Robert Mitchum and Mexico just worked well together. Mitchum consistently returned to Mexico during his career for a handful of film roles, many of them playing similar characters. He specialized in the American adventurer making his way through the Mexican Revolution in movies like The Wrath of God, Villa Rides, The Wonderful Country, and 1956's Bandido.
It's 1916 along the U.S.-Mexican border, and American gunrunner/businessman Kennedy (Zachary Scott), traveling with his wife, Lisa (Ursula Thiess), has cut a deal with the Mexican government with an enormous shipment of arms, ammunition and explosives. Catching wind of the shipment, American adventurer Wilson (Mitchum) sees a chance for a huge payday. He approaches Colonel Escobar (Gilbert Roland), a revolutionary leader, about cutting his own deal, stealing the shipment and taking his fair share. Escobar is suspicious, but his forces desperately need the supplies. With so much on the line, everyone is ready to turn on each other.
Just a few weeks removed from reviewing Viva Zapata, here's a prime example of a Zapata western; the Mexican Revolution with adventurers, idealists, freedom fighters, opportunists and so many more fighting it out. It's not flashy here in director Richard Fleischer's film, but everything is handled in a more than capable fashion. For anyone familiar with any other Zapata westerns, you're going to feel like you've seen it before, the same characters, storylines and backstabbings coming down the road. Not a bad thing, just an observation.
Much of 'Bandido' was filmed on location in Mexico, and the movie benefits greatly from it. IMDB's Trivia section even says that many of the locations were the actual spots where Pancho Villa and his forces battled with the Mexican Regular army, adding a sense of authenticity to the proceedings. It looks like Mitchum, Roland, and Co. are part of the revolution. Mexico is a beautiful country, and Fleischer's camera certainly shows that.
What often comes out of these Zapata westerns are the uneasy alliances between the profiteering Americans and the more idealistic revolutionaries. Cue Mitchum's Wilson and Roland's Escobar. Anytime these two are together the movie is above average. Once they're separated? The story slows down far too much. Escobar dubs Wilson 'El Alacran,' a deadly scorpion just waiting to sting his victims, just one little example of how their scenes and dialogue together crackles. Who better to play an American adventurer without a care in the world than Mitchum? His laid back, 'I don't give a damn' attitude is perfect. Roland basically played the same character the year before in The Treasure of Pancho Villa, and he hams it up like nobody's business. A 'Ay Chihuahua' drinking game would be appropriate.
The two of them provide 'Bandido' with its "cool factor." Mitchum is introduced walking calmly through the middle of a battlefield in a bullet-riddled town. Overlooking the battle, he deftly pulls two grenades from his pockets and throws them at Mexican gun crews working artillery pieces and machine guns. His work done, he lights and cigar and pours a drink. Roland is the picture of smooth too as Escobar, always observing and planning, ready to join in as needed. He is an idealist, fighting for Mexico's freedom more than riches and fame. Together, the duo is the perfect Zapata western equivalent of the Odd Couple.
Unfortunately too much time is spent on other things, taking away from that dynamic between Mitchum and Roland. I think the movie wold have been significantly better if Kennedy, the gunrunner, and his wife were completely removed from the story. It's clear that Kennedy will make a deal with anyone that will pay him, and the same goes for Thiess' Lisa. Is it any surprise she will end up with Mitchum? Thiess -- not a great actress to begin with -- doesn't have much in the way of chemistry with Mitchum either. Other supporting parts include Henry Brandon (Scar in The Searchers) as Kennedy's German source working with the Mexican government with Rodolfo Acosta and Jose Torvay as two of Escobar's revolutionaries.
I do like this movie -- I've watched it twice over the years -- but I don't love it. The action is exciting, especially the finale on a barge loaded with supplies, Wilson and Escobar shooting it out with a company of Mexican soldiers. The cast is good, the locations gorgeous, and composer Max Steiner's score good if not great. It's an exciting popcorn movie, mostly worthwhile for Mitchum and Roland.
Bandido <---trailer (1956): ** 1/2 /****