Bite the Bullet (1975)

PG | 136 mins | Western | 25 June 1975

Director:

Richard Brooks

Writer:

Richard Brooks

Producer:

Richard Brooks

Cinematographer:

Harry Stradling, Jr.

Production Designer:

Robert Boyle

Production Company:

Pax Enterprises
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HISTORY

       A 12 Sep 1973 DV news brief announced that Columbia Pictures had recently hired Richard Brooks to write and direct the project, with filming set to begin in Feb or Mar 1974. The fall 1975 issue of American Cinemeditor later stated that filming did not start until 4 Apr 1974, with a cast and crew of fifty-four.
       A 9 Apr 1974 HR brief announced the casting of Ian Bannen, and reported that the actor was headed to location in the Valley of Fire State Park, NV. Other locations included the White Sands missile site outside Alamagordo, NM, Taos, NM, and CO, according to the 10 Jun 1974 Box, which cited the production budget as $4 million. A 26 Jun 1974 HR announced that filming had recently completed in NM.
       Cast members did not see the script before shooting, as was customary with Richard Brooks’s films; during production, actors received daily “sides” with their lines for the next day’s shoot. Film editor George Grenville also noted that the film’s finale was entirely unscripted. Another portion of the script was altered when one of the actors, Paul Stewart, suffered a heart attack after the first two weeks of shooting and was hospitalized at Espanola Hospital in NM, as reported by the 30 May 1974 HR ; Stewart did not appear in the film and received no onscreen credit.
       An 11 Apr 1975 HR news item announced that a 495-mile horse race, inspired by Bite the Bullet, was set to take place between Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, between 12 and 25 Apr 1975, to ... More Less

       A 12 Sep 1973 DV news brief announced that Columbia Pictures had recently hired Richard Brooks to write and direct the project, with filming set to begin in Feb or Mar 1974. The fall 1975 issue of American Cinemeditor later stated that filming did not start until 4 Apr 1974, with a cast and crew of fifty-four.
       A 9 Apr 1974 HR brief announced the casting of Ian Bannen, and reported that the actor was headed to location in the Valley of Fire State Park, NV. Other locations included the White Sands missile site outside Alamagordo, NM, Taos, NM, and CO, according to the 10 Jun 1974 Box, which cited the production budget as $4 million. A 26 Jun 1974 HR announced that filming had recently completed in NM.
       Cast members did not see the script before shooting, as was customary with Richard Brooks’s films; during production, actors received daily “sides” with their lines for the next day’s shoot. Film editor George Grenville also noted that the film’s finale was entirely unscripted. Another portion of the script was altered when one of the actors, Paul Stewart, suffered a heart attack after the first two weeks of shooting and was hospitalized at Espanola Hospital in NM, as reported by the 30 May 1974 HR ; Stewart did not appear in the film and received no onscreen credit.
       An 11 Apr 1975 HR news item announced that a 495-mile horse race, inspired by Bite the Bullet, was set to take place between Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, between 12 and 25 Apr 1975, to coincide with the world premiere on 20 Apr 1975 in Melbourne.
       A 4 Jun 1975 LAHExam news item stated that the American Humane Association put Bite the Bullet on a list of pictures for the organization’s members to avoid, suggesting that horses were improperly treated on set. Brooks vehemently denied the allegation, stating that no horse died or was injured during production. The 25 Jun 1975 HR reported that Cleveland Armory, president of The Fund for Animals Inc., came to Brooks’s defense, despite the film’s depiction of a horse falling backward off a cliff and another being “ridden to death” across a desert.
       Critical reception was mixed. In a 4 Jan 1976 NYT brief, Vincent Canby named Bite the Bullet as one of the “10 Worst of ‘75” and stated, “The script wasn’t written. It was compiled as if it were a public opinion poll.” In a mostly positive review in the 24 Jun 1975 LAT, Charles Champlin described the scenery as “absolutely spectacular” and the performances as “strong and confident.”
       Bite the Bullet received Academy Award nominations for Best Music (Original Score) and Best Sound, and won a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum for Best Theatrical Motion Picture.





