5000 Dollars on an Ace Review
An early paella/spaghetti westerns and the first western production of the Balcázar Studios, founded by the brothers Alfonso and Francisco Balcázar in 1951. It was a co-production with Germany and Italy, but the film was entirely shot on Spanish soil, with some location shooting in the province of Aragon (1). It was also the first Spanish western to be sold to MGM (even before MGM's purchase of A Fistful of Dollars). The brothers had picked up Robert Woods in Paris, where he was doing some modeling and stage acting at the time (2). The brothers probably asked him because he was an American and could ride a horse, two major assets in those early days of the European western production. At the first screenings of the movie, Woods noticed that they had left the S off the end of his name. It was too late to change things, and he did several films as Robert Wood.
Woods also made some changes to the script, based on a story written by Italian screenwriter Sandro Continenza. The finished script is a typical mixture of influences, a sort of Shane meets Fernando Sancho, with Bobby Woods playing Shane and Fernando playing Sancho. The finale has some similarities to Hawks’ Rio Bravo. The story is as follows: Woods wins $5000 in a poker game and also becomes co-owner of a ranch. He quickly loses the money when he’s robbed by a Mexican called Carrancho, whose life he had saved only a few minutes earlier. The ranch doesn’t bring him much luck either: it is coveted by a corrupt landowner, whose henchmen, led by the sadistic Jim il Nero, terrorize the people who refuse to sell their property. Along with the two other owners of the ranch (a brother and a sister) and Carrancho (who isn’t a bad guy after all) he faces the evildoers in a series of shootouts.
5000 Dollars on an Ace isn't great. Julio Alberto is very categorical in his (Spanish language) review on his blog 800 spaghetti westerns (3): “Bad film. Bad script, bad direction, bad editing.” He also complains about bottles breaking before hitting (or being hit by) an object, and crew members being visible in certain scenes. Maybe this is all true, but I still don’t think the film is that bad. There are a few cute camera angles, and the cinematography of the Aragon landscape is quite impressive. Woods marches bravely through his first Euro western adventure and Schmidt is enjoyable as Jim il Nero, a sort of German Jack Palance with a whip. Sancho is Sancho, playing a rascal who may have a good heart, but nevertheless is as trustworthy as a rattlesnake. We first meet him tied to poles in the middle of the desert, after he fell out with some of his partners in crime. It's the first of several surprise appearances, he comes and goes, as if his character was an afterthought, a lucky strike to save the movie. It probably was.
I saw a fandub version of the Spanish DVD. Some scenes were in Spanish, with English subtitles, others in English, a few were even mute. With a running time of a little under 80 minutes, it felt hopelessly chopped-up. Maybe an uncut version would improve things, but the film feels like a patchwork movie anyway. In the international English language version Don Powell sings ‘A Gamblin’ Man’, but for the German language version, the title song ‘Die Gejagten der Sierra Nevada’ was sung by Ralf Paulsen. A song by Ronny Berger, 'Kein Gold im Blue River’ was also linked to the movie, although the lyrics have nothing in common with the film’s content (4). To most people’s surprise, it did well at the box-office and apparently was one of the main reasons that the brothers would produce western movies on a regular basis in the years to come.
Cast: Robert Woods, Fernando Sancho, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Helmut Schmidt, Maria Sevalt, Antonio Molino Rojo, Lorenzo Robledo, Hans Nielsen - Director: Alfonso Balcázar (Romolo Guerrieri?) - Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
- (1) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del Western all'Italiana
- (2) The Man who would be Pecos, Interview with Robert Woods, http://www.myspace.com/actorrobertwoods/blog/530836540
- (3) http://800spaghettiwesterns.blogspot.com/1987/01/pistoleros-de-arizona.html
- (4) The German title means The Hunted of the Sierra Nevada. The song by Ronny Berger (in English: No Gold in Blue River) is about a man who goes looking for gold in the Blue River, so he can marry his girlfriend who's waiting for him. There's no gold in Blue River, and his girlfriend falls in love with another man. All very sad, and not really what this film is about. Here's the song: