Sunday, September 4, 2016


It's pretty damned hard to live up to such a legend.  Like you stopped being human along the way, after you robbed the forty fifth gaucho who appeared to be penniless but was actually quite loaded.  You learn things like that as you wander in the Mexican desert.  Barbarosa is indeed a red-bearded outlaw played by the red headed stranger himself, Willie Nelson.  There's quite a story behind him.  Songs are sung by villagers outside pueblos.  Barbarosa is sometimes within earshot, sometimes impressed with the yarns being spun about him.

One day a fumbling farm boy named Karl (Gary Busey) happens upon Barbarosa minutes before the latter puts a bullet in a pursuer. A fitting introduction to a legend.  Karl had to flee his home in Texas after accidentally killing his brother-in-law.  Vengeful family members are on his trail.  As 1982's BARBAROSA unfolds, we'll learn that the titular character also has relatives on his trail, out for blood.   Don Braulio Zavala (Gilbert Roland) tells his nieces, nephews, and grandchildren wild, perhaps exaggerated stories of his wayward son-in-law, a man he never approved to marry his daughter.  A man who killed his son and shot off Don Braulio's leg in a drunken wedding reception scuffle many years ago.  The man with the red beard.

Barbarosa makes secret trips to the Zavala hacienda to see his wife and drop off his loot.   Perhaps he pushed his luck one too many times.  Eduardo is the latest family member dispatched to bring back Barbarosa, perhaps with "his cojones on a stick".  Will he be successful? Is it an accident that Karl, who finds in Barbarosa an eventual father figure and mentor, grows out his beard as the film plays on?  How are legends born?

William D. Whitliff's amusing script travels the spaghetti Western route with style and flavor.  Director Fred Schepisi uses many of the shots we'd see in Leone films, especially the close-ups.  Everyone has a great face in this picture. Look like they belong in pre-Civil War Mexico and Texas. The remote shooting locations are not faked.  There is much snappy, quotable dialogue. BARBAROSA is a far more thoughtful Western than many of the types of films it emulates.  Whitliff's parallel familial plotlines are beautifully woven.  In the end, though, it's all about preserving the mythology, even if a good deal of it is true.  It might even keep a family together.

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