Sunday, October 5, 2008


"Dead for a Dollar" (** out of ****) makes the grade just barely as tolerable spaghetti western comedy about three gunslingers and a lady searching for a fortune in loot stolen during a bank hold-up. The cat and mouse games that the principals indulge in here are the usual, run-of-the-mill variety for an Italian western. American character actor John Ireland of "Red River" adds a distinctive touch of class to these sagebrush shenanigans with his bearded performance. Second tier Spaghetti western star George Hilton and former muscleman turned-western-villain Gordon Mitchell of "Atlas Against the Cyclops" (1961) provide solid support for Ireland. Unfortunately, tough-guy Mitchell doesn't last very long as a gut-shot adversary in what constitutes a cameo as a ruthless bank robber. Writer & director Osvaldo Civirani and co-scenarists Luciano Gregoretti and Tito Carpi play everything for laughs with our amoral protagonists constantly turning the tables on each other with double-crosses. Tunisian beauty Sandra Milo of Federico Fellini's "8 ½" (1963) holds her own against these six-gunners as a dressmaker with larcenous fingers. The fact that she is a dressmaker instead of a saloon proprietress is one of the few things that defy the usual role playing in this predictable dustraiser.

As the action unfolds, an outlaw gang has robbed Hartmann's Bank of $200-thousand dollars. During the robbery, outlaw chieftain Roy Fulton (Gordon Mitchell) takes a bullet in the belly and doesn't have long to live. Roy's heir Glenn (George Hilton of "The Ruthless Four") steals the loot after Roy dies. Against Roy's wishes, Glenn takes the money out of the grave where Roy was supposed to be laid to rest and puts Roy in place of the money. The Colonel (John Ireland) and another thick-set gunman called 'the Portuguese' ride out to recover the money. No sooner have each of them double-crossed the other than they learn to their chagrin that somebody has replaced the dollar bills with paper or clothing scraps. Eventually, all three gunmen discover that shrewd Liz (Sandra Milo) is using her pulchritude to take advantage of them. Imagine an episode of the ABC-TV western series "Alias Smith & Jones" with Sally Field double crossing Ben Murphy and Roger Davis, and you've got a good idea what to expect from "Dead for a Dollar." When our heroes aren't playing turnabout's fair play with each other, they spent their time gunning down bad guys in a sufficient number of shoot-outs to make this western worth watching at least once.

Cinematographer-turned-director Osvaldo Civirani knows what an Italian western should look like and he inserts several quintessential Sergio Leone type close-ups of holstered revolvers and gunmen's eyes in the showdown sequences. This is one of prolific writer Tino Carpi's lesser films; Carpi's numerous writing credits include "Django Shoots First" (1966), "Few Dollars for Django" (1966), "Any Gun Can Play" (1967), "Seven Winchesters for a Massacre" (1968), and "Between God, the Devil and a Winchester" (1968). The surprise ending is not much of a surprise, but solid production values, good photography, and jaunty orchestral score by genre veteran Angelo Francesco Lavagnino keep this opus distracting enough to watch. A.F. Lavagnino's western soundtracks include "Five Thousand Dollars on One Ace" (1965), "Gunmen of Rio Grande" (1965), and "Pistol for a Hundred Coffins" (1968). If you toted up the 100 best spaghetti westerns, "Dead for a Dollar" would rank somewhere in the upper 200.

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