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, September 18, 2012

The Unholy Four

Have you ever met someone with amnesia? Me neither, but if we were to listen to movies and TV shows (especially 1960s sitcoms), apparently everyone and their mother has had amnesia only to snap out of it in time to wrap things up nicely. There's the serious amnesia ventures -- the Bourne movies -- and the less than serious -- a Gilligan's Island episode comes to mind -- and then there's 1970's The Unholy Four, a spaghetti western with an amnesiac main character.

As a diversion to a robbery of a stagecoach packed with gold dust, a diversion is caused across the street at the State Mental Institution. In the fiery aftermath, Chuck Mool (Leonard Mann) escapes with three other inmates. The only problem? Chuck is an amnesiac and doesn't remember a single thing about his life prior to the three years he spent in the institution. His fellow fugitives join him in looking for some answers until they find a town where Chuck is recognized. The quartet is caught in the middle now of two warring factions, the Udos, led by psychotic Tommy (Lucio Rosato), and the Caldwells, led by very skilled gunman, Joe (Helmuth Schneider). Hopefully Chuck can find the info he needs before he catches a bullet.

A little bit of a change of pace from a lot of spaghetti westerns, 'Unholy' surprised me in a lot of ways. Learned the phrase from over at the Spaghetti Western Database, but this is from a sub-genre of spaghetti westerns dubbed Autumnal Spaghettis. Instead of the scorched desert, the stories take place in gloomy, gothic-looking forests. From first-time director Enzo Barboni, it is a good mix of action and story (too much convoluted story at some points) whereas so many spaghetti westerns went down one road exclusively. Even at just 88 minutes, the story can be a tad on the slow side as revelations come to light, but I was never bored and enjoyed it until the end. Oh, and the score from Riz Ortolani is ridiculously out of place, but dammit, it sure is catchy. Listen below in the trailer link.

This was my first introduction to Mann, the young star just one year removed from his debut in 1969's The Forgotten Pistolero. He's far from your typical spaghetti lead; a little on the small side, almost pretty with his eyeliner, and a voice that doesn't sound like it has hit puberty yet. The character's background is interesting enough though to overshadow any issues I had with him. The rest of the Unholy Four are bright spots including Woody (Woody Strode, good scriptwriting, huh?), a man with immense strength and an unexplained religious background, Hondo (George Eastman), a gambler and dead shot with a rifle, and Silver (Pietro Martellanza), Woody's best friend and an expert knife thrower. None of the three are given any development so we don't know how/why they ended up in the Institution, but however you cut it, it's four pretty cool characters.

What is somewhat different here is the departure the story takes in the second half as we learn about Chuck's past, forgotten life. He is actually a Caldwell, but the Udos find him first and tell him he's an Udo. Clever, huh? Now it's just a matter of time before they can have Chuck unknowingly kill his own father (Schneider). Rosato's name -- Tom Udo -- is the same as Richard Widmark's iconic character in Kiss of Death, odd choice there. Some other key players include Sheila (Ida Galli), Chuck's former love, Giuseppe Lauricella as the elder Udo, and Alain Naya as Alan, Chuck's revenge-seeking brother. Lots going on in that second half -- more drama than action -- with the whole Prodigal son angle, the amnesia, betrayals, backstabbings and even some incest undertones. It's got it all!

I enjoyed the whole movie, but the end especially doesn't disappoint. The opening diversionary jail break, an encounter between the Four and a gang of five bounty hunters, both are small-scale but expertly put together action scenes. The finale though is the best, Chuck and Co. putting it all together for good against a waiting army of gunmen in an empty street. Nothing spectacular overall, but a highly entertaining spaghetti western that isn't ever mentioned with the best. You can watch the entire movie HERE at Youtube.

The Unholy Four <---trailer (1970): ***/****

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