Travis (Lee Van Cleef) has seen plenty of life, but now is content to run a barge that crosses a wide river from one nascent town to the other bank, pulling it across with a rope. It's an invaluable service, and he doesn't need to think too much while he does it which suits him fine, he dislikes conversation and doesn't want anyone annoying him with smalltalk. However, though he observes the locals and passengers with a low level of interest, he holds no real affection for them, though he has a friend in Mountain Phil (Forrest Tucker), a loner like he is, only Phil is far more eccentric. What they don't know is that over the brow of the hill in the next village Remy (Warren Oates) is causing murderous trouble with his gang - and he's heading this way.
By 1970, Westerns were beginning to lose their thrall over the public, though it would still take a few years for them to truly fall out of favour, but one factor indicating the home of the genre, the United States, was seeing their appeal dwindling was the popularity of the exports from Europe, and one of the stars who had done so well in those was Lee Van Cleef, an American actor imported across the Atlantic by Sergio Leone in the mid-sixties and never looked back as far as his stardom was concerned. One of the Western's major cult performers, even to this day there are fans who will seek him out as they did back in his heyday, which was what the producers of Barquero (a title that really needed an exclamation mark) were counting on.
Teaming him up with another major cult actor in Warren Oates was another good idea, but that's about where the good ideas ran out, as for a start they didn't unite at all, they were on opposite sides of the law, and barely shared the frame never mind the scenes where their characters yell at one another from opposite banks of that river. Without these two really sharing a conversation, the distance between them sapped the tension out of the movie around the halfway mark, which was a pity since the build up to the main plot development was very promising. It was just that in their attempts to emulate the style of the Italian Westerns, they were too caught up in the fashion for grown-up American Westerns those rivals had ironically ushered in.
Therefore in spite of the presence of Van Cleef, nobody was going to be fooled that what you were watching was anything but a pale imitation of the European method, and adding loads of people getting shot and the occasional attempted rape was not going to enhance the experience any, if anything it was going to drive away the audience for whom this genre had previously been a reliable night out at the pictures for the family. Of course, the more adult stylings had been part of this for years, just look at the Anthony Mann efforts of the fifties, but not everyone had his skills and too often by the seventies filmmakers were rubbing the audience's nose in the dust and grime without much of an idea how those previous classics had ticked, Barquero a prime example.
Therefore by the time Remy and company reach the river with their hoard of treasure, the set-up promised a far more interesting movie than what we got, for just as he reaches an impasse with Travis who has taken the barge and left it at the other shore along with the fleeing townsfolk, the film gets bogged down in trying to sort out some solution. Effectively the action has ground to a halt, leaving a lot of scenes of idle chit chat and such diversions as a hat flashback as Remy wavers and dithers about what this next move should be, well aware the Cavalry are on their way and if he doesn't get across the river soon, not even his bloodthirsty men can stop a platoon of well-armed troops. It wasn't a complete dead loss, as Tucker provided some amusement as the ant eating, philosophising Phil, Kerwin Mathews was a voice of reason and calm on the villains' side, and Marie Gomez was the woman Travis should be sticking with if he wasn't captivated by Mariette Hartley, but by the point of the violent finale, it was too much too late, so to speak. Music by Dominic Frontiere.