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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Throwback Thursday - Spaghetti Westerns

note: Back in the day I wrote a Blu-Ray review column for Grindhouse Purgatory magazine. I thought I'd post my look at some Spaghetti Westerns here. This includes a great Lee Van Cleef flick, The Grand Duel. 



The Blu-Ray report: Spaghetti Westerns

by John Shatzer

 

            Every time that we get a new home video format I watch as the companies putting out movies run out of material. They end up digging up all sorts of obscure films to fill their inventories. As a movie fan this can be both fun and overwhelming. Do I double dip on a Blu-Ray, or don’t I? What about the releases I’ve never heard of? Well fear not good readers I’m back again to help you out with the Blu-Ray report. This time around I thought it would be a nice change of pace to check out some Spaghetti Westerns.           

            The first disc I grabbed was a double feature from Mill Creek Entertainment with 4 Dollars of Revenge and The Last Gun. I’ve seen the latter so decided to watch 4 Dollars of Revenge. The movie opens with Captain Dexter returning from the Civil War. Dexter is a war hero, wealthy, and someone that those in power want to run for Governor. He is also involved in a love triangle between himself, the lovely Mercedes, and another army officer. Dexter tries to resign his commission to pursue politics, but his commanding officer insists that he deliver it, as well as a shipment of Confederate gold to Washington D.C. personally. So off he goes but along the way his patrol is ambushed and everyone but Dexter is killed. Miraculously he survives after being left for dead but soon ends up in prison after he is framed for the crime of stealing the gold. He escapes and goes looking for the men who destroyed his life.

            Many Spaghetti Westerns follow the formula of a wronged man getting revenge on those who wronged him. When done properly it can be a blast and in some ways 4 Dollars of Revenge nails it. We have many suspects that might be to blame for Dexter’s predicament. Was it his drunk cousin who keeps asking for money? Perhaps the fellow officer who is vying for the love of the same woman? Could it be a political rival that wants to stop Dexter from becoming Governor? Heck it might just be bandits looking for some gold. The movie gives us many options and I appreciate that. There is also a gimmick with 4 of the gold coins. Dexter is given them to remind him of his crime, so when he gets revenge on someone he leaves a coin behind, which ties into the title 4 Dollars of Revenge. See what they did there?  

            Unfortunately, as much as I liked how the story was setup and the plot device of the coins the movie has a fatal flaw. It is so damn slow! As an example, when the movie starts we get scene after scene of Dexter riding into town with people welcoming him home. After the first couple I figured out that he was well liked. Then we get a lot of talking as Dexter chats up his fellow officers, his lady, and anyone else that stops him on the street. Some of this is establishing characters, but much of it is just filler. Speaking of filler, the camera tends to linger on scenes long after anything pertinent to the plot has happened. The shots are nice but I don’t need to see background characters dancing. This makes the movie feel much longer than its 88-minute runtime.  

            Again, this Blu-Ray is from Mill Creek Entertainment, which is a budget releasing company. While it does boast on the back of the case that it is a new HD transfer I wouldn’t have high expectations. It looks like they did a transfer from a 35mm print, but it hasn’t been cleaned up. There are image defects, scratches, and an occasional pop in the sound. We also don’t get any special features. The biggest advantage to this disc is that you can normally pick it up in a bargain bin for less than 5 dollars. Still I’m not sure that 4 Dollars of Revenge is a good deal even at that price.

            The second disc that I grabbed is also a budget release from Mill Creek Entertainment and is a double feature of The Grand Duel and Keoma. I decided on the Lee Van Cleef vehicle The Grand Duel, which has also been released under the title of The Big Showdown. Van Cleef plays an ex-sheriff, named Clayton, that is doing all he can to help a murderer escape the bounty hunters that are trying to bring him in. The man, Philipp, has a large bounty placed on him after he is accused of killing the patriarch of the Saxon family. Early on we find out that Clayton knows that he is innocent, which is why he keeps trying to convince him to run away to Mexico, but Philipp refuses. He was framed for the murder to get him out of the way when the Saxon’s killed his father. There was silver found on some peasant’s land and Phillip’s father was organizing them to stop the Saxon’s from running them off and stealing the mine. This leads both back to town and a showdown with the Saxon brothers.  

            Unlike 4 Dollars of Revenge just about everything is perfect with The Grand Duel. The gunplay starts off early and continues until the end credits roll. We get many shootouts with lots of Saxon henchmen finding their ends at the hands of our heroes. Lee Van Cleef quietly chews up the scenery portraying a bad ass like only he can. He is dangerous and knows it even if those challenging him don’t. As I mentioned above the story of a wronged man getting revenge is common in Spaghetti Westerns but here it has an added twist. Philipp doesn’t know who he is looking for! He wants to know who killed his father and who framed him for the patriarch’s murder. This is a mystery that isn’t resolved until the very end of the movie and since it isn’t the same person we get a couple of reveals.

            Great pacing, entertaining story, lots of gunplay, and Lee Van Cleef. What isn’t to love here? As an added bonus, I was shocked at how nice the movie looks. When I saw the Mill Creek Entertainment logo I had low expectations about the transfer. While the Blu-Ray is bare bones and has no special features, the transfer is stunning. Like the first Blu-Ray this can be had very cheaply in the bargain bin of many large retailers. Unlike the that disc this one is worth every penny for The Grand Duel alone. Add in Keoma, which is a decent movie starring Franco Nero, and you get a double feature that is a steal. I highly recommend this one.

            Well that is it for this installment of the Blu-Ray report. I hope that I was able to steer you away from wasting your money by pointing you to the good buys. If you enjoyed this please check out my blog at horrordude.blogspot.com for more of my musings on all things movie related. As always please feel free to email me at gutmunchers@gmail.com with any complaints or compliments! I’m always eager and ready to converse with another movie fan.

 

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

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