The Ruthless Four (Ognuno per sé) Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
Ognuno per sé (The Ruthless Four / Das Gold von Sam Cooper) - View Database page
Poor Sam Cooper, after years of fruitless efforts he finally hits a vein of gold and then he's double-crossed by his partner. He survives the vile assault but his worries are far from over. Finding gold is one thing, to retrieve it and transport it to civilization is far more difficult, especially when you've found it in the middle of a desert: you can't do this all by yourself, you need horses, tools, men ... Sam calls for the only person he thinks he can trust, his adopted son Manolo. But Manolo is accompanied by Brent, a fake priest who has a strong hold over him. To balance the group, Sam asks an old acquaintance, Mason, to join them ...
With the first elaborate action scene only after 45 minutes, this is not your typical spaghetti western. Co-written by Fernando Di Leo, and modeled after The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, John Huston), the film successfully explores a middle ground between American and Italian sensitivities. The characterizations and the overall atmosphere of doom and moral decay are primarily Italian, but occasionally Peckinpah's Ride the High Country (1962) is brought to mind by the aging stars Heflin and Roland and their physical inconveniences. Very soon after their departure, all four men are looking over their shoulder, resulting in a tension filled story about paranoia and greed.
The film is slow-moving, but the characters and the actors make it work. Good old Van Heflin, sunburned and with a toupee, really looks like a down and out prospector; he stumbles through the movie - maybe due to his drinking problems - and it's hard not to feel sorry for the poor man. George Hilton, cast against type, gives a remarkably effective performance as the weak-willed foster-son who might be - or might not be - gay. Gilbert Roland is a delight as Heflin's former partner, who thinks Heflin once snitched on him to avoid an arrest, while Roland was sent to a working camp where he caught malaria. Klaus Kinski himself is near to his very best as the sadistic fake priest who wears sunglasses, and might be - or might not be - Hilton's lover. There's a very funny scene early on in the movie, in which Kinski seems quite surprised when a women calls him 'father'. Apparently one of those scenes that were not in the script. Incidentally, it was one of Kinski's first leading roles in an Italian western after his cameos in For a Few Dollars More and A Bullet for the General.
The first choice for director was Lucio Fulci, but he fell out with the the producers, Luciano Ercoli and Alberto Pugliese. Di Leo then wanted to direct it himself, but Ercoli & Pugliese opted for Giorgio Capitani, who had no previous experiences with the genre. His style is rather reserved, giving headroom to his cast, worthy of a major production, and his director of cinematography Sergio D'Offizi, who's lingering camera makes the most of the beautiful locations, the sopping western town, the bone dry desert, the dusty mine-galleries ... There's one scene, in which the four dried-up and shriveled persons are surprised by a sudden shower of rain, that would do very well on National Geographic.
The action comes in small doses, but when it comes, it's great: the ambush at the deserted mission post halfway the movie, is excellently staged and the series of violent conflicts near the end (followed by one more ambush at the mission post) are dramatic and compelling. The film's working title was Ognuno per sé (e Dio per nessuno), literally Every man for himself (and God for nobody at all), but the part between brackets was dropped. Rustichelli's score is a bit unusual but fits the movie quite well. The film is slightly reminiscent of Find a Place to Die, in which a person who has found gold, is forced to hire a group of men to bring it into town, but this is definitely the better movie of the two. The uneasy relationship between an older man and his weak-willed foster son is quite unique within the genre. A notorious scene in which Kinski burnt Hilton's hand with a cigarette, that was cut from the initial release, has not been restored (probably it is lost forever).