The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Relentless Four

First airing in January 1966 and running for three seasons, TV's Batman became one of the all-time great campy shows to ever grace the screen. It made Batman himself, Adam West, a star, an unlikely superhero with his ridiculously deadpan delivery. Before his starring role though, he was like a lot of actors, taking supporting parts in both film and television. But did you know Batman was actually in a spaghetti western? The answer to that trivia question is 1965's The Relentless Four.

A Texas Ranger working in Arizona, Sam Garrett (West) tries to rescue a pardoned criminal but fails. Instead, four bounty hunters gun the man down before Garrett can save him. The Ranger however can still prevent them from earning their bounty, costing them some $500. Garrett thinks nothing of it as he just does his job, but the bounty hunters, led by Lobo (Claudio Undari), aren't so forgiving. The quartet sets him up as the murderer of a very rich, very successful local rancher, and they've got witnesses to boot. With everyone against him now and a date with the hangman's noose drawing ever closer, Garrett must not find a way to prove his innocence and catch the real killers at the same time.

From director Primo Zeglio, 'Four' is an average example of what an early spaghetti western was. Just a year removed from Sergio Leone's classic A Fistful of Dollars (which helped jump start the whole sub-genre), spaghettis were still in their infancy. They weren't as nasty as some later entries, still reflecting the cleanness of American westerns with a bit of that throwback feel. In other words, they're neither truly Italian or American, instead some messy ground in between. 'Four' uses some of the same locations 'Fistful' used -- and to great benefit -- while also exploring some of the Almerian desert that isn't so familiar. The score from Marcello Giombini is a step above the average, including a really bad, really catchy theme song, 'Ranger,' sung by Ettore Lovecchio.

So Batman plays a spaghetti western hero? If that's not the start to a winning formula, I don't know what it is. Unfortunately, West and his instantly recognizable monotone voice have been dubbed so we don't get the pleasure of actually hearing him speak. He's a solid lead but nothing special, sticking closer to the American western hero than the spaghetti anti-hero. There's also the issue of his action scenes. Every time he punches someone -- and he does that a lot -- I kept waiting to see 'BAM!' or 'ZOW!' appear on the screen in the true Batman vein. Yes, I realize the show hadn't been created yet. I'm trying to be funny. The fight scenes are pretty bad by the way, hokey and just not authentic-looking in the least.

Beyond West as Ranger Sam Garrett, 'Four' has no star power, not even a little. I recognized a few faces from other spaghetti westerns, some other Euro flicks, but none of them can be considered huge stars. Undari is a decent counter to West's Garrett but as far as worthy villains go, he's standard vanilla. His bounty hunter counterparts include Renato Rossini, Jose Jaspe and Raf Baldassarre. Roberto Camardiel is memorable as Anders, the rancher who becomes a pawn, Paola Barbara as his blood-seeking wife with Dina Loy as his less bloodthirsty daughter. Luis Induni plays the Sheriff, caught in the middle between his duty and his friendship with Sam while John Bartha plays John, Sam's friend trying to shield him from being gunned down.

For about 30 minutes here, I enjoyed 'Four.' It was nothing special, but it was fun and a good-looking spaghetti western at that. Somewhere along the road, it loses its footing. It becomes downright dumb, even repetitive in a 90-minute movie. At one point, West's Sam could basically end it all, righting everything that's happened to him, but he throws his guns away and runs.......runs.....from his wounded opponent. The finale features a twist so epically stupid it made me laugh. Too bad because the potential was there for an early forerunner of the darkness of the spaghetti westerns. But no, it's dumb, and making it worse, a final wrap-up scene expands on it, actually explaining the badness. Probably worthwhile only for fans of either spaghetti westerns, Batman's Adam West, or those.....nah, that's it. Just those two.

The Relentless Four (1965): **/****  

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