Thursday, May 7, 2009


When Texas Ranger Sam Garrett (Adam West of "Batman") thwarts a quartet of greedy bounty hunters from collecting the loot on recently cleared outlaw Rex Calhoun, these maniacal manhunters frame him for the death of a cattle baron. The title of this medium-budget spaghetti western, “The Relentless Four” (**1/2 out of ****)refers to these trigger-happy, homicidal hombres. They are such low-down skunks that after the shoot Calhoun, one of them shoots Garrett’s horse out from under him so that the Texas Ranger cannot get to town quick enough to inform the sheriff about Calhoun’s innocence. Nevertheless, the resourceful Garrett obtains a horse from an Indian in exchange for tobacco and manages to make it to town before the bounty hunters walk out the door with their ill-gotten gains. “Our paths will cross again,” vows an angry bounty hunter to Garrett before he tromps out the door with his compadres.

The biggest cattle baron in the territory, Jeffrey Anders (Roberto Camardiel of “For A Few Dollars More”), and his cowpokes show up in town, jubilantly firing their guns skyward because they have just concluded a 90 day drive. Anders promises to buy the first round of drinks for them. Anders received $20-thousand for his steers and plans to pay off his drovers. They all pile into the saloon, start drinking whiskey and dancing with the saloon gals. The cattle baron gets into a game of friendly poker with Garrett and loses money steadily until his headstrong wife and daughter arrive in town to take him back to the ranch. She allows him to continue his game in the buckboard with Sam and him using both the table and the chairs from the saloon. At the ranch, Garrett and the cattle baron keep on playing after everybody else has gone to bed.

Meanwhile, outside the ranch, the four scheming bounty hunters create a distraction that lures the cattle baron away from the game. The villains sneak into the house, clobber Sam unconscious, steal his six-gun, and use it to murder the cattle baron in cold blood. The wife and daughter as well as several cow hands awaken in time to see the leader of the bounty hunters storm off on Sam's white horse wearing Sam's Stetson and vest, so that they assume that Sam is the killer. The villains drench Sam with liquor, return his clothes and six-gun, and send him back to town unconscious and slumped over his horse. The next morning poor, ignorant Sam awakens with a sore head to find a hostile crowd massed outside of his hotel room hurling stones through his window. The sheriff arrests Sam, and a trial ensues where the court convicts Sam for the cattle baron's murder and sentences him to be hanged the following day.

Later that night, Sam escapes from jail using soap to make the floorboard slippery and a bluffing his way out of the cell with his finger jabbed in a deputy's back. The sheriff shows up in time to pull a gun on Sam, but somebody outside the jail uses a rifle to shoot the pistol out of the lawman's fist. Sam asks no questions and then hightails it. As it turns out, the man who wounded the sheriff is none other than the leader of the titular quartet. He persuades the cattle baron's widow to pay his three amigos and he a thousand dollars a piece to bring Sam back. The widow agrees to his terms, but she stipulates without qualification that Sam must be returned alive, so that she can watch him hang. The action swings back and forth as the villains capture Sam and he evades them, only to be recaptured and finally brought back to town. Eventually, Sam winds up having to face his date with the hangman's noose. Everybody watches in tense suspense as Sam swings and his body is trundled away in a wagon.

"The Relentless Four" resembles American westerns from the 1930s and 1940s when the hero tangled with villains who wanted to exact revenge on him for doing his duty either as a lawman, ranch foreman, or stagecoach driver. The elaborate plans that these villains concoct to pay Sam Garrett back are far-fetched. Breaking into a ranch house to stage a shooting, then incriminating the hero for the murder is like something that would have happened to John Wayne in one of his old Lone Star westerns. It is rather surprising that the head bounty hunter didn't kill the sheriff instead of just wound him. Our hero lives up to the standard western tradition because he wears a white Stetson. Furthermore, he doesn’t consume alcohol, a characteristic that the writers weave into the dialogue on two occasions.

Nevertheless, the five "Relentless Four" scenarists pull a fast one at the end that will have you scratching your heads in befuddlement, especially the concluding scene where they let us in on the fake hanging. One-time only writer Manuel Marcello De Caso, Federico De Urrutia of "A Bullet for Sandoval," Marcello Fondato of "Blood & Black Lace," Manuel Sebares of "Hell's Brigade," and director Primo Zeglio of the Perry Rhodan sci-fi thriller "Mission Stardust" keep things twisting like a cyclone. In one scene, Sam holes up with a family when the bounty hunters ride in and demand to be fed. The ranch owner sends Sam out the back door with his gun, then re-enters his house where his wife and daughter are setting the table for the hungry bounty hunters. The leader spots the rancher's empty holster and notices a ring left over from a glass on the table and storms out of the house with his compadres firing their guns off as Sam tries to escape. Complicated as all get-out best describes this entertaining, often unconvincing oater where the greedy leader of the bounty hunters ultimately turns on his own men to get more cash. Clearly, "The Relentless Four" lives up to its title, because the bounty hunters are no slouches.

Unfortunately, the producers—probably as a cost-saving measure—hired somebody else dub Adam West's dialogue, so the future "Batman" TV star performs only the physical stuff. If you enjoy Italian westerns, "The Relentless Four" has a superb musical score from veteran composers Marcello Giombini & Franco Pisano. This gritty looking western appears to have been lensed on the same set that Sergio Leone used for "A Fistful of Dollars.” Miguel Fernandez Mila's wide-screen cinematography is pretty good, but you'll have to get a letter-boxed copy to appreciate it. The Encore Western Channel aired the version that I saw and presented it in full frame on with only the opening credits letter-boxed. Helmer Primo Zeglio was clearly no Sergio Leone, and it is not surprising that this dust raiser didn't do for Adam West what the Leone epics did for both Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. Meanwhile, Adam West plays the role in a straightforward manner with no self-depreciating gestures.