Thursday, August 13, 2015

Brief Thoughts - BARQUERO (1970)

I finally scratched this little talked about Lee Van Cleef western off my 'To See' list and I was happy to find it to be a damned good film. I'm surprised this movie isn't better known for the cast if for nothing else. The great Warren Oates plays the villainous ex-Confederate Army soldier Remy who has kept his band of violent cutthroats together after the war ended. With the help of expatriate Frenchman Marquette (Kerwin Matthews - very good here) he has arranged to rob the Union Army of thirty cases of repeating rifles that he plans to use to cement his power over an area of Mexico. The brutal robbery goes perfectly but the plan to cross the Rio Grande using Van Cleef's ferryboat goes wrong setting up a standoff that puts the two men at odds and in stalemate.

The film has some trouble establishing the proper tone in the first act with some odd comedic moments scattered among the rather violent destruction of the town that houses the Union guard post that Remy's band hits. But once Van Cleef is on one side of the river and Oates is on the other the film is remarkably surefooted and fascinating not just as an action tale but as a character study of Remy, Marquette and Van Cleef's anti-hero character as well. I was not expecting this movie to delve into the push and pull aspects of male friendship or the morality of responsible leadership but damned if Barquero doesn't go there!

Forrest Tucker also has a great role as an amusing mountain man who helps Van Cleef and the people he is protecting from Remy's murderous wraith. And I forgot to mention a solid performance from Mariette Hartley in a small role as the wife of a hostage. The deal she strikes with Van Cleef to orchestrate her husband's rescue paints both characters in shades of gray that impressed me. This isn't a cookie cutter western and is well worth seeking out. 


Nick Rentz said...

Man, I've been waiting to see this since I saw the trailer a few years ago. How's the blu ray presentation?

Rod Barnett said...

I don't know about the Blu! I caught this on Encore Westerns. :-)

Nick Rentz said...

Damn it, Rod!

Rod Barnett said...


Brian Lindsey said...

I saw this on satellite channel MGM-HD last year (a hi-def transfer), so I'm thinking the Blu-ray edition should look very nice.

Intriguing, offbeat western to be sure. Liked the inclusion of Kerwin Mathew's French character (army officer fleeing Emperor Maximilian's fall in Mexico); since Van Cleef & Oates are separated by the river for pretty much the whole movie, Mathews and Oates get a number of interesting scenes together. And am I remembering correctly that Oates' villain smokes doobies throughout the film? (A nod to "El Indio" from FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, perhaps?)

Rod Barnett said...

Yes, Oates does smoke a fair amount of grass in the film and Matthews character even calls him out on it at one point! I thought of Jack Palance in COMPANEROS from the same year.

The scene when Oates snaps and shoots the river is pure acting genius!