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  Man Called Sledge, A A Good Man Turned Bad
Year: 1970
Director: Vic Morrow, Giorgio Gentili
Stars: James Garner, Dennis Weaver, Claude Akins, John Marley, Laura Antonelli, Wayde Preston, Ken Clark, Tony Young, Allan Jones, Herman Reynoso, Steffen Zacharias, Didi Perego, Paolo Barbara, Mario Valgoi, Laura Betti, Laurenzo Piani, Franco Giornelli
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: A stagecoach rushes through the snowbound countryside, carrying both passengers and a cargo of gold, when it is stopped in its tracks by a couple of outlaws who in their keenness to get their hands on the valuables allow one of the drivers to accidentally shoot himself when he drops his rifle as instructed and it goes off. Luther Sledge (James Garner) may take the money, but he's not happy about the incident, though heads off to the nearest town to recover, where it just so happens his true love Ria (Laura Antonelli) is residing at the saloon. She takes him to her bed, while below in the bar his sidekick gets into a card game which doesn't end well when he is shot dead. Sledge manages to retaliate, and an old timer (John Marley) backs him up that he was acting in self-defence...

Aside from a few television episodes, directing wasn't Vic Morrow's main source of income, though he did helm a couple of movies. His first in the sixties is an obscure, heavy breathing adaptation of a Jean Genet prison play which numbered Leonard Nimoy in the cast of inmates just as he was about to take his famed role in Star Trek, but for his second he followed many an American actor seeking a nice holiday in Europe as well as a nice paycheque into the bargain and helmed this Spaghetti Western, though he had uncredited assistance from Italian director Giorgio Gentili. The results do not feature in many Western fans' lists of their favourite in this genre, but that was selling it a little short.

If there was a point of interest other than Morrow, who will always be notorious for the manner of his untimely demise on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie, then it was in the casting of star James Garner. The odd thing about this was not that he crossed the Atlantic to take the lead in a middling budget Italian horse opera when he was at the height of his fame - and his upcoming role in TV detective series The Rockford Files would only make him even more famous and celebrated - but that he should choose to play one of his few outright villains in it. Sledge you could describe as an anti-hero, only he's not very heroic, in fact he's a real nasty piece of work and it's the others in the cast of characters that throw him into a sharper relief.

There's nobody really all that laudable here aside perhaps from Ria (Laura Antonelli with a curious blonde look rather than her usual brunette), who gets the crucial line which wakes Sledge up from his evildoing and selfishness, though in typical style he works this out probably too late to save his soul, or anyone else's for that matter, gotta have that downbeat ending if the protagonist is morally compromised, after all. Before we get there, a heist is on the cards, for Sledge has made a wary friendship with the old man (that's what he's called!) who informs him a fortune in gold bullion resides in a location you'd have to be mad to try and break into. That's right, it's in a walk-in safe in the local prison, and theirs for the taking should they work out a plan.

Naturally what follows is Sledge and his hastily assembled band of thieves contriving to get themselves thrown in that jail, the better to operate their schemes which are well orchestrated if slightly implausible and resting on a lot of chance that things would go their way once they were incarcerated. You tend to overlook such niggles when you're watching, however, since Garner was charismatic no matter who he was playing, good guy or bad, and his magnetic presence sustained the intrigue mostly because the star's accustomed persona being what it was you wanted to see if he could redeem himself. Morrow and Gentili staged the action with brisk effect, so the shootouts were present and correct, especially near the end when Sledge is, through many faults of his own, forced to reckon with the fact that gold, greed and avarice can make outlaws of just about anyone who allow themselves to be succumbed by its allure. This was never going to be at the front rank of Spaghetti Westerns, but was well worth a look, even with Denzel Washington singing the theme song (um?).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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