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, February 22, 2013

Coffin Full of Dollars

A spaghetti western is like a pizza....for me at least. And yes, I realized I'm comparing Italian movies to Italian food. I'm clever like that. Even the lousy ones, they're still halfway decent. There are some truly bad spaghetti westerns out there, but they're almost always entertaining (sometimes because they're so bad). So with 1971's Coffin Full of Dollars -- how could you not appreciate the awesomeness of these names?!? -- there's nothing hugely memorable, but I liked it just the same.

Returning home from the Civil War, George Hamilton (Jeff Cameron) discovers that the family home has been burned down, and everyone inside was killed. The only clue to the perpetrator is a gold watch he finds in the wreckage. It belongs to a bandit leader, Hagen (Klaus Kinski), seeking revenge for the deaths of his brothers at the hands of the Hamiltons (Confused yet?). Going by the alias the Nevada Kid, Hamilton hits the trail to find Hagen and his small army of gunmen. He teams up with an amiable enough bounty hunter, John (Gordon Mitchell), who would like nothing more than to get a crack at the lucrative bounties hanging over the heads of Hagen and his gunmen. As the duo gets closer, they find out they've stumbled into a plan where Hagen stands to "earn" $10,000. Who gets out alive?

I stumbled across this one via On Demand and jumped at the chance. With some 600 spaghetti westerns made in the late 1960s and 1970s, you've got to take advantage when you find one like this you've never even heard of. A quick search over at Amazon shows that this 1971 spaghetti is only available in a difficult to find Region-2 DVD so not exactly readily available. It's pretty standard stuff, but that's not a bad thing. The version I saw clocked in at 82 minutes, but some versions are reported to be just over 90 minutes. A whole lot of stuff is going on, a whole lot of bullets fly through the air, and in the end, a whole lot of people get shot down in some pretty impressive shootouts. What more could you ask for?

From director Demofilo Fidani (who also wrote the script), the budget clearly isn't large in any sense of the word. We see some familiar spaghetti western locations and even some non-desert locales, but the story and scale (or lack of) is always on a smaller, more personal level. We don't get saloons packed to the gills with extras. There's some awkward cuts and editing, shots going on for too long rather than just transitioning to new scenes. The music from Coriolano Gori is pretty normal spaghetti music, good in the moment if not memorable.

Through all the general craziness and off the wall story, the characters/actors do have a lot of fun. An Italian actor who specialized in spaghetti westerns, gladiator epics and Italian war movies, Cameron does a solid job as George Hamilton (that name couldn't have been an accident), a polished gunslinger seeking revenge. Spaghetti regular Kinski's appearance amounts to little more than a cameo, disappearing for long stretches of the film, but whenever he is actually on-screen, it's good stuff. The same for Mitchell who isn't given much to do, but he commits as his muzzle-loading, rifle-toting bounty hunter pairs with the Nevada Kid and hams it up as presented. Jack Betts has some fun as Tamayo, Hagen's second-hand man who keeps messing up, Simonetta Vitelli is Monica, a young woman ransomed off by Hagen and rescued by the Nevada Kid, and Ray Saunders is Sam, a freed slave who ends up helping the Kid's efforts.

Blah blah blah. Shootouts! Gunfights! Action, action, action! In an otherwise standard western, the action here is exciting and dare I say....above average. Yes, it tends to be a little goofy with highly exaggerated deaths and tumbles, some generally very stunt-conscious nameless henchmen, and guns that never need to be reloaded. There's a handful of quick shootouts that are worthwhile, but two major set pieces set the bar. One has the Kid and John navigating a ghost town full of Hagen's gun men in hopes of rescuing Monica while the finale has the duo fighting their way through Hagen's isolated town similarly full of rival gunfighters. I liked this movie. I didn't love it, but I enjoyed it just the same. An enjoyable enough way to spend 90 minutes. Watch the full movie HERE.

Coffin Full of Dollars (1971): ** 1/2 /****

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