I expected to like this movie more than I did. The main characters are compelling. Dollars Trilogy bad guy Volonte is brilliantly cast here as a morally ambiguous figure who wavers between gangster individualism / opportunism and commitment to a cause. Castel combines the silence of a man-with-no-name type character with the clean cut looks of a Neil Patrick Harris who never turned to drugs. And of course Kinski is brilliant as a principled killer priest. Most of the plot is kind of winding. Maybe it's supposed to have long patches with confused, muted motivations, and this is a commentary on what real revolutions are like? There's not a lot of drama around the titular bullet and general. The epilogue of the movie is interesting, though, reflecting on Bill Tate's Yanqui individualism, and this in a sense made me rethink the whole movie as being a deconstruction of the black hat / white hat / gray hat dualisms of even "morally complex" Spaghetti westerns. Classic "man with no name" figures in Spaghetti westerns have a moral complexity because they don't follow "good guy" moral codes; they are often bandits or outlaws, yet they achieve a kind of moral justification through their decent treatment of individuals they run into, especially the weak, downtrodden, and excluded. A Bullet for the General flips this script. Is Bill Tate a condemnable mercenary or a man-with-no-name type who will achieve a kind of justification through individual decency? With cunning and a surprising amount of risk, he stops a woman from being raped; she is the wife of a local governor, and neither of them are especially sympathetic, but Tate's willingness to intervene to stop a heinous act recommends him for the man-with-no-name justification. He treats Chucho (who I'm pretty sure is really named "Chucho," and not the Francophile "Chuncho") with unnecessary friendship and decency, complicating Chucho's feelings towards him. Yet in the end, the viewer sees, through Chucho's eyes, another aspect of Tate's personality and political existence which have remained constant: his disgust and contempt towards poor Mexicans as a class / nationality / race, despite his ability to befriend individual Mexicans. If the typical man with no name achieves a kind of filmic salvation through a staunch refusal of the social through his gentleness with individuals who are somehow weak or outside the boundaries of societal protection, Tate achieves a kind of inverted filmic damnation. His bad deeds and greed, which initially may seem excusable in light of his individual decency, are put in perspective by the fact that his individual decency only extends to those people who are humanized and individualized within Tate's own moral code. He still treats Mexicans-in-general like dogs, and Chucho ("mutt" or "cur" in vernacular Spanish) responds to this realization with a kind of existential, a-logical choice.
Writing about this movie convinced me that I liked it better than I thought I did. It is a sort of deconstruction of the value system of the (less clearly radical, Leone-style) spaghetti Western that still remains within the genre. But don't expect the tight plot and dramatic tension of a Leone film! If you like interesting characters and this ideological, deconstructive element, this film is definitely worth your time; if not, Duck, You Sucker! / Once upon a Time, the Revolution is probably a more digestible Zapata western.
The dub was terrible - especially since a) materials suggest the dub edits out most of the politics (I definitely noticed this a bit in the beginning, where the Spanish speakers were talking about revolution and nothing about revolution was dubbed into English) and b) unlike in the Leone films, to my knowledge none of the main characters were speaking dialogue in English. This film is worth a modern criterion collection type treatment with original language tracks and subtitles!