The Sons of Katie Elder

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

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Price of Power

When I purchased a set of 44 spaghetti westerns for the low, low price of less than $15, I was psyched, but some selections from the group jumped out more than others. Some I'd never heard of, some I knew would be lousy, but judging from certain reviews I'd read, I was most looking forward to 1969's The Price of Power. Unfortunately, the final product just didn't live up to expectations.

A gunfighter with a reputation that hangs over him because of a 4-year jail sentence, Bill Willer (Giuliano Gemma) is in trouble. He's rumored to be a part of an assassination attempt on President James Garfield (Van Johnson), who is touring Texas with his wife. Willer's father (Antonio Casas) is gunned down investigating the matters when he stumbles upon the actual plot. Now, Bill is looking to not only clear his name but also to bring the real killers to justice while also saving the life of the President. Just all in a day's work for this anti-hero, right?

Spaghetti westerns are inherently weird, eccentric, off-the-wall and generally pretty odd. I've seen a ton of them so take anything I'm about to say with a grain of salt. From director Tonino Valerii, 'Power' is an oddity among oddities. At different points, it has conspiracy theories, long-winded speeches about politics, a not-so-subtle allusion to the JFK assassination, racist sub-plots, and is light on action compared to most. All those ingredients just didn't mix for me. On the positive, the music from composer Luis Bacalov is delightfully weird -- different from most Ennio Morricone knock-offs -- and any Sergio Leone fans will no doubt recognize countless locations from his 1968 classic, Once Upon a Time in the West. That's never a bad thing.

It's rare that a spaghetti western story has too much going on to this point. Well, that's not completely true. Usually when too much is going on, it means endless betrayals and back-stabbing, gunfights galore. That ain't the case here. There is very little gunplay at all. The Garfield addition to the story plays fast and loose with the facts -- killing him in Texas as opposed to Washington D.C. -- while also portraying it in ridiculously close fashion to the JFK assassination in Dallas. We're talking right down to the angle of the shot, and the reaction from Garfield's wife (Maria Cuadra). More than any of that, far too much time is spent in smoky backrooms as the assassination plot comes together. Head of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Allan Pinkerton (Fernando Rey) is even involved in the plot!  It's just all too much.

The casting ranges from acceptable to lousy to odd and out of left field. I've liked Gemma in several other spaghettis I've seen, but his performance here is fairly vanilla. A revenge-seeking gunfighter is nothing new to the western, but it's dull here. The best part of the character is his friendship with Jack (Ray Saunders), a black man who fought with Bill in the Civil War. Warren Vanders is the slick aide to Garfield, McDonald, always up to something for the good of the country. It's also pretty cool and worth pointing out that Benito Stefanelli -- usually a background player; a bandit or gunman in Leone's westerns -- gets a prominent role as the treacherous Sheriff Jefferson. An uncredited/unlisted Michael Harvey plays Wallace, the obsessed leader of the assassination plot. Plenty of other characters are cycled in and out in a revolving door, none making an impression. A badly dubbed Johnson is surprisingly good as President Garfield.

I thought there was certainly potential here as the story developed, incorporating the racial overtones of a long dead Confederate movement trying to revive the Civil War. Throwing Bill's black friend, Jack, into the mix, adds quite an interesting element into the story, especially when he's believed to be the assassin. It never clicks into place though. Just far too many elements working against each other for any of those separate elements to be truly effective. A disappointing, mediocre final product. You can watch the entire movie HERE at Youtube.

The Price of Power <---trailer (1969): **/****


  1. I remember liking this though it's been years since I saw it. Thanks for the Youtube link.

  2. If you rewatch it, let me know what you think. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on it.