What first attracted me to this movie was the idea of seeing Raquel Welch in a western. I also had a vague sense that one of the westerns she did in the late 60s and early 70s had a particularly famous and sexy shower scene. I believe it was some kind of a distraction or trap where Welch’s smoking body served as a bait. And from a…. um, let’s say historical point of view, I was very curious to see just how sensational the scene would be, taking consideration the censorship of the time. I think originally the makers of the movie wanted Raquel do the scene completely topless, but eventually they settled for a completely drenched shirt or something along those lines. But it doesn’t really matter as that scene unfortunately ended up not being in this movie.
Looking back, Bandolero! is certainly no Once Upon a Time in the West, but as a traditional western, starring foxy Raquel Welch and accompanied by stars like Dean Martin, James Stewart and George Kennedy, it was not that bad. A bit run of the mill, but certainly not boring or particularly bad movie. The ending was perhaps a bit sappy for my taste and it does drag a little in the third and final act before the climax, but other than that, I quite liked it. Out of all the actors, I felt Jimmy Stewart was the most interesting one of the bunch. You’re so used to thinking of him in more straight laced good guy roles that seeing him as a bank robber was pretty refreshing and different. Even though he is an outlaw, you do still find it hard perceiving him even remotely as a bad guy, but the rugged and slightly shadier role he plays is still something I haven’t seen him do before and that lends plenty of novelty to his performance.
I don’t really have much negative things to say about the picture, other than the sheriff, played by George Kennedy, having a one way affection towards Welch could have used more development to give it some proper weight. His awkwardness in the matters of the heart was amusing I suppose, but only mildly, and it doesn’t really sell you on the idea that he’d chase her to the far corners of the world, if need be. Even when he recklessly insists that the small posse hunting the outlaw gang that’s holding Welch hostage would keep following the gang deep into the bandit country, it feels like there’s something missing. There’s no visible manic flames in his eyes that would convince you that he’s willing to anything to recover Raquel Welch back, damn the consequences. It’s odd because Kennedy does pull of the hard lawman aspect very well, but somehow the same bullheadedness when it comes to him and romance. Perhaps it’s due to how timid he is about pursuing Welch romantically.
The romance between Welch and Dean Martin, which in a way is the selling point of the movie, was also bit lukewarm, now that I think about it. There’s never that electric spark between the two that is crucial in making a cinematic romance feel organic and compelling. It’s sort of hard to just accept that in this movie Dean Martin would have magnetic enough personality that Welch would fall for him so easily, especially after he and his gang had just murdered her husband and were now holding her hostage during their escape from the gallows. Sure, he’s actually treating her like a proper lady and protects her from rape by his less than gentlemanlike partners, which could naturally lead to her seeing him in a positive light, and to be fair she wasn’t that madly in love with her now deceased husband, but nevertheless it’s a bit weak in my eyes, I don’t quite buy it. He’s just kind of dumb about the whole romance thing until the very end of the movie, and it’s not soon after that he’s killed when the movie turns into a climactic final shoot down against the Mexican bandits that had been following them for the better part of the story. I guess what I’m trying to say is that in order for the romance to work for me it needed one or two more scenes where the attraction is established more firmly and them falling for each other becomes something you as the audience want to see happening, and ever cheer for. That way when Martian dies, it almost would feel tragic and the ending would have had more power behind it.