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  Bullet for the President, A Not The One You're Thinking Of
Year: 1969
Director: Tonino Valerii
Stars: Giuliano Gemma, Warren Vanders, Van Johnson, Maria Cuadra, Ray Saunders, Fernando Rey, Antonio Casas, Benito Stefanelli, Maria Luisa Sala, Angel Alvarez, Massimo Carocci, Norma Jordan, Angel del Pozo, Julio Pena, Franco Meroni, Luis Rico
Genre: Western, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Texas in the nineteenth century, and there is an insurgency threatened when a faction unhappy at the increasing liberalisation of the United States are beginning to draw plans to force the balance of power more in their favour. President Garfield (Van Johnson) is due to visit, despite having been warned against such a trip, but he wants to make it clear he wishes to include every state in his drive for an improved nation. Meanwhile, in Dallas, where he is supposed to be appearing, the local sheriff, Jefferson (Benito Stefanelli) is interrogating a suspect, Jack Donavan (Ray Saunders) about a potential assassination scenario - with his fists.

Out of all the sensational aspects of the decade of the nineteen-sixties, the assassinations must be near the top of the tree as regards the events with the biggest resonance, and the murder of American President John F. Kennedy would be likely the biggest of them all. Almost immediately, conspiracy theories erupted about the crime, which not only were never wholly resolved, but fed into a counterculture about parapolitics that, by the twenty-first century, had gone mainstream and the average man or woman in the street was now prone to believing all sorts of outlandish things about the way the world was working, from politics to the media and beyond.

Stepping back to the instigation of this way of thinking, you would find pop culture ephemera that was considered to be mere eccentricity, or at the very most bad taste, back then, but with the passing of the years looks to be very forward thinking, for better or worse. President Garfield was the one everyone forgets was assassinated, in 1881, though it was as much poor medical treatment that did him in as it was the bullet his attacker shot at him; this gunman was not, as per JFK, at the heart of a sinister cabal, he really was a lone gunman and completely insane into the tragic bargain. This film took a rather different view of the event, with the assassin written out of the story.

Here it was a far right scheme that is Garfield's undoing, and bizarrely, director Tonino Valerii (best known for comedy Western My Name is Nobody, but here utterly serious) staged not only the murder but many of the details around it to resemble the Kennedy killing and the most celebrated details of the conspiracy theories as well. If you're not sure what the crossover between the politically paranoid and the fans of Spaghetti Westerns was, then the relative obscurity of this little item may be an indication, but latterly it began to pick up some traction as an undiscovered gem, and started appearing in lists of fan favourites as something their peers needed to see as something pretty special. That said, the novelty value was a major part of that appeal, though not its entirety.

The hero was Bill Willer, played by professional handsome man Giuliano Gemma as the sort of protagonist who would be more popular in the impending decade of the seventies where the conspiracy thriller truly took off in the popular consciousness. He teams up with Donavan, who was notable for being an African American actor since the film posits him as its fall guy: this is the only JFK movie where Lee Harvey Oswald was a black guy. The beats of the real life story ranged from Mrs Garfield (Maria Cuadra) being a Jackie Kennedy lookalike (in a pink dress) to the location of the killing being a Western mock-up of Dealey Plaza, and there were bits and pieces of maybes and what-ifs that would tickle even casual students of the 1963 death that changed the world. If anything, it grew bogged down in its attention to these kind of specifics, though there were well-staged shootouts and action sequences to offset its murky plotting and inevitably downbeat results for an undeniably intriguing slice of Western weirdness. Music by Luis Bacalov.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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