Bullet for Sandoval, A

Ernest Borgnine in A Bullet for Sandoval
Ernest Borgnine in A Bullet for Sandoval

aka Los desperados (Es), Les quatre desperados (Fr), Um sie war der Hauch des Todes (WG), Vengeance is Mine (UK), Quei disperati che puzzano di sudore e di morte (It)
1969
Italy/Spain
Elio Scardamaglia and Ugo Guerra for Leone Film, Daiano Film (Rome), Atlantida Film (Madrid)
Director: Julio Buchs
Story & screenplay: Ugo Guerra, Jose Luis Martinez Molla, Francisco De Urrutia, Julio Buchs
Music: Gianni Ferrio
Cinematography: Francisco Sempere {Eastmancolor}
Editor: Daniele Alabiso
Set design: Giuseppe Bassan
Cameraman: Roberto Girometti
Filmed:
Original running time: 108 mins
Release information: Registered 20.11.69. Italy (26.11.69, 108 mins), Spain (15.12.69, Madrid), France (1971, Paris), West Germany (20.11.70, 89 mins), UK (1971), US (06.70, 91 mins)
Spanish takings: €214.002,77

A Bullet for Sandoval
A Bullet for Sandoval

Cast : George Hilton (John Warner), Ernest Borgnine (Pedro Sandoval), Alberto De Mendoza (Lucky Boy), Leo Anchoriz (Friar Converso), Annabella Incontrera (Carol Day), Gustavo Rojo (Guadalupano), Antonio Pica (Sam), Manuel De Blas (Gonzales Sandoval), Jose Manuel Martin (One Eye), Andrea Aureli (Wannabe gangmember), Jose Guardiola (Governor Gonzales), Andres Mejuto (the judge), Manuel Miranda (Francisco), Vidal Molina (Captain Parker), Maria Paz Pondal (Isabel Gonzales), Jorge Rigaud (the General), Alfonso Rojas (the Ranch Owner), Adalberto Rossetti, Claudio Trionfo [Claudio Trionfi], Alfredo San-Tacruz [Alfredo Santa Cruz] (Senator Walsh), Jose Riesgo, Charly Bravo [Ramon Carlos Miron Bravo] (a mexican soldier), Rafael Hernandez, Lorenzo Robledo (the corporal), Alfonso De La Vega (Sandoval’s man), Tito Garcia (a Mexican ranch owner), Luis Barboo (the Mexican ranch owner’s foreman), Dan Van Husen (a bandit), Jose Luis Zalde (festival organiser)

A truly memorable Spaghetti Western, A Bullet for Sandoval is unquestionably one of the top ten examples of its type. It exhibits a singularly mean spirited atmosphere as well as an unusual plot that incorporates the ‘revenge for a slaughtered family’ theme in an engrossing and unusual way. For some reason it has traditionally been rather ignored by genre aficionados, but a well-deserved DVD release gives the opportunity for a timely reappraisal.

John Warner (George Hilton) is a soldier fighting with the losing side in the civil war. He hears that his beloved is about to give birth and reluctantly decides to desert, return home and marry her. He is soon captured, court-martialed and sentenced to death. Along with two friends, Sam (Antonio Pica) and Lucky (Alberto De Mendoza), he manages to escape. Arriving back at his hometown, he finds it to be in the grip of a cholera epidemic, and that his girlfriend has died during childbirth. Her father Sandoval (Ernest Borgnine), who has always hated him, hands Warner his newborn son and forces him out into hiding. After his requests for help are callously ignored by all of those with whom they come into contact, the child dies.

Consumed by grief, he decides to have vengeance, and starts by drowning a rancher – who had turned him away fearing the spread of cholera – in a pail of milk. He then forms a gang, centrally composed of his fellow deserters and an ex preacher (Leo Anchoriz), and begins to terrorize the surrounding countryside. Before long his path again crosses with Sandoval and, in a superb climax set in a bullring, their differences are resolved the only way possible – with bullets.

As you can probably tell from the above synopsis, this is not a typical George Hilton film. There is no humor whatsoever, and the character he plays treads a precarious line between being sympathetic and an out and out bastard. He doesn’t hesitate in carrying out acts of alienating cruelty, and at no point is there even the suggestion of a wisecrack being uttered. Then again, his nemesis is not much better – an overly possessive parent who destroys the ones he loves with his hatred for a demonized enemy.

Alberto De Mendoza and George Hilton in A Bullet for Sandoval
Alberto De Mendoza and George Hilton in A Bullet for Sandoval

In fact what we have here is one of the few instances in which an Italian (or, to be more precise, Spanish with some Italian input) oater can be considered as an out and out tragedy. By this I mean that both central characters start out as basically dignified people. Sandoval cares for his children – perhaps too much – and it is his unwillingness to let go of his daughter that triggers the events that turn him into an irrationally selfish tyrant. He still retains his dignity, and is appalled when he is forced to break his word – even to his nemesis – as the result of an impetuous act by his eldest son. Warner is a brave and honorable soldier who is transformed by events into a murderous criminal (his destiny seems to be shaped by the maxim “If you’ve had to be a killer once, you’d better carry on if you want to stay alive”). It’s no mean task, but Sandoval manages to make both of the main characters equally (un) sympathetic.

The whole production is drenched with the feeling of death. It starts with the corpse-strewn aftermath of a battle, veers into a disease-ridden town and ploughs to its inevitable downbeat conclusion. Strangely, the gun battles are often shown simply by the sight of someone holding a gun and then people lying dead on the floor. The moment of destruction is not shown, merely the aftermath of the act of shooting.

With fine acting – both the leads give the performances of their life – a wonderful Gianni Ferrio soundtrack, literate scripting, sumptuous photography and top-notch direction, this is one of the very best of it’s type. It must have had a pretty decent budget. Apart from the topline cast (supporting actors of the quality of De Mendoza, Anchoriz and Jose Manuel Martin) it also has quite a few large-scale shots (i.e. the army chasing the outlaws across the Almerian landscape). Blessed with the double whammy of a totally arresting beginning and end (this is one of the few Spaghetti climaxes to truly give Sergio Leone a run for his money), A Bullet for Sandoval is a must see for anyone with even the vaguest interest in the genre.

8/10

About Matt Blake 883 Articles
The WildEye is a blog dedicated to the wild world of Italian cinema (and, ok, sometimes I digress into discussing films from other countries as well). Peplums, comedies, dramas, spaghetti westerns... they're all covered here.

2 Comments

  1. Excellent review Matt. I remember the first time I saw this film and was very impressed by Hilton’s portrayal. A common man driven to almost insanity by circumstances outside of his control. He deserts, he finds his wife dead, he’s rejected by her family given hi newborn son and thrown to the streets. He fights for survival in a plague infested countryside and when his son dies from the rejection and fear of others he goes off the deep end. One can feel for him as he puts together a band of ragtag misfits and goes after the people who have caused his world to fall apart. Borgnine is also perfect as the girl’s father who cannot find it in his heart to forgive Hilton and blames him for his loss. The two finally meet and as you say only death comes from this tragic film. An excellent score Ferrio adds to the the films bleakness and good supporting acting and direction by Julio Buchs makes this one of the best Spaghetti westerns.

    • Has this ever actually had a decent blu ray / dvd release? It really deserves it… it’s a film that seems to have fallen through the cracks, somewhat…

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