Bite the Bullet (1975)

Bite the Bullet (1975), written, produced and directed by Richard Brooks.

An endurance cross country horse race of 1906, said to be inspired by a true event, but I don't know to what extent. Exceptionally real-looking with some amazing horsemanship.

It's a classic setup, with the introduction and assembly of a diverse set of contestants. We have the tough guys who know each other from previous adventures, the army buddies, and the old guys holding their own against the young snots. It has echoes of Brooks's earlier The Professionals (1966), with the kind-to-horses Gene Hackman an evolution of Robert Ryan's character from the earlier film.

A new addition is an ex-hooker as one of the tough guys; she's on a mysterious mission of her own. This is the exceedingly lovely Candice Bergen. Is it the perfectly symmetrical face? Her jeans seem tighter than would be historically accurate, although it could have happened.

For a surprise twist in the last section they hold the realism and go off on a wild and somewhat humorous adventure. Then back to the grueling race to see who will stagger across the finish line.

Kindness and cruelty to horses is a strong theme throughout. In a movie where humaneness is the story, I hope the animals were treated well during filming. There is a stunt long fall off a cliff and into water that I've never seen before or since.

I'm always happy to see James Coburn, Ben Johnson and Ian Bannen. All the characters have a few moments that tend toward speechifying.

I'm not following certain plot points:

I tend to think of the 70s as a bleak time for westerns. You had Clint Eastwood and who else? But this is an outstanding exception; it would be a fine selection for any decade. I'm a bit surprised by the PG rating, but there was no PG-13 then.

Available in a limited-edition Blu-ray from Twilight Time, mastered by Sony. As with their Mysterious Island (1961), this seems taken from a good quality source and I see no sharpening or degraining; it looks very much like film (which I saw in the theater at the time but it's been too long for me to make a detailed comparison). The average quality is better than the earlier film, with the sunlit scenes showing very fine detail.