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GENE HACKMAN RIDES IN 'BITE THE BULLET' WITH JAMES COBURN

James Coburn in BITE THE BULLET Year: 1975
A homesteader's chopping wood when James Coburn rides up and, after asking several questions without a response, tells the man he doesn't know nothin', for which Wood Chopper replies: "I ain't the one who's lost." And snappy dialogue is the best thing going, especially with Coburn's scene-stealing character, at one point saying to young and obnoxious Jan-Michael Vincent, more antagonistic than he'd ever been before or after: "I want you to tell me the story of your life: Just skip everything up till the last fifteen minutes."

BITE THE BULLET is a Western action/adventure about a horse race more character-driven than horse-driven, and that's good and bad since the characters are played by wonderful actors who share a few wonderful moments, but some are borderline cliché: Like pacifist Gene Hackman as an ex Rough Rider who may have been the founder of PETA while Candace Bergen is a modern feminist in chaps, and would have been more realistic if played by tougher-looking "hooker" Sally Kirkland, who'd sell her body the same year in another Western, BREAKHEART PASS: both featuring a pivotal train and veteran actor Ben Johnson, here an old-timer with a predictable death scene...

James Coburn and Jan-Michael Vincent Bite the Bullet SCORE: ***
But it's hard to completely care about who will live, die, or win since everyone involved seems so against the race they're running. And what's meant as a significantly reposeful scene where Hackman tells Bergen his own history-slant involving Teddy Roosevelt's famous army, isn't as moving as intended, which isn't Hackman's fault. He speaks with conviction but it doesn't seem to matter: the race feels intruded upon...

As for that long-distance, two-thousand dollar scramble, it's impossible to tell who's got the edge since everyone basically hangs out together in-between. Meanwhile, there are good guys and bad guys, each making themselves obvious from the get-go like in classic Westerns, and writer/director Richard Brooks has created a glorious, deliberately nostalgic Cowboy Picture: the usual brown plateaus flow smoothly and splendidly into vast white deserts, and vice versa. But while an idealistic Anti-Western is one thing, and very common in the Renaissance 1970's, an Anti-Race-Adventure is something else entirely.
Gene Hackman in BITE THE BULLET
Jan-Michael Vincent slowly shapes up in BITE THE BULLET
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