Written and Directed by Richard Brooks, this is an interesting Western regarding a 700-mile horse race and the storyline and plot is quite exceptional. "Bite The Bullet" brings together a bunch of characters committed to winning big prize money in an endurance race across a vast amount of dangerous and changing terrain. The opening section of the film runs fairly slow, but none the less gives ample time to introduce the characters on a one to one basis, with a little insight into the motivations of each contestant. A number of characters step forward and they consist of an English gentleman known as Sir Harry Norfolk (Ian Bannen) a genuine horse and animal lover, Sam Clayton (Gene Hackman), a dishevelled old man in search of a final moment of glory known as Mister (Ben Johnson), a former Wells Fargo rider Luke Mathews (James Colburn), a poor Mexican farmer (Mario Arteaga) attempting to raise money for his bankrupt farm, carrying with him a serious dental predicament during the race. The youngest member of the contestant riders is an arrogant, egotistical hot head called Carbo (Jan-Michael Vincent) with no consideration of well being to man or animal.
So that this film isn't labelled a male chauvinist story, we bring into the reckoning feisty female contestant Miss Jones (Candice Bergen) who has a deep personal reason for joining the race, and produces the best performance of her entire career. In my opinion the star role and performance comes from Gene Hackman who is shown from the start of the film as a defender of cruelty against animals tolerating zero mistreatment by any culprit or villain. Early on in the film we witness the education by Sam Clayton on Carbo's character, as he mistreats a mule whilst showing off to his friends is an excellent case in point.
Throughout the race, the filming takes us through forests, deserts and mountain terrain each mile bringing us closer to the gruelling finishing line. All the riders become involved in small incidents and tragedies on the journey and the camera flips from one to another, keeping the pace and action going and recalling each characters dilemma. This proves meaningful later as the fate of each rider gains significant influence with the audience, as the story never reveals the race winner until the closing scenes. Throughout the whole picture there is an element running which makes you concerned about animals and the way some riders consider their four legged acquaintances.
The distinctive values of this film cover many aspects of greed, rivalry, loyalty, betrayal and humanity and all are given a good in depth expression. There are plenty of action, humour and suspense scenes here for all filmgoers, and enough philosophical thoughts for the deep spirited. "Bite the Bullet" comes off as a truly sensitive and responsible western compared to many other films of the same genre.