Cole Thornton, a gunfighter for hire, joins forces with an old friend, Sheriff J.P. Hara. Together with an old Indian fighter and a gambler, they help a rancher and his family fight a rival rancher that is trying to steal their water.
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At the beginning of the 20th century, a newspaper organizes an endurance horse race : 700 miles to run in a few days. 9 adventurers are competing, among them a woman, Miss Jones, a Mexican, an Englishman, a young cow-boy, an old one and two friends, Sam Clayton and Luke Matthews. All those individualists will learn to respect each other. Written by
The track tracks left by the filming are visible in the desert. See more »
I heard your newspaper is running an honest race.
You heard right, Mr. Gebhardt.
Who the hell handicapped this owlhead as the favorite?
The smart money!
That's what we come to get.
See more »
By the 1970s, the western genre was virtually exhausted and many of the westerns made around that time were either cheaply-made, badly-dubbed European offerings, or depressingly violent revenge westerns (e.g The Hunting Party, The Revengers, The Deadly Trackers, The Last Hard Men, etc.) Bite The Bullet, however, is a happy exception. Not only does it resist the '70s urge to show gore and brutality, it also manages to come up with a plot that is actually quite novel. It also marks an example of the "third-time-lucky" adage for Gene Hackman.... for this was his third western of the '70s, and the first of real quality (his previous two - The Hunting Party and Zandy's Bride - being pretty terrible if truth be known).
At the turn-of-the-century, various riders gather in a Wild West town to compete in an endurance horse race of some 700 miles or so. Among those seeking the glory and the romance are English gentleman Norfolk (Ian Bannen); young show-offy hot-head Carbo (Jan-Michael Vincent); a rugged old man in search of a final moment of honour (Ben Johnson); a poor Mexican with serious dental problems (Mario Ateaga); feisty female entrant Jones (Candice Bergen); former Rough Rider Luke Matthews (James Coburn); and introspective horse-lover Sam Clayton (Gene Hackman). As they ride through forests, deserts and mountains toward the finishing line, the riders get involved in various adventures and tragedies. Some lose their horses along the trail; others are even less fortunate and lose their lives.
Bite The Bullet is a very good western, with convincing performances from its all-star cast and luscious cinematography from the great Harry Stradling Jr. The opening quarter of the film is fairly slow, with time given over to the character introductions and a little probing into the motivations of each rider. However, this proves worthwhile later as the fate of each rider gains significant power because the audience has come to understand - to know, if you like - the various characters. On the whole, the period detail and the dialogue seem impeccable. Alex North's score is good, and adds an extra dimension to the proceedings. The only flaw worth mentioning is that the film's structure - perhaps inevitably - is rather episodic.... every few minutes, the narrative jumps to another rider and follows their adventures for a scene or two before jumping again to another character. There was probably no way to avoid this, but it is occasionally tedious and frustrating for the viewer (because just as they are "getting into" the plight of one rider the action cuts away to the plight of another). Aside from this minor flaw, Bite The Bullet is a highly impressive film and easily earns a spot on the top-ten-westerns-of-the-'70s list.
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