      End credits include the following statements: “Filmed on location in: The Carson National Forest, Forest Service, U. S. Department of Agriculture; Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Division of State Parks, Valley of Fire State Park; Lake Mead, Nevada, National Recreation Area; and The White Sands National Monument, New Mexico - - courtesy of the Department of the Interior”; and, “With the cooperation of the Albuquerque District Office, Bureau of Land Management, U. S. Department of the Interior; The State of Colorado.”
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinemeditor
Fall 1975
p. 10, 13.
Box Office
10 Jun 1974.
---
Box Office
19 May 1975
p. 4782.
Daily Variety
12 Sep 1973.
---
Daily Variety
28 Apr 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Mar 1974
p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Apr 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 May 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jun 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jun 1974
p. 18.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Apr 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 May 1975
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jun 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
24 Jun 1975
p. 1, 8.
New York Times
27 Jun 1975
p. 22.
Variety
26 Sep 1973.
---
Variety
30 Apr 1975
p. 19.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A P/B Vista Presentation
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Chief elec
Cam op
Key grip
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
COSTUMES
Ward
MUSIC
Mus ed
Orch
SOUND
Sd re-rec
Sd re-rec
Sd re-rec
Sd ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Opt eff
Spec eff
MAKEUP
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Prod services by
Scr supv
Pub relations
Research material
Research material
DETAILS
Release Date:
25 June 1975
Premiere Information:
World premiere: 20 April 1975 in Melbourne, Australia
Los Angeles opening: 25 June 1975
New York opening: 26 June 1975
Production Date:
4 April--late June 1974
Copyright Claimant:
Vista Company
Copyright Date:
26 June 1975
Copyright Number:
LP44544
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Filmed in Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
136
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24046
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Sam Clayton leads two horses through the desert on his way to a 700-mile endurance horse race sponsored by the Western Press newspaper. When Sam comes upon a dying horse that has been abandoned, he takes its exhausted foal under his care. Elsewhere, a pretty woman named Miss Jones boards a train with other contestants, including Carbo, a young man who boasts that he will win the $2,000 prize, and gamblers who discuss the potential of rider Luke Matthews and his Arabian horse. Sam stops by a farm and gives the orphaned foal to a young boy, urging the child to treat the animal well. Later, a chaotic scene awaits contestants as they arrive at the starting point for the race. A Western Press reporter announces the rules: each horse must carry no less than 160 pounds, including the rider; and for every leg of the race, a compass and map with the safest route will be issued, although any route may be taken as long as the riders reach every checkpoint. With the race set to begin at six A.M. the next morning, contestants settle into a boarding house for the night. Outside, Carbo tries to prove himself by target shooting and punching a donkey to the ground. Witnessing the animal abuse, Sam attacks Carbo. Luke Matthews, Sam’s old friend, joins him in the brawl, and the men take turns knocking Carbo to the ground. Afterward, Jack Parker; ... +


