A group of Mexican bandits, led by the great Warren Oats (Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia), head for the town of Lonely Dell in order to cross the Paria River. Leaving a trail of death and destruction along the way, the arrive at Lonely Dell not expecting any resistance from the town's citizens. After descimating the local town, the gang of bandits demand that bargeman Travis (Lee Van Cleef, Sabata) transport the crooks and their booty across the river. But they get more than they bargained for when Travis turns the table on the viscious gang. The great Gordon Douglas (Between Midnight and Dawn) directs action packed adventure influenced by the ultra violent "Spaghetti Westerns" that made Van Cleef an international superstar. The top-noch supporting cast includes Forrest Tucker (TV's F Troop), Kerwin Mathews (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) and Mariette Hartley (Ride the High Country).
"You live in a lousy neighborhood, you ought to move."
It has always been a fun curiosity to me that it took a bunch of Italians with the Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s to reinvigorate the sagging genre. 'The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,' 'Django,' 'Cry For Revenge,' brought to screen some of the most visceral and violent films ever made. While not all were winners, some were outright bad box office investments, but others rose to grand heights. Then you have the fringe oddities, the Spaghetti Western imitators that sprouted up. Movie's like The Lee Van Cleef and Warren Oates staring 'Barquero.' This 1970 western directed by Gordon Douglas pulls together all of the best elements of Spaghetti Westerns, the hyper violence, stylized camera tricks, rough around the edges heroes and villains, and a slick orchestral score. 'Barquero' may not be a real Spaghetti Western, but it is one heck of a great imitation.
Villainous Jake Remy, Warren Oats, leads his gang of Mexican Bandits into the United States to pull off a series of daring robberies looting a massive fortune of silver. In their wake they bring death and destruction to every town they meet. At his right hand is Marquette, Kerwin Mathews, a Frenchmen who isn't afraid of danger, but knows when it's time to clear out of town. When the army is deployed to overtake the bandits, Remy, Marquette and the rest of the gang head towards the sleepy town of Lonely Dell where they can cross the river and get back into Mexico.
Knowing of the gangs' imminent destructive arrival, the local citizenry flee to the river and enlist the help of bargeman Travis, Lee Van Cleef, and his dim but loyal friend Mountain Phil, Forrest Tucker, to take them to safety. Travis doesn't mince words and does the right thing taking the ferry across the rushing river and leaving the gang behind to face the wrath of the army.
Enraged, Jake makes his stand at the dock, goading, demanding, and even attempts to bribe Travis to take him and his men across, but travis is a man who wont be bought for thirty pieces of silver. In all his years as an outlaw Jake Remy has never encountered a man with a will as strong as his own. As the stalemate goes on, Jake must take drastic actions to force Travis' hand, and Travis must do all he can to stay ahead of the game.
If you haven't inferred from this summation, 'Barquero' is a very Old Testament themed western. It isn't too hard to draw the connections of Travis and his barge to Moses and the Jewish Exodus and therefor Jake Remy to the mad Pharaoh Ramses. Jake is blinded by rage and can't see that Travis has him ensnared in a trap of his own making. Refusing to take the advise of Marquette and disband the men giving everyone a chance to live, Jake digs his heels into the dirt ready to take any obstacle head on rather than going around the rock in the road. While there may not be a literal parting of the Red Sea in 'Barquero,' the stalemate builds to a thrilling climax.
'Barquero' was a movie I had long heard of but knew very little about beyond it being another western staring Lee Van Cleef. I was very happy to discover that it was a whole heck of a lot more than that. Warren Oates' Jake Remy is a true mad villain in every meaning of the word. Evil, through and through, and it's a shame the man passed away so young. With his performance in 'Barquero,' it isn't too hard to see where he got his inspiration for his character Major Welles in the mini-series 'The Blue and the Gray.' Then you have the always cool as ice Lee Van Cleef. Here he's playing something closer to Colnel Mortimer but with a hint of Angel Eyes' cunning thrown in. He's a man who knows his heart and won't sell it for anything, not for silver, and not for the affections of a desirable woman. Then you have Forrest Tucker's Mountain Phil. He played such a driven, hardened sheriff in 'The Quiet Gun,' that his softer loyal big man was a welcome turn. It was also fun to see Tucker and Cleef play on the same side of the law this time. Kerwin Mathews also delivers a fun roll as the shrewd yet fatally loyal Marquette.
As I said at the outset, 'Barquero' is a great imitation of a Spaghetti Western. It pulls all of the best elements together with a great cast, visceral violent action, and a grandiose score by Dominic Frontiere who seems to be pulling a lot of notes from Ennio Morricone and Jerry Goldsmith. Gordon Douglas does a fine job putting these pieces together to create a wildly entertaining western. If you've never seen 'Barquero' or haven't even heard of this movie, there's no time like the present to give this one a go. It takes all of the best attributes of a good western and puts them to great use.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Barquero' makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics line. Pressed on a BD25 Region A locked disc and housed in a standard Blu-ray case, the disc opens to the main menu that mirrors the cover artwork.
Considering the age of the film plus it being released as a second tier title, I was not expecting 'Barquero' to look this amazing. Granted there is the expected nominal print wear but any kind of nick or scratch in the print is slight and hardly noticeable. With its intact film grain structure, details are rich and beautiful here. From snarls and knots in Travis' wooden barge, to Warren Oats' beard, you can make out every little detail in great form. If any kind of DNR or smoothing was used, It'd be difficult to point out where. Contrast feels alight, some scenes feel slightly brightened in places and can skew some of the colors. Colors over all are spot on however there are some odd instances where blood can look almost orange. Since flesh tones and other colors like the blue river and the green mesquite leaves appear appropriate, I have to figure that was just a bad batch of fake blood that didn't photograph as intended. Black levels are also solid giving this film some real dimensional pop. If there is a problem area to be seen its during the day-for-night scenes. Film grain can almost look like a swarm of mosquitos here and offers its share of flicker and contrast issues. There are also a few optical zooms peppered throughout the film the enhance the grain field quite a bit and can appear unsightly. It would take a full and thorough restoration to mitigate those issues but over all this is an outstanding 1.85:1 1080p transfer.
Aiding 'Barquero' is the lively English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. Music is bombastic. Gunshots explode and rattle. Dialogue is crisp and clear. To say this is a fun audio track is a bit of an understatement. it feels like the filmmakers took a page from 'The Wild Bunch' where they take some time to appreciate the quieter moments, but then ramp up the sound effects and volume to a jarring effect. Thankfully there aren't any kind of sound anomalies to fight against and nothing like hiss or cracks in the audio were perceivable. Levels are outstanding and imaging is a blast, in particular during the gunfight where Travis gets the townspeople over the river with bullets zipping by and smashing into wooden planks. Everything, while hyper-stylized, feels natural in this track.
Original Theatrical Trailer: (HD 2:40) A fun piece of movie marketing, I miss these old-school trailers that tell you the basic story, hint at larger events, but don't give away the whole show.
I love a good western. Heck, I'd be hard pressed to not like a bad western even, but 'Barquero' was a great time. From its outstanding cast with Lee Van Cleef and Warren Oats to the strong direction to the fun and lively score - I had a blast with this movie. It may be an imitation of a Spaghetti Western, but that doesn't keep it from being a solid piece of genre entertainment. With an impressive HD transfer and a booming audio track, 'Barquero' is an easy recommend.