Bite the Bullet (1975)

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By Scott Ross

Richard Brooks’ utterly original, elegiac western was a fast flop on its original release, but its reputation should soar as the years go by. It’s a kind of grand road-movie about a grueling cross-country race and the desperate characters vying for the prize.

Gene Hackman is the gentle, humane horseman and he’s supported by a dream cast including James Coburn, Jan-Michael Vincent, Ian Bannen, Ben Johnson and Candice Bergen. Brooks’ genius as a screenwriter is the way he gives each character his or her essential humanity; you may think you’ve got their numbers early on, but — like many of the people you know in life — all of them display surprising depths. Alex North composed the distinctive, propulsive score, and it’s among his best. And if the finale doesn’t move you, you may be beyond reaching.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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