet revival. The cast of characters are the usual suspects: company men vs. real cowboys, kid-looking-for-a-reputation, ballsy hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, tough-and-noble-oppressed Mexican, and old-hand-on-his-last-hurrah. They all combine to tell a supremely entertaining and satisfying story. As a bonus, we get the chance to consider seriously what impact America's win-win mentality has on the moral character of its people.
At the heart of the picture are the splendid performances by Gene Hackman and James Coburn as old buddies from Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders days. The friendship between their characters is the movie's moral glue, and it is portrayed without smearing or stickiness. In these two characters we not only get all of the integrity of upright and rugged individualism inherent in the Western Code, but we get a nice dash of Butch and Sundance to boot.
And I think Candice Bergen makes for a great tomboy. It actually makes her sexier.