The Last Gun
An early Italian western, when the genre was still blossoming and developing its distinctive voice, 'The Last Gun' carries obvious traces of its American inspirations. Right from the opening credits and the cheap stock music, the movie could easily be mistaken for something like Saturday matinee B-material of the 1950s. As a nameless cowboy strums on his guitar while riding his horse and sings his folk-like song about Jim Hart, we can almost appreciate the hackneyed beginning as a quirky homage to a style of filmmaking thought of as geared towards younger audiences here in the States. In fact, the entire film can pretty much be enjoyed from this perspective because honestly, there's very little else which makes it worth remembering.
Where it starts showing signs of its being produced outside of the United States, just in case the bad English dubbing didn't already give it away, is in the story of a retired gunslinger forced back into action in order to save his beloved town. There's a slightly darker edge to it than is typical of an American western, most apparent in the no-good varmints. The gang terrorizing the usually quiet community is especially ruthless and sinister, creating quite the mayhem and making the movie a bit more violent than is customary. Even our hero, Jim Hart, (Cameron Mitchell) is a man with such a dark checkered past that he's become a scary legend to these bad guys. (Part of the fun in watching this is seeing how filmmakers thought audiences wouldn't notice Bill the shopkeeper is also Jim.)
We could argue this slightly darker tone in the narrative is an indicator of great things to come. But Leone's explosive 'A Fistful of Dollars' had just released a month prior to this one, setting into motion that distinctive voice which would pretty much define the subgenre. A better way of looking at 'The Last Gun' is as an homage which intentionally imitates the American western with a fond appreciation for its influence. In other words, while Leone was pushing the genre forward, director Sergio Bergonzelli, who is credited as Serge Bergon on the screen, looks at the past with affection. He would later come into his own with better westerns like 'Stranger in Sacramento,' 'Colt in the Hand of the Devil' and 'Cisco.' But for now, this is a middle of the road, not particularly good Italian western. (Movie Rating: 2/5)
4 Dollars of Revenge
The better film of the two is this little western ditty from director Jaime Jesús Balcázar, probably best known for 'Ranch of the Ruthless' and the wonderfully titled 'Jessy Does Not Forgive... He Kills!' Working from a script that took three writers to complete, the movie is not particularly well-made with lots of bad acting, laughable dialogue, corny fight choreography and much too convenient twists in the narrative. The set designs and shooting locations are surprisingly some of the production's best features, but still feel like an obvious imitation of classic Saturday matinee serials. And that's not a point of complaint, giving the film an amusingly quaint aspect. I only think that in showing a filmmaker's influence, he should also make it good while striving to develop his own voice.
Notwithstanding some of these minor drawbacks to a forgotten low-budget European western, the plot to '4 Dollars of Revenge' is actually quite engaging and entertaining. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if any movie is deserving of the modern trend for remakes and reimaginings, it is this one. However, I think a better start to this mystery of a backstabbing Union cavalry and Confederate gold is the prison break of Captain Dexter (Robert Woods). This way, viewers are left in the dark about his intentions joining a gang of merciless Mexican bandits and sneaking off to a nearby town asking questions of a vicious shooting that took place at Rio Grande. As he starts killing men who don't recognize his face until it's too late, the audience starts piecing the clues together, realizing he's seeking vengeance for the men who framed the honorable soldier for the massacre.
I imagine this Spanish-Italian collaboration would have been better received, and likely better remembered today, had the script been tightened up some. But as it is, the plot's not entirely horrible. I find it fairly enjoyable partly because of its badness and the several unintentionally funny gaffs in the background. Most hilarious is the horrendous dubbing of Mexican accents, each one done true to the stereotypes of the period. The fight scenes are also great, especially the final bout when Dexter breaks out into a sword fight against his accuser, because it's so obviously well-timed and practiced. Stage direction and blocking are hysterical because it all looks so amateur. But I think my favorite is when a bearded Dexter jumps off a very short cliff during his prison break, he is somehow missing the large bushy beard he had on a second ago. '4 Dollars' is a fun western, but it definitely deserves a remake. (Movie Rating: 3/5)
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Mill Creek Entertainment brings 'The Last Gun' and '4 Dollars of Revenge' to Blu-ay in a package dubbed the "Spaghetti Western Double Feature." Both films are contained on a Region A locked, BD25 disc inside the standard blue keepcase. At startup, viewers are taken straight to the main menu where they can choose which of the movie to watch.
Be warned that despite claims of a new high-def master, both films have not been restored to their former glory and come from severely aged, poorly preserved prints. Both AVC-encoded transfers are riddled with scratches, white specks, mysterious lines moving across the screen and even cigarette burns. Sometimes, we can make out the severity of the print's damage and age because the picture will occasionally look warped or completely degraded with very noticeable telecine judder.
Presented in what we can assume are their original aspect ratios ('Last Gun' is in a 1.96:1 window while '4 Dollars' comes in a 2.46:1 frame), contrast is on the substandard side and terribly inconsistent with several dull scenes or overblown highlights, ruining the clarity of finer details. In fact, definition overall falls awfully short, and black levels are washed out with a couple sequences that suddenly show very dark, overwhelming shadows. The only real benefit worth noting is the boosted colors, especially reds, but even then, much of the palette appears faded for a majority of the time.
Although both movies arrive in English uncompressed PCM stereo, the lossless mix is every bit the video's equal. Dialogue can be heard decently well, but there's a bit of noise accompanying many of the spoken words. We can also detect a good deal of hissing and popping in the background with the occasional dropout to boot. We can even detect a bit of a warble and an unsteady waver in the lossless mix, demonstrating further the extensive damage of the prints used. The entire presentation is well-maintained in the center of the screen, but there's also no life or a sense of presence due to a very narrow and limited dynamic range. This means the musical score is listless and uninspiring, never extending beyond seeming like part of the background noise. Bass is even worse and pretty much non-existent. Ultimately, there's nothing worth praising in the audio.
This is a bare-bones release.
Two long forgotten Italian Westerns are brought to home video as a double feature thanks to Mill Creek Entertainment. 'The Last Gun' is a very early style of the subgenre that loudly displays its American influences while '4 Dollars of Revenge' is an example as the style coming into its own with intriguing stories of revenge. Unfortunately, the single disc presentation comes with terribly ugly and dated audio and video presentation while offering nothing in the supplements. Nonetheless, the exceptionally low price is much too tempting for cult enthusiasts.