Sam Clayton leads two horses through the desert on his way to a 700-mile endurance horse race sponsored by the Western Press newspaper. When Sam comes upon a dying horse that has been abandoned, he takes its exhausted foal under his care. Elsewhere, a pretty woman named Miss Jones boards a train with other contestants, including Carbo, a young man who boasts that he will win the $2,000 prize, and gamblers who discuss the potential of rider Luke Matthews and his Arabian horse. Sam stops by a farm and gives the orphaned foal to a young boy, urging the child to treat the animal well. Later, a chaotic scene awaits contestants as they arrive at the starting point for the race. A Western Press reporter announces the rules: each horse must carry no less than 160 pounds, including the rider; and for every leg of the race, a compass and map with the safest route will be issued, although any route may be taken as long as the riders reach every checkpoint. With the race set to begin at six A.M. the next morning, contestants settle into a boarding house for the night. Outside, Carbo tries to prove himself by target shooting and punching a donkey to the ground. Witnessing the animal abuse, Sam attacks Carbo. Luke Matthews, Sam’s old friend, joins him in the brawl, and the men take turns knocking Carbo to the ground. Afterward, Jack Parker; the son of Sam’s employer, J. B. Parker; admonishes Sam for delivering J. B.’s horse to the race on foot, arguing that the animal should have traveled there by train like the others. When Jack fires Sam, Luke takes pity on him and offers him spending money so he can enjoy himself that night. At a saloon, Sam meets a Mexican rider who is suffering from a toothache and helps him procure heroin for the pain. Miss Jones speaks to her former boss, a madam named Rosie, who encourages the young woman to prostitute herself instead of participate in the grueling race. However, Miss Jones is determined to win the race to help her boyfriend, who is in prison for robbing banks. Enjoying baths side by side, Luke reveals to Sam that he must win the race because he bet $2,000 on himself. In the morning, riders mount their horses and the race begins. After a full day of riding, they spend the night at another boarding house. With no dentists in sight, the Mexican continues to suffer from his toothache. Miss Jones agrees to remove the tooth with a knife and replaces it with a bullet prepared by Sam. Although J. B. Parker asks Sam to come back to work, offering a bonus and a raise, Sam says he will finish the race before considering the offer. On the next day’s ride, Miss Jones is attacked by two bandits. Overhearing the commotion, Sam rushes to save her. He shoots one of the bandits from afar, allowing Miss Jones to steal a gun and shoot the other. As several contestants and their horses ride a barge across a river, Carbo gets mad at Miss Jones’s horse and calls Jones a whore. Coming to her defense, Sam strangles Carbo until Miss Jones orders Sam to stop. That night, Sam tends to another ailing rider, an old man he calls “Mister,” who is suffering from a heart attack. Mister confesses he has no family and only participated in the race because he is proud. When the man dies, Sam laments that he never learned the deceased's real name. The next day, the race enters barren desert territory, and the riders are warned that they must pass through a blazing hot expanse with only one watering station. Upon reaching the station, Sam finds Miss Jones drenching herself in water. She admits to working as a prostitute in the past and asks about Sam’s wife. Remarking that some people do not marry wisely, Sam recounts the story of his wife Paula, a Cuban insurrectionist who died in the Spanish-American War. After Carbo whips his horse violently in an attempt to make it across the desert, the animal collapses and dies. Having spotted the horse’s abandoned corpse, Sam orders Carbo to bury it, and on Sam’s command, the Western Press reporter agrees to oversee the burial. That night, Luke asks Sam to throw the race and offers to split his winnings. However, Sam refuses, saying he wants to win. Carbo apologizes to Miss Jones for the names he called her, and admits he is not a true cowboy and has never been in a gunfight. Sam accidentally drinks a powerful sleeping aid that one of Rosie’s prostitutes got from Mexico and becomes violently ill. Rosie blames Jack Parker, believing that he sabotaged Sam, but Luke insists that Sam drank it of his own accord. The next day, the Mexican prays before the final leg of the race while Sam, still in pain, barely manages to mount his horse. The riders’ path is set to pass a chain gang, and Miss Jones is the first to reach the railroad site where the prisoners are at work. When a guard checks her identification and grants her permission to pass, she steals his keys at gunpoint. Miss Jones’s boyfriend Steve, a convict on the chain gang, grabs the keys, frees himself, then frees two other inmates. Peeved, Jones reminds Steve that they planned to escape as a couple, but Steve argues that he needs his friends’ help. Steve stops two more riders, including the Mexican, as they arrive at the railroad tracks. Steve and his cohorts steal the men’s horses, while Jones tends to the Mexican, shot by Steve. The group also stops Luke and Sam, steals their horses, and rushes off with Jones in tow. Determined to retrieve their horses and finish the race, Sam and Luke borrow the reporter’s motorcycle, with Carbo following on horseback. In a wooded area, Luke shoots one of the convicts. Meanwhile, Steve shoots Carbo in the arm, kills the horse he was riding, and disappears. Sam and Luke track Steve’s group through the woods. Using the butt of his rifle, Sam knocks Steve’s remaining ally to the ground. Luke and Sam hear Jones calling for help and manage to shoot Steve as he rides into the distance. Referencing Sam’s earlier comment about marrying unwisely, Miss Jones apologizes for Steve and rides off. Luke and Sam split up as they get back into the race. Nearing the finish line, Sam discards clothing and heavy items to alleviate the horse’s load. After dropping to the ground to remove the saddle, Sam fights to get back on but is too tired to ride and must walk his horse the rest of the way. As Luke is about to overtake Sam, he also dismounts and walks his horse. Exchanging smiles, the friends cross the finish line at the same time. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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