The only distinctive marker of this otherwise drab film is that it trades in guns for swords.
The film 4 Dollars of Revenge (1966) begins by introducing two friends and fellow calvary members, Captain Roy Dexter (Robert Woods) and Barry Halet (Angelo Infani). They are both trying to wed the same big-breasted blonde, Mercedes Spencer (Dana Ghia), but she chooses Dexter, who plans to retire from the calvary and run for governor against a man named Hamilton (Gérard Tichy). Before Dexter retires and gets married, however, he has to complete one last mission for Colonel Jackson (Antonio Casas) that involves him transporting a shipment of gold to Washington.
The mission becomes a disaster when he and his troops are ambushed by Manuel de Losa (José Manuel Martin) and his gang of banditos. Although Dexter manages to escape with his life, he is blamed for orchestrating the ambush and is sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor. But the plot doesn’t really get moving until he breaks out of the labor-camp in a brief but exciting escape sequence and begins sneaking around town disguised as a Mexican while collecting clues, trying to figure out who set him up.
Over the course of 4 Dollars of Revenge‘s conspiracy-laden plot, we learn that Dexter’s drunken and jealous cousin, Dave Griffin (Antonio Molino Rojo), struck a deal with Dexter’s's political rival, Hamilton, and Dexter’s heartbroken friend, Halet, to frame him. Once we learn who the backstabbers are, the film transforms from a mystery story into a revenge tale as our hero goes about evening the score with a sword. That’s right: instead of a showdown with guns to conclude this spaghetti western, 4 Dollars of Revenge ends with Dexter and Halet facing off with swords.
It’s not the best choreographed swordfight, but because we so badly want Dexter to right the wrongs Halet has done to him, the swordfight keeps us engaged, and because in this genre we so rarely see swords replace guns, it’s what ultimately makes the film memorable. In fact, aside from the swordfight that concludes the film, there isn’t much about 4 Dollars of Revenge that stands out.
The plot, which is haphazardly adapted from the Alexandre Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristo (1844), is entertaining, but it’s not even half as entertaining as its source material. It’s not fair, however, to compare this early spaghetti western to that timeless work of literature. Instead, we must compare it to the other films in the genre. And after doing that, I can confidently say that 4 Dollars of Revenge‘s plot is better structured and more entertaining than most. It intensifies as it develops, and although it doesn’t offer any real surprises, director Jamie Jesus Balcazar presents the story with a sureness that wins us over and keeps us watching.
None of the performances are especially noteworthy, but they all get the job done, and there are no obvious weak spots in the cast which is a common problem with most spaghetti westerns of this stature. Wood, as the film’s lead, is only as good as the character he plays. Although his character, Dexter, is reminiscent of the superior Ringo character played by the more talented Giuliano Gemma in The Return of Ringo (1965) in that they are both members of the calvary who sport big burly beards and go undercover as Mexicans while seeking revenge, Wood does a good job at making it easy for us to root for him.
The action sequences in the film, like the acting, get the job done. They deserve neither commendation or derision. They move the story forward relatively well and are nicely planned, but they don’t convey much creativity and aren’t very fun. The exception, along with the concluding swordfight, is Dexter’s escape from the labor camp. He knocks a few guards out, runs up a desert hill, ducks and dodges some bullets, and then hangs off a cliff to fool his pursuers into thinking he jumped to his death.
Perhaps the averageness of 4 Dollars of Revenge is best represented by Benedetto Ghiglia’s score. The soundtrack is a mixed bag, with nothing obviously good or bad about it. There is some very spaghetti western-esque musical whistling in it, along with some classical orchestrated sounds, and a good amount of jazzy trumpeting. But it also has at least one all-male choir number that sounds as though it was pulled straight out of an old-time radio western from the ‘40s.