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; 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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