The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Netflix Review #5: Bite the Bullet

By the mid 1970s, the western genre had changed significantly and not for the better. Most were cynical, dark, and ultra-violent, and those that weren't poked fun at the stereotypes. I liked Blazing Saddles but you know what I mean. Richard Brooks' "Bite the Bullet" is a more old-fashioned western that relies on a good story and a great cast. It deals with nine contestants in a 700-mile horse race across some of the most hellish terrain in the west in 1906.
What jumped out at me when looking through lists was the cast here including Gene Hackman, Candice Bergen, James Coburn, Ian Bannen, Ben Johnson, and Jean-Michael Vincent. None dissappoint with some really stepping into their roles. Hackman and Coburn are old friends who served together in Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. There's is a friendship that goes back years, and it shows, the two are very believable and likable as a pair of cowboys a few years past their prime as the times change in the wild, wild west.

While that duo provides strong leads, it's Ben Johnson's supporting role as one of the riders that is most memorable. The real-life cowboy plays Mister, an old cowboy who's done it all. But now in his later years, he's been questioning if he's actually ever accomplished anything. He decides that winning the race is bigger than the prize money, instead it would be something to be remembered for. His scene in which he explains it all to Hackman is one of the best scenes in the movie, explaining the changing west like few movies can or have done. SPOILERS though if you haven't seen the movie.

Very little action here, but I didn't find myself drifting at all. There's little character development after the leads, but the characters come across as real people, not just the stereotypes they could have been in a lesser movie.

The DVD is a dissappointment for a couple reasons. First, no widescreen presentation, and this is a movie that would greatly benefit from widescreen. Location shootings from the arid deserts to the tree-filled forests are beautiful. Worst of all, the credits are in widescreen but the movie immediately returns to pan-n-scan. Second, no special features, not even a trailer.

I feel safe saying if you're a fan of westerns, this won't dissappoint even if the DVD does exactly that. You might try and wait for a widescreen DVD, but I wouldn't count on it. Great ensemble cast, good old-fashioned story, and an ending that works perfectly for the movie.

Bite the Bullet (1975): ***/****

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