Four Dollars for Vengeance Review
Cast: Robert Woods, Angelo Infanti, Dana Ghia, Antonio Casas, José Manuel Martin, Gérard Tichy, Antonio Molino Rojo, Tomás Torres, Giluio Maculani, Lucio Rosato, Juan Torres Luis del Pueblo, Francisco Nieto, Miguel de la Riva, Sergio - Director: Jaime Jesús Balcázar - Music: Benedetto Ghiglia
One of the early westerns produced by the Balcazar studios, and one of the first to have a considerable impact in Italy (*1). It drew the attention to Robert ‘Bobby’ Woods, who would quickly become a familiar face within Italian genre cinema. The film is best known for a finale in which the protagonists draw their swords instead of their guns. In other words: we get a swordout instead of a shootout.
Four Dollars of Vengeance tells the story about two officers in the Union army, Roy Dexter (Woods) and Barry Haller (Infante), who are both in love with the same woman, the beautiful Mercedes. She singles out Dexter, who has made himself a name during the Civil War. Dexter now wants to run for governor in his home state but before his resignation is accepted, he’s asked to escort a confiscated fortune in Confederate money. The escort is ambushed by Mexican bandits, and Dexter is the only survivor of the massacre. He makes his way back to the army base, but is then accused of stealing the money and wiping out his own men. He’ll have to spend his life in a labor camp, but manages to escape and then infiltrates the gang that ambushed the escort, in order to find out who framed him for the crime...
Four Dollars of Vengeance was basically a Spanish production and lacks, for most part, the typical 'dirty' look of a spaghetti western. Some scenes even have a rather sophisticated look, as if they were set in some 18th Century mansion instead of an army fort way out West. It’s only when Dexter masquerades himself as a Mexican – with a beard, a sombrero and a poncho – that we seem to wander off into spaghetti western land. With his beard and large hat, Woods was clearly modeled after Giuliano Gemma in Return of Ringo, but according to the actor himself, the movie was based on Alexandre Dumas’ famous novel Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (*2). Once you’re aware of the literary source, the similarities are obvious, and some elements fall into place: the beard, the sophisticated look of some scenes, the swordout … the film even respects some of the dark atmosphere of the novel with Roy Dexter stalking his enemies, slowly driving them crazy from fear. One of his victims dies of a heart attack.
The film is a bit of a mixed bag. Infanti, ultra-cool in Pistoleros, is a bland villain; apparently he was a bit lazy and refused to practice with the sword (*3). Some of the action scenes suffer from the falling disease, with too many stuntmen falling – aaaarrrrgggh – from great heights and overal the film is a bit short on spaghetti western action. But those ‘darker’ moments, with Woods stalking his opponents, are well-executed and atmospheric. And Tom Betts wrote: "This is the Robert Woods I like to see. Everybody's plotting against him, but you know he'll win in the end and you look forward to the moment he'll confront the guy who did him wrong." Benedetto's Ghiglia's score is a mix of influences; the main theme is played over the credits and accompanied by some striking images of the cavalry riding along the skyline at sunset (no doubt inspired by Ford's Cavalry Trilogy; it's quite bizarre: it starts out with a beautiful whistled theme you’d expect from a spaghetti western, then slowly evolves into a more classic, orchestral tune, dominated by a smooth trumpet solo, and when finally the choir takes over, it almost sounds like the songs that were used in the forties and fifties for heroic American cavalry westerns.
- (1) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all’italiana
- (2) The link was overlooked by authors like Giusti, Giré and Grant; neither of them mentions Monte Cristo. I must confess that I overlooked it too. The - better known - Gemma movie, Long Days of Vengeance, made one year after Four Dollars for Vengeance, was also based on the Alexandre Dumas novel
- (3) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'italiana
- Related Review: Long Days of Vengeance Review