Directed by Giorgio Ferroni. Starring Giuliano Gemma, Ida Galli, Pierre Cressoy, Giuseppe Addobbati, Franco Fantasia, Benito Stefanelli and Nello Pazzafini
Director Ferroni’s first outing with rising star Giuliano Gemma (billed as Montgomery Wood) (to be followed by Fort Yuma Gold and Wanted ) and the lovely Ida Galli (Evelyn Stewart). This is an early spaghetti western and the conventions and style of one Sergio Leone were just starting to bear fruit in Europe. How does a pre-Leone western hold up today and will it be too American for those who love the excesses of the later movies?
Two brothers Gary (Gemma) and Phil O’Hara (Nazzareno Zamperla) are starting their lives again after ending up on the losing side in War Between the States. Both are extremely proficient with a revolver (which is shown at the expense of several Union troopers and their rum ration). Phil heads out West and tells Gary to come look for him at Yellowstone, where he will leave word of his whereabouts. He is given his older brother’s horse, which is sturdier than his, to aid him in his journey. Phil in return gives Gary a silver dollar. Gary returns to Virginia and his wife Judy (Galli) where he decides rather quickly that there’s a better chance for them, if they too move out West. Judy is to remain in Virginia and sell the house and follow Gary in three months. Setting out on his lesser horse, Gary arrives in Yellowstone on foot (his horse never had a chance to make the journey). Arriving in the frontier town, he is met with hostility due to him being a former Confederate officer. The one that will give him a job is businessman McCoy (Cressoy), who likes what he sees after Gary handles himself against one of his henchmen (Stefanelli). McCoy informs Gary that a bandit named Blackie is linked to outlaws who are terrorizing the locals and needs him arrested.
Giuliano Gemma as Gary O'Hara
But unfortunately for McCoy, the local sheriff is out of town and will handsomely pay Gary $500 for the arrest and capture of Blackie. Gary confronts Blackie in the saloon, but he realizes too late that Blackie is his brother! Blackie does not see his older brother before shooting him down while McCoy’s men gun down Blackie in defense of Gary. Seeing both men dead McCoy has them taken into the street and has a Southern couple traveling through bury them outside the town. Gee, what a swell bunch of guys, hope I don’t end up driving through that town and end up taking out their trash! Thankfully for the viewer, justice won’t go undone as Gary was not killed for the silver dollar he got stopped the bullet. He is taken by the couple and allowed to recover from his wounds. After seeing his brother’s grave he overhears the plans of the outlaws (they were not part of Blackie’s plan) who want to attack and get rid of farmer Donaldson (Addobbati) who owns considerable land. Thankfully for the dimwitted outlaws, they do not even know what he looks like and Gary arrives before them giving his aid to the farmer. Wiping out the trio of baddies is no issue for him and he and Donaldson work together. Gary finds out his brother was working against McCoy and that the outlaws were linked to him. Gary’s only real option is to get back at them by any means possible. He arrives at an abandoned farm where Phil had stayed and finds the outlaws stationed there. He eventually overpowers all of them and convinces the head outlaw he wants to work with them and he’s on their side. There, he meets a fellow Southerner who feels dishonored after the war. The two strike up a friendship. He and his fellow southerner attempt to work together against McCoy but they are caught and are punished. They decide not to kill Gary but torture him instead. Meanwhile Judy arrives in town and is informed of Gary’s demise. When asked to see the grave she is taken by his men as a hostage. Donaldson and his men are wiped out by the unscrupulous sheriff (a sign of things to come in spaghetti westerns); this leaves Gary alone in his battle with McCoy. Thankfully, both the sheriff and McCoy are as untrustworthy as they come and they are pitted against each other with Gary pulling the strings. With one side destroying the other Gary confronts his nemesis on the streets of Yellowstone but in an act of mercy he does not kill McCoy. But he does leave him to the townspeople who certainly will show no quarter to him. Gary and Judy are reunited and start life anew in the West.
The theme to Ferroni’s One Silver Dollar is honor. Several characters try to regain what they lost, the Confederates during the war and actions immediately after. While the winners certainly have none (except Donaldson, but he is killed for trusting the sheriff). Many movies nowadays do not use honor in their characters. Most are self-serving greedy cretins with little or no sympathy. Thankfully, the protagonist in this movie is painted in a better light while being flawed nonetheless.
Giorgio Ferroni’s first western definitely has the feel of an American western but does not subscribe to annoyances that plague most – no self-righteous hero played by John Wayne or an overly-involved love interest which sucks the life out of any western. There were considerable attempts to cash in on American westerns as nearly everyone involved had an Anglicized name (with Ferroni changed to Calvin Jackson Padget). While this certainly does not feel like a Leone western, I found it enjoyable for several reasons - first being leading man Gemma, who has become one of my favorites in genre, even if dubbed (thankfully the dubbing for him is top notch).
The other reasons are Benito Stefanelli and Nello Pazzafini (changed to Benny Reeves and Peter Surtess, respectively). Both are two of my favorite actors who are always a treat to watch. Both play outlaws and get decent screen time, which added to my enjoyment. The music, while nowhere near the caliber of an Ennio Morricone or Luis Bacalov is still well done without being overly annoying. There are a few DVD releases for this one but I had picked it up a while ago on the Shoarma label. It is listed as an unauthorized release but thankfully the quality is excellent. A widescreen transfer with decent video (colors are a bit soft) and audio that does not pop or hiss. If you are looking for an early spaghetti western and like Gemma definitely check this one out. I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed it.