Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Barquero (1970)

Although its plotting is not particularly credible, the violent Western Barquero features intense performances by leading men Lee Van Cleef and Warren Oates, plus a hoot of a supporting turn by veteran character player Forrest Tucker. Combined with a few weird narrative flourishes and a dollop of sexual tension, which stems from a fraught relationship between Van Cleef’s antihero and a formidable homesteader played by Mariette Hartley, these elements give Barquero enough zing to make the whole thing quite watchable. The contrived story begins when psychotic outlaw Jake Remy (Oates) and his gang slaughter everyone in a small town during a brazen robbery. They head toward the Mexican border to make good their escape, but standing in their way is a wide river, and the only means of crossing is a barge owned by a bull-headed former soldier named Travis (Van Cleef). Prior to the arrival of Remy’s gang, Travis shuttled townsfolk from a riverbank settlement onto his side of the water, so Travis finds himself in the dangerous position of protecting both his boat and his neighbors from the marauding horde. Most of the picture comprises scenes of Jake and Travis shouting at each other across the river, threatening to kill each other’s hostages, and trying to outsmart each other. There are also vignettes on Jake’s side of the river, including flashbacks to his past humiliations at the hands of the oppressors who turned him bitter and evil, plus lots of melodrama on Travis’ side of the river. For instance, Travis has the hots for Hartley’s character, so when her husband gets captured by Jake, Travis agrees to rescue the man in exchange for sex. The best scenes involve Mountain Phil (Tucker), a wild man of Travis’ acquaintance; it’s great fun to watch the genial way he complains about having to help people. Predictably, the whole movie climaxes in a violent showdown, which is more or less satisfying. However, Travis never emerges as a noble hero, because in his moralistic way, he’s as much of a savage as Jake.

Barquero: FUNKY

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