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Bite the Bullet

film poster by Brian Bysouth
Directed by Richard Brooks
Produced by Richard Brooks
Written by Richard Brooks
Starring Gene Hackman
James Coburn
Candice Bergen
Music by Alex North
Cinematography Harry Stradling Jr.
Editing by George Grenville
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) 1975
Running time 131 min.

Bite the Bullet is a 1975 American Western film written and directed by Richard Brooks and starring Gene Hackman, James Coburn, Candice Bergen, Ben Johnson, Ian Bannen, Jan-Michael Vincent and Dabney Coleman.



Based on actual events of the early twentieth century, the story concerns a grueling 700-mile cross-country horse race in 1906 and the way it affects the lives of its various participants.

The colorful contestants include two former Rough Riders (Hackman and Coburn) who can't let friendship come between them if they intend to win, a lady of little virtue (Bergen) with an ulterior motive, a punk kid (Vincent), an old cowhand in poor health (Johnson), an English gentleman (Bannen) who's competing just for the sheer sport of it all, and a Mexican with a toothache (Mario Artaega) who literally needs to bite the bullet. All must race against a thoroughbred of championship pedigree owned by a wealthy man (Coleman) who has no intention of seeing his entry lose.

The film touches on the themes of sportsmanship, animal cruelty, the yellow press, racism, the end of the West and the bonds of marriage and friendship. As the race progresses, the conditions test not only the endurance of horses and riders but also their philosophies of life and the meaning of victory and defeat.

Production Notes

Charles Bronson turned down the lead role of Sam Clayton before Gene Hackman was eventually cast. The movie was filmed on location in New Mexico and Nevada, and begins in a church in the small town of La Puente, New Mexico. There are numerous scenes of steam locomotives at work, shot along the Cumbres and Toltec (formerly Rio Grande) narrow gauge railway between Chama, New Mexico and Antonito, Colorado.


Bite the Bullet was nominated for two Academy Awards including Best Sound Mixing (Arthur Piantadosi, Les Fresholtz, Richard Tyler, Al Overton Jr.) and Best Music, Original Score (Alex North).


  • Mister: "God, what ain't I tried. Pony express rider, Overland Stage driver, lawman, gambler, riverman, rancher, rodeo hand, barman, spittoon man... old man. Never much to remember. Of course, there ain't much to forget, either. Nobody's got much use for an old man. I can't blame 'em much. That's why I'm going to win this here newspaper race. When I cross the finish line, I get to be a big man. Top man. A man to remember."
  • Mister: "I've never saw a man who could hold his liquor like a bottle."
  • Clayton: "The people some people marry."
  • Miss Jones: "Killing a man don't prove you're a man".

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