This Dino de Laurentiis production was one of the first of the flood of Italian westerns greenlit in the wake of Sergio Leone’s early hits – note the use of the word ‘dollari’ in the title. Director Carlo Lizzano (billed as ‘Lee W. Beaver’) was a long-time midlist hack, whose most notable credits are probably the Peter Boyle gangster film Crazy Joe and the odder spaghetti western Kill & Pray; here, he just gets the job done, and works with what he’s got, which isn’t very much. It opens just after the Civil War with a couple of Rebs, Jerry Brewster (Thomas Hunter) and Ken Seagull (Nando Gazzolo) on the run from the Union army with a stash of cash. They cut cards to see who’ll escape with the money and who’ll string out the chase and get captured, and the heroic Jerry wins – which leads to five years in the sort of camp where prisoners have to stand unaided in a cage of barbed wire for punishment. Jerry asks Ken to look out for his wife and son, but naturally the weaselly villain doesn’t – the wife pines away and the son (Loris Loddi) is adopted by a blacksmith – and so Jerry looks up his old comrade, now a land-grabbing bastard, to get revenge.
Hunter didn’t go on to become Clint Eastwood and no wonder – he’s male model pretty, but not charismatic and fails to project the grungy toughness that was a spaghetti hero requisite. Gazzolo isn’t much of a villain either, so the acting falls to American veterans Dan Duryea, as quixotic but helpful gunman Winny Getz, and Henry Silva, as the baddy’s fiendishly grinning sidekick Garcia Mendez (character names aren’t a strong suit). Silva isn’t subtle, but is entertaining: if the whole film had been pitched at the level of his ham, it would be a lot more fun. Nicoletta Machiavelli is lovely but underused as the sweet heroine who reminds Jerry of his dead wife. It has gruesome elements – the hero cuts off his own tattoo so Winny can claim to have killed him to get in with the villains’ camp – and the expected gunplay, but it doesn’t add anything to the new-minted sub-genre in the way that, say, Sergio Corbucci’s Django soon would. Entertaining enough, though.