While Klaus Kinski is not the star of Zapata-themed spaghetti western A Bullet for the General, screening as part of Anthology Film Archives’ Kinski retrospective, his performance as religious zealot El Santo stands out in his prolific filmography.
Unlike the sadistic killers Kinski played in Westerns like For a Few Dollars More and The Great Silence, Kinski’s character personifies the Zapata subgenre’s typical mistrust of revolutionary idealism. But unfortunately, as this is a cynical conversion narrative, Santo, a devout believer in class warfare (he rants about serving God by killing the rich), doesn’t receive the most screen time. Instead, the focus is on baby-faced American assassin Bill Tate (Lou Castel), who joins up with the outlaws and gets bandit king El Chuncho (Gian Maria Volonté) to unwittingly lead him to rebel leader General Elias (Jaime Fernandez).
Testing dumb-but-loyal Chuncho’s faith in his fellow man, Tate reminds Chuncho that capitalism is essentially amoral whenever he insists that money is all you need. In fact, Tate’s so gold-obsessed that he rejects all other vices: “Doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t want women,” says a bewildered Chuncho. Director Damiano Damiani (Amityville II: The Possession) and screenwriter Franco Solinas (co-writer of The Battle of Algiers) revel in Chuncho’s confusion, and make him the butt of their film’s best jokes, like when Chuncho defensively asks a young peer if he can really read and write.
But really, the best reason to see the movie is for Kinski, who delivers the film’s most arresting performance. Coasting on manic charm, Kinski steals every scene he’s in, especially the one in which he lobs several grenades while reciting the Lord’s Prayer. An inspired performer, Kinski made even the smallest role feel massive.