Movies ‘Till Dawn: “Blood for a Silver Dollar” (1965)

ONESILVERThis Italian-French Western hews closer to the American template for the genre from the same time period than the operatically violent Continental efforts that followed in its wake; viewers seeking a Django Unchained-style bloodbath will find instead a spaghetti Western safe enough to enjoy with non-devotees or even younger audiences. But labeling Blood for a Silver Dollar as such doesn’t also translate as dull: the premise, which sends former Confederate POW Giuliano Gemma (billed as Montgomery Wood in the Anglicized credits) gunning for the sidewinders that tricked him into murdering his own brother, unfolds at a breezy clip fueled by plenty of shootouts and fisticuffs. Italo-Western vet Gemma, whose granite jaw and skyscraping coiffure suggest a Steve Ditko sketch come to life, lacks the tombstone cool of Clint Eastwood or even George Hilton, but his ramrod posture and bearing are the perfect frame on which to hang the picture’s rigidly black-and-white moral compass. Pierre Cressoy, who played Verdi in between sword and sandal and Western assignments, also embodies the Saturday matinee ideal in his puffed-up, land-hungry heel, while Ida Galli (Gemma’s co-star in Visconti’s The Leopard, 1963) is appropriately indignant whenever manhandled by Cressoy’s swarthy henchmen. And if the picture’s aesthetic is a bit too clean for hardcore spaghetti consumers – everyone appears to have gotten their duds from the Chinese laundry shortly before the cameras rolled – there’s a swell recurring motif : Gemma flips a silver dollar, taken from his dead brother and scored by a bullet that should have killed him, before drawing his gun, and Gianni Ferrio’s score, which was excerpted on the Inglourious Basterds soundtrack, lends an appropriately doomy note with a title theme rich with swooping strings and mournful brass. Blood for a Silver Dollar isn’t a classic entry in the sprawling catalog of Eurowesterns, but it’s certainly an enjoyable effort that hits all its marks.

(An English dubbed print of Blood for a Silver Dollar is included on Movies 4 You: More Spaghetti Westerns, a single -disc collection of four features on Shout Factory’s Timeless Media Group imprint.)

Also: an elegantly wasted Alain Delon is top-billed in Frank Riva: The Complete Series, a 2003 French television series newly available on Stateside DVD from Mhz Networks. Like Giuliano Gemma in Blood for a Silver Dollar, retired cop Riva returns to action when his brother is the victim of a mysterious murder; here, however, the suspects pose a greater threat than Cressoy’s gang of ill-shaven cowpokes, while Riva’s familial connections, as embodied by ex-girlfriend Mirelle Dark and estranged daughter Melanie Maudran, are more tenuous than Gemma and Stewart’s unbreakable marriage. Anchoring all six episodes is Delon, whose weathered face and well-worn cool do much to sell the rocky paths Riva has trod both on and off the force. 

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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