Some of these pictures and descriptions may give away plot details that you might not want to know before watching the film.
This is an excellent western with a great score, beautiful scenery, excellent performances from a fine cast that stars Gene Hackman, Candice Bergen, and James Coburn, and it includes a brutally real rattlesnake decapitation scene.
Around the turn of the 20th century, a group of horse riders participate in a 700 mile horse race through the mountains and desert of the American West, followed by a support train. The newspaper sponsoring the race offers a large cash prize that attracts a variety of riders. As the race progresses we learn more about them as they learn to help and respect each other. It's a bittersweet view of the end of the western era and its reliance on horses, symbolized by a Harley-Davidson sidecar motorcycle that a newspaper photographer rides. The motorcycle later takes the place of the heroes' stolen horses to show us the future. The movie has enough of the required Western attributes - horses, gun fights, fist fights, prostitutes, barrooms, lots of whisky drinking, gambling, and wide open spaces - to satisfy any fan of the genre, but the heart of the movie is in the people and the conversations.
The movie's title comes from one of the race contestants we know only as the Mexican (Mario Arteaga) who has a bad toothache that is cured when Miss Jones (Candice Bergen) puts a shortened bullet casing over his tooth and tells him to bite it. The casing makes a temporary crown that stops his tooth pain. Before that he took too many heroin pills that a bar girl sold him that was touted as the latest miracle pain cure.
The Snake Scene
Half way into the movie we see the Mexican ride up to another race contestant, a cocky young over-opinionated troublemaker named Carbo (Jan-Michael Vincent), who is taking a nap on his saddle outdoors on some grass. When we see the Mexican draw his sword, dismount, and move towards Carbo, we think he's going to kill him. (And we probably would not be sorry to see him die.) The film cuts back and forth between the Mexican with his sword and a frightened Carbo, until Carbo sees the Mexican practically on top of him and rolls over just in time for the Mexican to cut off the head of a rattlesnake crawling on the grass next to Carbo. Carbo, in shock, can only say "Jesus!" and the Mexican responds "He is generous today" then returns to his horse. Jesus is a little less generous with the two as the movie continues.
The snake-killing scene serves as a learning experience for the prejudiced Carbo who sees that Mexicans are not all bad people. After this and other interactions with contestants Carbo becomes a much better man in the end. He apologizes for things he said and even helps the other contestants.
The live snake we see is either a brick red-colored Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake, or, more likely, it's a Red Diamond Rattlesnake. Whatever species it was, its head was really cut off on film. I found that surprising in a movie in which the main character Sam Clayton (Gene Hackman) was an animal lover who was so opposed to human cruelty to animals that he violently attacked Carbo twice for abusing animals. He also lost his job because he was late after stopping to help some suffering horses. Maybe that's all meant to be ironic because animal lover Clayton nearly rides his horse to death at the end of the race. (And there's also the fact that a lot of westerns caused a great deal of suffering and death to their horses during filming. There's no disclaimer here that states no animals were injured during the making of this film, and that's probably not just because of the rattlesnake.)