A western dream team. Beginning with Winchester ’73 (1950) James Stewart had revived his career post-World War Two with a string of tough westerns and had made seven movies in the genre in the 1960s including The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and Shenandoah (1965). Starting with Rio Bravo (1959) Dean Martin had made six including The Sons of Katie Elder (1965). Genre debutante Raquel Welch had hit the box office running with One Million Years B.C. (1966) and Fantastic Voyage (1966). Following McLintock (1963) and Shenandoah, director Andrew V. McLaglen was considered one of the hottest western directors around.
Legendary Twentieth Century Fox producer Darryl F. Zanuck put together the cast and director as a “package” before calling in screenwriter James Lee Barrett (Shenandoah) to shape an idea by producer Stan Hough. McLaglen explained: “It was a Zanuck thing from the beginning.” He was working on another picture when he took a call from Zanuck. “I got a six-page outline for a western,” said Zanuck, “and I figure you ought to direct it. James Lee Barrett out to write it and Jimmy Stewart, Dean Martin and Raquel Welch ought to be in it. Nobody else. That’s the combination I want.” McLaglen took Hough’s six-page outline to Barrett who wrote it based on the actors involved.
Originally entitled Mace after the James Stewart character, the movie quickly became Bandolero!, the exclamation mark possibly to differentiate it from the 1924 Spanish picture of the same name which had been made for Metro-Goldwyn (as the studio was then known).
Despite the success of the Matt Helm spy pictures and a number of decent westerns, Dean Martin ceded top billing to James Stewart (had they shared the billing, Martin would have come first in the traditional alphabetical order).
Marc Eliot, one of Stewart’s biographers, arrived at a more unlikely scenario for the movie being greenlit, concluding that because Martin and Stewart had got on so well when the latter appeared on the former’s television show they decided to make a picture together. Given the show was taped in summer 1967 and the movie went into production a few months later it left an improbable amount of time for the picture to be set up.
Director Andrew V. McLaglen would be reunited with two of his favorite movie characters – screenwriter James Lee Barrett and James Stewart, both key to Shenandoah. The actor had been the driving force behind McLaglen’s recruitment for that Civil War picture. “I just loved working with him,” said the director, “it got to the point where any time he did a movie he wanted me to direct it.” He viewed Barrett as “one of the best dialog writers I’ve ever known in movies.”
Although theoretically, the movie was set up as a package, with stars and director in place, Dean Martin remained a doubt since he was already committed to a film with Columbia that might clash. And Stewart might easily have dropped out if producer Frank McCarthy’s plans for Patton, with Burt Lancaster in the title role and Stewart as General Omar Bradley, had come to early fruition.
Raquel Welch was on a publicity high, featured on 400 magazine covers, generating such industry buzz that she had been named “International Star of the Year 1967” by U.S. cinema owners, her growing screen popularity ranking her eleventh in Box Office magazine’s female “All-American Favorites of 1968.” Dean Martin, incidentally, came ninth on the corresponding male chart, two places above Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman topping the poll.
George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke, 1967) had small parts in Shenandoah and The Sons of Katie Elder before graduating to second male lead in McLaglen’s previous western The Ballad of Josie (1967). McLaglen, you might like to know, was highly regarded by the trade as “more concerned with entertaining the public than making intellectual and emotional demands on the audience.” Just after the movie’s launch the director signed a two-picture deal with Fox, The Undefeated (1969) next on his dance card.
One of the few studios to persist with a talent school – Welch claimed as the most recent high-flying graduate – Fox gave current student Clint Ritchie a role in Bandolero!, others in the Class of 1968 including Jacqueline Bisset (The Sweet Ride, 1968) and Linda Harrison (Planet of the Apes, 1968). Relative newcomer Andrew Prine had acted with Martin in Texas Across the River (1966) and enjoyed a supporting role in McLaglen war picture The Devil’s Brigade (1968).
As well as genre newcomers Welch and Ritchie, the cast included western character actors like Will Geer (Winchester ’73), Don “Red” Barry (The Adventures of Red Ryder, 1940) and Harry Carey Jr. who had appeared in three previous McLaglen westerns. Even current “Tarzan,” Jock Mahoney, who played Maria’s husband, had a string of B-westerns in his portfolio. Possibly as important was the presence of James Stewart’s horse Pie, his onscreen companion for two decades.
Shooting began in Paige, Arizona, on October 2, 1967, before shifting two weeks later to Brackettville and the Shaban ranch where The Alamo (1960) was filmed. Parts of the San Antonio de Bexar set were revamped as the Texan town of Val Verde where the hanging in the film took place, while The Alamo doubled as the Mexican village of Sabinas which provided the action for the climax. Seven buildings were added to the San Antonio set including the jail, while a curio shop was transformed into a bank, a gift shop became a hotel and, conversely, an old hotel was turned into a general store. Thirty-five thousand traditionally-cast adobe bricks were made on site to create the dozen buildings required for Sabinas plus the locale’s arch, fountain, wells and wall.
