Two Faces of the Dollar Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
|Mathematicus, a criminal mastermind, has elaborated a scheme to get to a stash of gold that is stocked in an army fort. He hires three specialists who use their expertise to get to the gold. The plan works but then the partners get greedy and start double-crossing each other. More a heist movie than a western maybe, but a fairly entertaining genre movie nonetheless.|
Two Faces of the Dollar (Le due facce del dollaro)
This is a rather obscure spaghetti western by Roberto Bianchi Montero, a veteran of Italian cinema. He was born in 1907 and was already in his late fifties when the spaghetti western became popular. It’s a co-production with France and stars French character actor Jacques Herlin as Mathematicus, a criminal mastermind, who has elaborated a pretty hazardous stratagem to get to the gold that is stored in an army fort. For most part it feels more like a heist movie than a western and some have suggested that it originally was meant to be a thriller in the mould of 7 Uomini d'Oro (1965, Marco Vicario) or Jacques Becker’s famous Touchez pas au Grisbi. It’s not impossible: when the film was produced the western craze was at it’s zenith and more productions were turned into westerns in the last minute.
To carry out his plan, Mathematicus has asked the assistance of three experts (who don’t know each other): a gaudy gunman who's also a master in disguise, a dubious army colonel who has taken the identity of a colleague, plus a morally unrestrained woman whose cleavage makes all the difference. They all use their expertise to trick their way into the fort: the gunman has himself locked up for successfully playing a drunk, the colonel uses his new identity to take over the command and the young woman seduces the sergeant charged with the storage of the gold. The four eventually get the gold out of the fort, but as usual in these type of movies that’s not the end of the story ...
The build-up to and execution of the robbery almost takes up two thirds of the movie; it definitely goes on too long, but it’s cleverly constructed and there are quite a few tension-filled moments: we don’t know what Mathematicus has doctored out (usually there’s a scene in which the mastermind explains the plan and directs his orders), so we must try to figure out what is exactly going on while it’s actually happening. After the heist, the movie makes an about-face when the four partners try to double-cross each other in order to get a bigger share of the loot; the finale is dramatic and remarkably violent, but it also makes a sketchy, incomplete impression, as if the screenwriters had failed to come up with a satisfying conclusion.
Obviously the camera never left Italy, but Stelvio Massi does his utmost best to make the collection of sand pits and green hills look like the American-Mexican border region (a brooklet almost successfully falls in for the Rio Grande); some of the night scenes were actually shot at night and Gabriella Giorgielli remembers that it was rather cold at the time (not very pleasant when you have to wear revealing clothes). The scenes that breathe a real spaghetti western atmosphere, are mostly borrowed from Leone: the scene in the gun shop is similar to a corresponding scene from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Herter’s character Colonel Blackgrave is modeled after Colonel Mortimer, but they have turned the Brave Man, so to speak, into a Male Malificent (with white hair). Herlin’s Mathematicus is an interesting addition to the colorful collection of spaghetti western villains (he vaguely reminded me of Mendoza, the ‘professor’ from Vengeance, played by Claudio Camaso). I didn’t like Poli in this one, but he has one of the movie’s best scenes, disguised as a priest, producing a gun from nowhere. Gabriella is as gorgeous as ever, all curves and sultry looks.
How to watch this movie?
Well, that might be a problem. The only official DVD release is (as far as I know) the French release by Studio Canal, called Poker d’As pour Django (1). For a company that is known for its superior releases of often obscure movies, it’s a rather poor release: the image quality is far from great and there’s only French audio. The image seems to be cropped a little, especially on the right and the French audio is occasionally out of sync. There are dubbed versions floating around; the English audio was taken from an old VHS and sounds way better than the French audio from the DVD, but it’s incomplete, the gaps are filled up with a couple of lines in French and German.
- (1) Poker d’as or Poker Dice is a game that is played with dice which have representations of playing cards upon them; see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poker_dice