Spaghetti Western Podcast

Four Dollars for Vengeance Review

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  • Robert Woods
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Four Dollars for Vengeance (Cuatro Dólares de Venganza)

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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 people’s and producers’ attention to its protagonist, Robert ‘Bobby’ Woods, who would quickly become a familiar face within Italian genre cinema. It was also a movie that caused some confusion: it was directed by Jaime-Jesus (not Alfonso) Balcázar, and co-scripted by Bruno (not Sergio) Corbucci. 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.

It’s the story about two officers in the Union army, Roy Dexter and Barry Haller, 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 and now wants to run for governor in his home state. 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 one who survives 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 joins the gang that ambushed the escort, in order to find out who framed him for the crime...

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Like French author Jean-François Giré has pointed out in his book, most early westerns made in España have a cleaner look than their Italian counterparts (2). Some of the scenes in the movie have a 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 the film gets a ‘dirtier’ look. Giusti calls it a little à la Ferroni, others have compared it, for obvious reasons, to Return of Ringo: with his beard and large hat, Woods looks exactly like Giuliano Gemma’s Ringo. But those Gemma movies were concerned with the trouble war veterans met with when trying to build up a new life in a post-war society. Even though Dexter is a war veteran, that is not the central idea of Four Dollars for Vengeance: Dexter does not come back from the war, but from a labor camp.

According to Bobby Woods, the movie was based on Alexandre Dumas’ famous novel Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (3). 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. It's of course not the only adaptation, in spaghetti western form, of The Count of Monte Cristo. Yet another Gemma movie, Long Days of Vengeance, made one year after Four Dollars for Vengeance, was also based on the Alexandre Dumas novel. None of the people involved in Four Dollars, would be involved in Long Days, and any possible similarities between the two movies, seem due to their common literary source.

Four Dollars for Vengeance was dismissed by most critics. An exception was Tom Betts: "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." I didn't like the movie when I first saw it, but it made a better impression the second time around. Some of the action scenes suffer from the falling disease, with those daring Spanish stuntmen falling – aaaaaarrrrgggh – from great heights. The swordout may look like an original idea (to us, Spanish audiences were familiar with Zorro movies), but I would’ve preferred a shootout. Apparently Infante was a bit lazy, and refused to practice with the sword; as a result the scene looks a bit tame (4). On the other hand it’s a lavishly produced movie with a strong cast and some fine cinematography of the Spanish landscape. Those ‘darker’ moments, with Woods stalking his opponents, are well-executed and atmospheric. And then there’s this score; it’s accredited to both Benedetto Ghiglia and Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, but on-screen (at least in the version I saw) only the latter is mentioned. The main theme, played over the credits and accompanied by some striking images of the cavalry riding along the skyline at sunset, is 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.

How to watch this movie: I watched the French DVD from Fravidis/Grenadine; the film is presented in 2,35:1, but the image is not anamorphic and there’s only French audio. There’s also a Spanish and an American release, and as far as I know both are fullscreen. See for full info: Cuatro dólares de venganza/DVD. Surprisingly Mill Creek has released the movie on Blu-ray, on a double feature with Jim il Primo.

Related Review: Long Days of Vengeance Review


--By: Scherpschutter

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