The Sons of Katie Elder

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

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Four Rode Out

Think spaghetti western, and where does your head go? Mine goes to gunfights, duels and long, extended shootouts. Thank you, Sergio Leone, you set the bar incredibly high and basically ruined even the good but average spaghetti westerns (for me at least). That's a little harsh, but you get the idea. Then there's 1970's Four Rode Out, almost an anti-spaghetti from the casting to the almost complete lack of gunplay.  It wasn't even a problem....for awhile.

Having netted $120,000 after a successful bank robbery, bandit Fernando Nunez (Julian Mateos) sets out across the desert toward Mexico, but not before stopping to see his girlfriend, Myra (Sue Lyon). Her father catches them together and kills himself, but Nunez is blamed for the murder. He doesn't have much of a head start on Marshal Ross (Pernell Roberts), a veteran peace officer who intends to bring Nunez in and then retire for good. Ross intends to bring the bandit in on his own only to have a sinister Pinkerton agent, Brown (Leslie Nielsen) tag along, and Myra isn't far back either in hopes of saving her boyfriend.

This is not your typical spaghetti western, some reasons for good, others for really, really bad. From director John Peyser (I know, John freaking Peyser), 'Four' was filmed in Almeria, Spain and benefits from the on-location shooting in the desert with some familiar spots popping up here and there. It has little to no actual gunfighting with only a few shots even fired, and by my count two or three of those shots were to mercifully put horses out of their misery. It is low budget, focusing exclusively on the four main characters. The first 45-50 minutes are a positive start, familiar ground but entertaining. Even in the second half, there are some worthwhile twists in character and story that showed at least some effort was made, but more on that in a bit.

A haven for American actors looking for work, the spaghetti western again opens its doors to fading stars. For the audience, that's a good thing. Former Bonanza star Pernell Roberts brings the same easy-going confidence to his part that he did in the much better Ride Lonesome some 11 years earlier. Is this part on the same level? No, not by a long shot, but in a pretty dreary western, he stands out from the rest. The same goes for Leslie Nielsen, not yet a star of the spoof genre. His Mr. Brown, a somewhat suspicious Pinkerton agent, ends up being the most villainous of all the characters. Nielsen shows a dark side that I hadn't seen in any of his other roles, and he looks to be enjoying himself. His scenes with Roberts actually have some tension, two actors probably wondering what they're doing in a movie like this. As Myra, Lyons leans toward the wooden side in her acting, and Mateos is okay but overshadowed as Nunez.

The lack of any shootouts or actual gunplay is not a deal breaker, but 'Four' does have some that make up for it. The score is from songwriter and musician Janis Ian who also makes an appearance in the opening credits as a guitar player. Her songs are good enough, pretty typical of the American folk music so prevalent in the late 1960s and 1970s. Good enough doesn't qualify in a western either, much less one this dark. Long scenes of the quartet riding across the desert are almost unendurable with Ian's folks songs playing. There also seems to be different variations of running lengths, mine coming in at 95 minutes. Others are listed at 90 and 99. A few scenes felt like there was some awkward cuts, but I didn't notice anything significant missing, no huge plot holes left unexplained. Some odd bleeps pepper the story, basically anytime 'whore' is said. Was the DVD print recorded off a TV showing possibly?

At its most basic, the second half of the story reminded me of Anthony Mann's The Naked Spur. All differences are put aside when Ross, Brown, a wounded Nunez and a pissed off Myra must work together to get across the desert. They have little water, and their chances seem slim. The story shifts to the bizarre at times -- including a surreal wedding -- and dull/boring at others. Watching dehydrated folks walking across sandy ridges ain't too interesting, just saying. The ending is about as downbeat as you'd expect, but there were wasted moments even amongst the badness for a better ending. Disappointing when considering the first 45 minutes were fairly entertaining. Roberts and Nielsen make this worth checking out for diehard western fans only.

Four Rode Out <---Part 1 of 9 (1970): **/****

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