Wednesday, February 9, 2022

#2,706. Barbarosa (1982) - The Wild West


The Mexicans have a saying: what can’t be remedied must be endured”.

This line is spoken early on by the title character of director Fred Schipisi’s 1982 western Barbarosa. Played wonderfully by Willie Nelson, Barbarosa is already a celebrated character by the time this movie begins, and over the course of ninety minutes we watch his legend grow to near-mythic proportions.

Farm boy Karl (Gary Busey) is on the run after inadvertently killing his brother-in-law. He eventually meets up with Barbarosa (Nelson), who is himself being hunted by his father-in-law Don Braulio (Gilbert Roland).

A skilled gunfighter, Barbarosa takes Karl under his wing, teaching the young man how to survive in the untamed west. But fate has a way of catching up with you, and even a seasoned hero like Barbarosa can’t stay on the lam forever.

Written by William D. Wittliff, Barbarosa tells the fascinating story of a larger-than-life character whose renown grows bigger by the day. Everyone in the territory knows the name Barbarosa, and songs are sung about his exploits. In one of the film’s more humorous scenes, Barbarosa and Karl overhear a new song, in which Karl is referred to as “the boy” accompanying Barbarosa. Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with the younger fugitive.

Don Braulio himself only adds to Barbarosa’s notoriety, telling the younger members of his family how ruthless and bloodthirsty his son-in-law can be. As with most such stories, however, the truth is something else entirely.

Though not necessarily known for his acting, Nelson does a remarkable job as the complex lead character. Barbarosa isn’t above stealing gold from an old couple he finds wandering in the desert, yet hates the fact that those pursuing him are members of his extended family, and he mourns every time he must shoot one of them dead (Don Braulio sends his young relatives to kill Barbarosa, fueling their hatred for the gunfighter by saying he murdered their fathers and uncles).

Gary Busey is also good as the inexperienced farmer who slowly learns how to survive on his own (his clumsiness in the early scenes is almost comical), and the two make for an intriguing duo. As a side note, both Nelson and Busey also served as the film’s executive producers.

Barbarosa was Fred Schipisi’s first American film, and only his third movie overall, having directed The Devil’s Playground and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith in his native Australia. Thanks to its larger-than-life title character, as well as the performances of its two stars, Barbarosa proved to be as strong a U.S. debut as any filmmaker could hope for.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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