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Barquero

USA 1970
produced by
Hal Klein, Aubrey Schenck (executive) for Aubrey Schenck Productions/United Artists
directed by Gordon Douglas
starring Lee Van Cleef, Warren Oates, Forrest Tucker, Kerwin Mathews, Mariette Hartley, Marie Gomez, Armando Silvestre, John Davis Chandler, Craig Littler, Ed Bakey, Richard Lapp, Harry Lauter, Brad Weston, Thad Williams, Armand Alzamora, Frank Babich, Terry Leonard, Bennie E. Dobbins, Rita Conde
written by George Schenck, William Marks, music by Dominic Frontiere

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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The Old West: Once upon a time, Travis (Lee Van Cleef) built a barge to cross a river, just because the river was in his way and he didn't feel like doing a detour. Soon enough, the barge became decent business because settlers travelling West needed to cross the river quite frequently, and the barge was the only means to do so. And eventually, on one side of the river, a little village sprung up even - not very much to Travis's liking as he despised civilisation, but he loved his barge too much to ever leave.

Now, Remy (Warren Oates) and his gang of cutthroats robbed a shipment of silver from the army, even if they had to massacre a whole village just to get away with the loot. Their plan was to cross the river on Travis's barge and escape to Mexico. Unfortunately, their scout Fair (John Davis Chandler), who was to take Travis captive to make sure the barge'd be there gets a little careless and is overcome by Travis's friend Phil (Forrest Tucker), who tortures the truth out of him. Seeing Remy and company have to pass through the settlement on the bank of the river, Travis and Phil evacuate the whole village to the other side of the river, so when the outlaws arrive, Remy finds himself in a deserted village with no barge - and the bargeman on the other side of the river is less than willing to give into whatever demands he has. Seems like a lost fight, and even Remy's right hand man Marquette (Kerwin Mathews) suggests a detour, but Remy's nothing if not stubborn, so he insists of sticking to his original plan. After all, he has been right about everything so far, why not now? Remy's men soon start to get restless, but it's the same with the settlers on the other side of the river, who just can't get it into their minds why Travis won't give up his barge just so they can all return to their village - of course not taking into account that it's more then likely for Remy to massacre all of them in the process.

Eventually, the outlaws capture a hostage, Roland (Frank Babich), who has been out hunting when the village was evacuated, and want to trade him for the barge. Roland's wife Anna (Mariette Hartley) promises Travis sex if he gives in to the outlaws' demands, but he still refuses - but at night swims over to the other side of the river with Phil to create chaos in the occupied settlement and save Roland in the process. Then he returns to Anna to collect.

Remy more and more loses it, as losing to a common barge man is something that registers with him badly after usually riding from victory to victory, but Marquette has an idea that will turn the battle: Build two rafts to make it to the other side and capture the barge that way. But Travis and the settlers come prepared ...

 

Barquero is pretty much a hidden gem within the western genre: Never particularly popular, and certainly more in the tradition of then-popular spaghetti westerns than traditional American ones - what with the moral ambiguity of its "hero" and its overtly violent outbursts -, this film nevertheless offers a highly original story (especially given genre limitations) with plenty of action in all the right places, but also works beautifully as a character study of its two leads Travis and Remy. And veteran director Gordon Douglas shows a sure hand with all of it, the quiet scenes as well as the spectacle, and he gets the most out of the rather limited locations. And add to that a pretty awesome cast, and you've got yourself something that deserves to be a classic.

 

 

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review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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