Friday, 3 July 2020

One Silver Dollar

Dir:  Giorgio Ferroni


1965 was the year when the western went from being a curiosity to a phenomenon in Italy.  Leone's A Fistful of Dollars had shown in the previous year that an Italian take on the genre could be very popular.  In '65 his For a Few Dollars More blew the lid off and took over 3 billion lire at the domestic box office.  This was far and away the biggest grossing domestic film in Italy that year but it was in very good company, with all five of the top grossing domestic productions that year being westerns.  It was also the year in which the Italian film industry discovered they could have big success in the genre with home grown talent because the other four of those five top grossing films starred the same local actor, Giuliano Gemma.  Gemma became a superstar in Italy that year and became synonymous with the character of Ringo used in the title of two of his best known films, A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo.  Both Ringo films did great business in 1965 but Gemma's top grossing film of that year, and the film second only to For a Few Dollars More in domestic box office revenue was neither of those.  It was One Silver Dollar.

Still unsure of the bankability of home grown talent in such a quintessentially American genre as the western, Italian producers had been routinely creating pseudonyms for key personnel in order to give the impression that their films were "the real thing".  So Gemma was billed as Montgomery Wood in his first three westerns.  It quickly became apparent that this was unnecessary however and by the end of the year he was using his own name.  For One Silver Dollar then, his second western, he appears as Montgomery Wood while fellow Italian starlet Ida Galli is Evelyn Stewart and director Giorgio Ferroni is Kelvin Jakson Paget!

In A Pistol for Ringo Gemma had played a cynical, self-seeking character whose morals are cloudy at best.  A trickster looking to feather his own nest by positioning himself between the good guys and bad guys and playing them against each other to his own advantage. The following year he would play a similar role in Arizona Colt but for the most part Gemma would be cast as a hero with clear morals trying to clear his name or win back what had been stolen from him.  These were the roles that fit his image best and it was in One Silver Dollar that this image was first set.

Demobbed from the Confederate army at the end of the civil war Gary O'Hara (Gemma) heads home to his wife in Virginia while his brother sets off west to leave persecution behind him and seek his fortune.  Gary soon follows while arranging for his wife to do the same once the farm is sold.  Sadly, the west is as full of the old North/South divisions as anywhere and the brothers find themselves unknowingly pitted against each other by the unscrupulous town boss.  Gary kills his brother and is left for dead himself but survives and soon returns to set things straight.

If you like Gemma, and I do, there's a lot to like about One Silver Dollar.  It showcases his affable charm and athleticism in a good balance of melodrama and action; allowing plenty of space for well choreographed fight scenes and some fancy gun play.  It is decidedly traditional American in style but this suits Gemma's persona well.  He was never the type to play "squinting Clint" kinds of roles.  The wronged hero was always a better fit and so this film fits him like a glove.  Some of his trademark athletic tricks were still yet to surface but there is plenty of leaping onto horses and throwing himself around to enjoy and give hints as to what was to come in later films.  Ferroni's direction is also solid and his partnership with writer and assistant director Giorgio Stegano was clearly a fruitful one.  Marco Giusti states in his Dizionario del Western All'Italiana that the pair worked very much as a team and that the film feels as much Stegani's as Ferroni's.  Either way, its was a partnership which suited Gemma well and the pair worked together or separately with Gemma on three more westerns over the next couple of years, all following a similar style.  The score by Gianni Ferrio is also excellent with the theme tune a haunting, low key affair that stays with you for a long time after the film has finished.  This proved to be the beginning of another long association as Ferrio went on to score a total of seven Gemma westerns.

The supporting cast all do a fine job without any stand out performances.  Ida Galli covers all three bases required of her in a typically undemanding role for a woman in an Italian western, she looks pretty, in love and frightened with equal reliability but is never asked to do more sadly.  Nello Pazzafini plays the heavy henchman well in what was to become a regular part for him in many other Gemma westerns and the town boss and shady sheriff are played effectively if somewhat unmemorably by Pierre Cressoy and Franco Fantasia.

Un Dollaro Bucato showed that not all Italian westerns had to follow Leone's path to be successful.  It was a decidedly traditional western in style and had an uncompromisingly moral hero at its centre.  It was family friendly yet still enjoyable for the slightly more cynical viewer and is just a plain old enjoyable western.  Moreover, it was shot entirely in Italy and clearly had a restricted budget.

It also showed that in Giuliano Gemma Italy had a real star who could out-perform almost any other overseas actor at the domestic box office on a regular basis.  It was not until the emergence of Franco Nero that anyone came close to his popularity at home and not until the tag team of Terrence Hill and Bud Spencer that it was surpassed.  You can't discuss the genre without mentioning Gemma and One Silver Dollar is still one of his best.

For this review I watched the Japanese Imagica DVD from one of their Macaroni Western box sets.  It offers the film in Italian and English with English and Japanese subtitles.  The picture and sound is uniformly good although some of the scenes set at dusk are a little dark and difficult to make out.  It also includes an interview with Gemma in Italian with Japanese subs.  As always, some English subs for these interviews would have been nice.

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