Other locations included Arizona, Utah and Texas with interiors filmed at the Fox studios. The shootout between the posse and the outlaws was filmed near Turkey Mountain in Texas. The Rio Grande was forded at Devil’s River but Mace crossed the river at Pinto Creek. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area was utilized for the bandit attack and, naturally enough, for sequences requiring canyons. Other scenes were shot at Lee’s Ferry in Arizona, Balanced Rocks, and Big Water in Utah. But the first time we view Sabinas is an effects shot.
You do wonder why this film entered the studio books as costing $5 million. None of the principals were in the million-dollar salary range and the cost of 40 days shooting at the Shaban ranch was put at $25,000 a day.
The principals eventually enjoyed on-set camaraderie. Initially, Welch was too serious for the others, bombarding the director and more experienced actors with questions about her character’s motivation and psychology. “I wouldn’t say creativity was the primary concern on that picture,” commented the actress. “Barrett was there mainly because everybody said nobody could write dialog for Jimmy like he could. As far as other things in the script were concerned, they weren’t really supposed to be questioned.
“And with McLaglen it was all by the book. McLaglen created a very constrained atmosphere. It was an inoffensive nine-to-five project with a lot of very senior people, the old John Ford gang. Very cliquish. Except for Jimmy who’d always kind of throw out little things. I felt pretty lonely the whole shoot.”
To “loosen her up,” the two stars invited her out to dinner and “got her good and drunk.” Remembers McLaglen, “Dean and Jimmy and I would take Raquel Welch to dinner and we’d kid around with her.” Quite whether that was sufficient to rid Welch of her feelings of alienation was never established. However, she did register that she was surrounded by talent. Stewart “could cry on cue. No mess, no fuss. Just like that you could see tears in his eyes.
McLaglen equally enjoyed an esprit de corps with the male stars. “When I think of my time with Dean, there’s nothing but joy in my heart…without doubt the most conscientious actor I have ever worked with,” adding, “I think Jimmy had more fun on that location than he ever had.”
Texas was chosen for the June 1968 launch on the grounds that Shenandoah had done so well there. Instead of a city-by-city premiere lasting a week with many stars in attendance, the studio opted for a “new kind of premiere,” opening night at the Majestic in Dallas accompanied by a 30-minute live telecast broadcast to 23 Texas television stations. Also available was a 16mm featurette on Welch promising “an intimate look at a new star.” Welch contributed her vital statistics and preferences to a computer program that would help select the winner in a beauty contest to find the woman closest to the star in looks and personality.
Stewart, of the tub-thumping generation, believed stars should hit the publicity trail, public appearances adding 10 per cent to the gross, rather than insisting it was beneath their dignity or not worthy of their time. He claimed publicity tours were “good for the soul. Unless he has a real bitter selfish attitude (an actor) has to enjoy getting out to different parts of the country and meeting people.” Raquel Welch was one of the stars he chided for adopting the wrong attitude with autograph hunters.
Little of the weaponry seen on screen was from the period, the movie being set in 1867. And even the supposed Remington 1858 New Army revolver used by Martin, Kennedy and Welch, was improvised from another pistol. But Stewart used a genuine Single Action Army “artillery” revolver. There was some cheating going on, Martin firing a Winchester 1892 saddle ring carbine, and others using a Winchester model 1892 rifle and a Winchester Model 1873 carbine.
Despite claims by James Stewart biographer Gary Fishgall that the “film opened to near-instant obscurity” Bandolero! proved a solid box office success in the United States, where it was the top western for the year, finishing 18th in the annual chart, collecting $5.5 million in rentals (not gross) and performing very well overseas. It was a signal year for westerns, though some languished. Hang ‘Em High was 20th with $5 million, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly 24th ($4.5 million), Five Card Stud 34th ($3.5 million) and The Scalphunters 43rd ($2.8 million). In the flop category were Will Penny in 54th spot ($1.8 million), Villa Rides 75th ($1.2 million), Firecreek 79th ($1.2 million) and Shalako 85th ($1.1m).
SOURCES: Gary Fishgall, Pieces of Time, The Life of James Stewart, (Scribner, 1997) p314; Marc Elliot, James Stewart, A Biography, (Aurum, 2007, paperback) p365; Howard Hughes, “Welch Out West Part 1,” Cinema Retro, Vol 11, Issue 31, 2015, p10-17; internet movie firemarms database; “Raquel Welch To Get Int’l Star Award,” Box Office, February 19, 1967, p4; “Mace Retitled Bandolero!,” Box Office, August 7, 1967, pE6; “Cast Patton and Bradley,” Variety, September 20, 1967, p13; “Bandolero! Moves to Texas Oct 16,” Box Office, October 16, 1967, pC1; “Filming of Bandolero! Ending at Bracketville,” Box Office, December 4, 1967, pSW1; “Fox On Texas Trail for Kickoffs,” Variety, May 15, 1968, p32; “James Stewart: Stars Should Tout Films in Television Age,” Variety, May 29, 1968, p19; “Now There’s A New Kind of Premiere,” advertisement, Variety, June 12, 1968, p17; “Bandolero! Dallas World Premiere Covered Live By 23 TV Stations,” Box Office, June 24, 1968, pSW1; “Fox’s Talent School,” Variety, June 26, 1968, p13; “20th-Fox Signs McLaglen to Two-Picture Pact,” Box Office, August 26, 1968, pW1; “Big Rental Films of 1968,” Variety, January 8, 1969, p15.