Peter Graves plays an American mercenary dubbed ‘The Dutchman’ looking for four comrades to help steal $500,000 in gold dust from a Mexican military train with seriously protective armour, as well as seriously armed soldiers on board the moving vessel. These comrades are: Brawling and heavy-eating Mesito (Bud Spencer), stoic Japanese warrior ‘Samurai’ (Tetsuro Tamba), The Dutchman’s longtime comrade and explosives expert dubbed The Captain (James Daly), and thief-acrobat Luis (Nino Castelnuovo). Carlo Alighiero is their chief nemesis, the brutal Captain Gutierrez.
Although it’s definitely a spaghetti western, this 1970 film was directed by an American in Don Taylor (“Escape From the Planet of the Apes”, “Damien- The Omen II”), and reminds one of films like “The Professionals”, “The Dirty Dozen”, and “The Magnificent Seven”, rather than your average spaghetti western. Hell, if anything it’s a western version of TV’s awesome “The A-Team” with Peter Graves somewhere in between George Peppard’s ‘Hannibal’ Smith and the character he himself played on “Mission: Impossible”. Scripted by veteran TV writer Marc Richards (who even scripted an episode of “He-Man: Masters of the Universe”) and the inimitable Dario Argento (director of “Suspiria”, “The Bird With the Crystal Plumage”, and “Inferno”), it’s a B-version of all those films listed above, but B doesn’t stand for bad, it’s just on a second, lower tier than the top grade of westerns. It’s occasionally exciting and well-shot, if obviously not on the level of a Sergio Leone (“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”) or John Sturges (“The Magnificent Seven”, “Gunfight at the OK Corral”) western.
If it does count as spaghetti western, then it’s certainly one of the stronger non-Leone spaghetti westerns for sure, even if Taylor isn’t the dynamic filmmaker Leone was. He’s a workman-like director, but not inept. Just look at the really exciting, tense set-piece aboard the well-armed and guarded train. It’s a very well-done set-piece, and workman or not, Taylor’s no hack (Unless the rumours are true that someone else- possibly Argento- directed some of the film). The entire climax is actually really well-done, with Tetsuro Tamba proving himself a runnin’ fool long before “Forrest Gump”, in a really cool, extended sequence. The final stages are by far the best thing about the film, including the 11th hour twist that although maybe not 100% believable, is genuinely unexpected and interesting. The film has an interesting B-cast, too. Tamba doesn’t get to do much, but when he does- Yes, please! James Daly plays the Captain and he’s really good, having a somewhat world-weary vibe as he realises it’s a young man’s game and they’re severely outmatched and outgunned. If you were making a western in Europe during the 70s and needed an Ernest Borgnine or Jack Elam type for half the price, Bud Spencer was your dude. He’s good fun here as the rowdy, violent member of the five, and for once it’s his real voice you’ll hear, as he was usually dubbed (Despite being perfectly OK in English if you ask me). The lead here is Peter Graves, Capt. Oveur from “Flying High!” (AKA “Airplane!”), and although seemingly an odd choice at first, he has an affable, reliable demeanour about him that is appealing. He’s no Yul Brynner, but he’s certainly got more personality and charm than say Gary Cooper or Randolph Scott. As the chief villain, Carlo Alighiero is no Eli Wallach or Lee Van Cleef, but is a pretty damn good villain nonetheless. In fact, the film could’ve used more of him. Even the music score is good, as much as one regrets that Ennio Morricone is pretty much cannibalising himself here (“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “Death Rides a Horse” especially). At least it’s not a Morricone imitator.
This is pretty good fun and the cast is interesting. Certainly one of the better second-tier spaghetti westerns out there, with a thrilling climax. It deserves a much better reputation and bigger audience.