Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Blu-ray Review: A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL (1967)

2-Disc Special Edition Blu-ray/DVD

Label: Blue Underground 
Region Code: ALL
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: U.S.: 115 Mins. / International: 118 Mins.
Audio: English and Italian DTS-HD Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, English for Italian Version
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: Damiano Damiani (How to Kill a Judge, Amityville II)
Cast: Gian Maria Volonte, Klaus Kinski, Martine Beswick, Lou Castel

Synopsis: At the height of the Mexican revolution, a mysterious young American (Lou Castel of FIST IN HIS POCKET) joins a gang of marauders led by El Chucho (Gian Maria Volonte of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS) on a series of savage raids to steal guns for a powerful rebel general. But when the Gringo brings his own cold-blooded ideals to the bandits, El Chucho discovers that the real weapons of war belong to no army. In a land ravaged by poverty and violence, can true freedom be bought with a single bullet?

The Film: In director Damiano Damiani's "zapato" spaghetti western A Bullet for the General (1966) encounter a revolutionary bandit named El Chuncho (Gia Maria Volonte, A Fistful of Dollars) during the Mexican Revolution and his group of banditos as they stop rob a military cargo train. Ingeniously they stop the train by crucifying a soldier in the middle of the train tracks, it's quite a sight.  After rather easily eliminating the government soldiers on the train El Chucho encounters a well-dressed American named Bill Tate (Lou Castel, Fists in the Pocket) whom earns the nickname "Nino" for his boyish looks. After he earns the trust of El Chuncho  Nino joins the revolutionary bandits. Chuncho and his bandits blaze a path through Mexico exchanging gunfire with the government forces and raiding military compounds collecting weaponry, including a new machine gun, to aide General Elias's revolutionary forces. El Chuncho is not truly a supporter of the revolution and seems motivated mostly by the notoriety of his conquests and the lucrative spoils of war. However, when it is revealed that Nino may be in fact a counter-revolutionary assassin El Chucho's loyalties are put to the ultimate test.

I think the film goes a bit long but I was sucked right in from the start. It's a sweaty film, it feels dirty and sun-bleached with great shoot-outs and arid desert landscapes, you really feel the enviorment. Volonte as the cigar-chompin' El Chuncho is a great villain... or is he? Definitely a film that tests your loyalties, he's someone profiting from the spoils of war -  chewing up the scenery in every shot in the best possible way. Lou Castel as Nino is a pretty cold character, baby-faced and steely-eyed, always with an air of mystery. After these two amazing performances we have an all too brief appearance by the madman himself Kalus Kinski (Aguirre, the Wrath of God) as El Chuncho's brother El Santo , a holy-bandit praying for his enemies fallen in battle, it's an odd role even for the notorious Kinski, I wanted more from this character and my main beef with the film would be just that. Special mention should also be made of the gorgeous brunette sexpot Martine Beswick (Thunderball) whom appears as Adelita, the lone woman among El Chuncho's gang, a supremely alluring beauty and the cause of some friction among Nino and Chuncho.

The film in my opinion is not as violent as Sergio Corbucci's Django (1966) or as twisted as Giulio Questi's Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! (1966) but there's definitely no shortage of spaghetti western carnage onscreen here right from the start, the assault on the train is fantastic. The film has a great pedigree too, it was penned by Oscar-nominee Franco Solinas (The Battle of Algiers) and features a great score from Luis Bacalov (Django) and Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and looks fantastic with lensing from Antonio Secchi (The Hills Run Red) so we're in good hands here from the ground up except for maybe the director whom went onto direct Amityville II: The Possession but credit where credit is do this is a great film. 

Blu-ray: Blue Underground's region-FREE Blu-ray release features both the U.S. 
(115 mins) and International Version (118 mins) of the film presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen (2.35:1) in wonderful 1080p HD. The transfer is sourced from a gorgeous print and there's a fine layer of film grain. The colors are vibrant, flesh tones are accurate and the black levels are strong. The image is crisp and while some scenes seem to have received an aggressive dose of digital noise reduction but overall I have no other complaints, a very pleasant image. The Italian and English-dubbed DTS-HD Mono options both sounds very good with crisp dialogue, piercing gunshots and score.

Special Features:
- A Bullet for the Director - Interview with Director Damiano Damiani (5:01)
- U.S. Trailer (1:52) 16:9
- International Trailer (4:29) 16:9
- Poster and Still Gallery
- Bonus DVD - Gian Maria Volonte: Un Attore Contro (112 Mins.)

Verdict: In years past Blue Underground were synonymous in my mind at least with horror and exploitation cinema and not much else, so it's rather nice to expand my adventures into Spaghetti Westerns with their release of Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! and A Bullet for the General. This is a riveting watch and comes recommended not just for fans of the spaghetti westerns but of all westerns, it's right up here with A Fistful of Dynamite and The Wild Bunch4 Outta 5