Barquero Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)
A group of Mexican mercenaries, led by a brutal man named Remy (Warren Oates), head for the town of Lonely Dell in order to cross the Paria River. Leaving a trail of death and destruction along the way, they arrive there, not expecting any resistance from the town's citizens. After decimating the local town, the gang of bandits demand that bargeman Travis (Lee Van Cleef) transport the crooks and their booty across the river. But they get more than they bargained for when Travis turns the table on the vicious gang. (From Kino’s official synopsis)
By the early 1970s, the Italian western movement, known abroad as spaghetti westerns, had thoroughly caught on in North American. Their popularity, along with a revisionist’s spirit pulsing throughout New Hollywood in the late ‘60s, helped prompt a brief resurgence of American-made westerns. The spaghetti subgenre endured, but did not last very long and many of its American counterparts have been forgotten, especially those not made by cultural touchstones, like Sam Peckinpah or Clint Eastwood. Gordon Douglas’ Barquero (1970) has the benchmarks of a post-spaghetti revisionist western, by including appearances from Lee Van Cleef, who had become a superstar in Italy, and long-time Peckinpah collaborator Warren Oates. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot for a post-modern western fan to sink his/her teeth into here; merely well-shot impressions of more impulsive and dynamic motion pictures. George Schenck and William Marks’ screenplay doesn’t bother to play with conventions as much as fill them out with the same bleak, bloody revisions that Ralph Nelson, Don Siegel, and Michael Winner began to develop in the wake of Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969). There are plenty quirky support characters and, even at his most sedate (thankfully, he breaks out more during the final act), Oates oozes sleazy charm, but there aren’t any real stand-out performances and Van Cleef spends too much of the movie off-screen.
Douglas was no spring chicken by the time he made Barquero and might have even been a filmmaker Leone looked up to as a ravenous western fan. After working in overlooked B-movies throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s, Gordon made the killer ant classic, Them (1954), and, in the run-up to Barquero, he alternated between westerns, dramas, and Frank Sinatra movies. He also made the superior and stylish spy comedy, In Like Flint (1967). Barquero is too slick to evoke the more vital genre films of the era (it kind of looks like a ‘60s, live-action Disney production, despite the violence), but the opening shootout is definitely worth noting. Douglas cleverly frames much of the action around Oates as he is introduced as the main villain. There are plenty of cuts between locations during the fight, but, as the handheld camera follows Oates throughout the main set while peering out windows and marching through doors, it feels as though it could’ve been achieved via a single extended take. If only more scenes were as inventively shot, it would be easier to overlook the slow-moving plot that doesn’t really go anywhere until the final 15 minutes.
Barquero was released on DVD in European countries, but never made a digital home video appearance in the United states. This 1.85:1, 1080p BD25 is the first and only HD version available. The image quality is hit-and-miss throughout. Most problems arise from the general age of the material, but the more bothersome issues pertain to definite digital fiddling. It is apparent in the minor-to-moderate DNR artifacts. Usually, these appear in the form of slightly flat textures, but there are also some waxy qualities to the sweaty faces. Daylight sequences are generally in better shape, while darker sequences tend to suffer from significant uptakes in grain. More troubling is the digital noise that smears over nighttime shots or similar scenes with prevalent black levels. This usually white CRT noise is pretty distracting. Colors are punchy, despite the soft backgrounds and purposefully muddy palette. The opening credits are supposed to look like they’re shot through a burlap mesh, but I don’t know if the blue blobs that appear during Oates’ red-baked flashback are supposed to be there.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack has similarly small issues. The key problem is that there’s a lot of silence in the mix and the sound-floor features an occasional low-end buzz that pokes its head out anytime people aren’t talking or shooting at each other. When there is production noise, it all sounds good – dialogue is clear, effects are balanced, and gunshots are loud. Dominic Frontiere’s soundtrack is sort of trapped between ‘40s/’50s Hollywood western standards and Ennio Morricone’s genre-bending work with Leone, but it’s still pretty interesting, especially the pieces involving Spanish percussion. The music sounds very nice on the track and features no notable high-end distortion effects.
The only extra is a trailer.