4 for Texas

Dullsville

4 for Texas (1963)

     Immediately upon it’s opening, 4 for Texas informs us that Charles Bronson‘s character is the villain and characters named Zack and Joe are the good guys, a fact that is easy to forget as we stumble through a sloppy story in which Rat Packers Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra arenotgood pals.

     Sure the two characters seem to be on great terms as the start of the movie takes us on a high-speed horse-drawn stagecoach race. Bronson’s Matson is leading a horseback gang that seeks to take both the $100,000 the coach is carrying and the man defending it, Sinatra’s Zack Thomas. With Sinatra on the roof of the coach and Martin’s Joe Jarrett inside, they fend off the attackers with some sharp shooting before the coach crashes a safe distance from the villains. The following exchange, however, sees the money and power change hands a few times between Zack and Joe, who are firmly enemies by the time the latter walks off with the cash.

     The money came from dirty Galveston banker Harvy Burden (Victor Buono) who hired Zack to protect the coach and Matson to attack it. The money was meant to be Zack’s to buy a bum river boat that he would transform into a gambling operation. The man is consoled by French girlfriend Elya, played by the ever voluptuous Anita Ekberg.

     Joe meanwhile arrives in Galveston and makes a fast friend in Angel (Nick Dennis), who deposits the stolen money from Joe’s jacket lining into Harvy’s bank, where it cannot be touched. Our two main men have back and forth arguments about the money, but Joe opts to pursue setting up the gambling boat himself, especially after meeting its owner, the less-classy seductress Maxine (Ursula Andress). When the gambling operation is ready to open, however, Joe will have to fend off Zack before both parties are forced to team up against Matson.

     4 for Texas is a silly comedy complete with cameos from the aging Three Stooges. Sinatra and Martin had the time of their lives on the set, much to the chagrin of Director Robert Aldrich. Sinatra in particular often arrived late and refused to do more than a couple takes. The lack of effort does not necessarily show in the performances, but the story and overall picture are sloppy. Sinatra comes off as the villain for a good portion of the movie while our favors side with Martin. The women do not particularly bring anything to the picture, nor do they advance the plot in any irreplaceable way. And let’s be honest, in many ways Ekberg with her mountainous bosom and Ursula with her comparable curves were probably only incorporated into the picture as eye candy and/or as a distraction for the stars.

     4 for Texas was certainly not the worst Sinatra or Martin movie I have seen, nor the worst western Sinatra did (see  The Kissing Bandit). It also has a certain amount of glamor that has its appeal, but as a story it lacks all quality. One will not be bored watching this movie, it just is likely to leave the viewer dissatisfied.

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Divorce – Italian Style

Ring a Ding Ding

Divorce - Italian Style (1962)

     I always enjoy a good foreign film, but I, like most people, do have a certain aversion to them. I would say the greatest problem with reading subtitles is that not only can you not leave the room while watching them and still catch the dialogue, but you also cannot doze off and listen with your eyes closed. Perhaps a more substantial complaint about subtitles, however, is that they distract from the action and cinematography. This is especially true for Italian film because the language is typically spoken troppo quickly, that one does not have time to look around after reading a line of dialogue.

     Nevertheless, I would never pass up an opportunity to see my favorite Italian actor: Marcello Mastroianni. For those who do not know about the wonderfully talented (and handsome) man, he could be described as Italy’s Cary Grant: well adept at both drama and comedy and still sexy when he went gray.

     Divorzio all’Italiana contains all the elements of an American romantic comedy but takes a rather bleak approach. One can understand how the base plot about a man who lures his wife to cheat so he can take a lover would attract the attention of U.S. filmmakers, but Divorce American Style five years later is less about infidelity and more about the hardships of single life for the separating couple.

     Divorce – Italian Style has other elements that would have been a sure taboo if they had shown up in the American version. Our protagonist, Ferdinando, is in love with his 16-year-old cousin. He is 37. What begins as mere longing on Ferdinando’s part, however, is consummated just prior to the girl being shipped back to Catholic school. Ignoring the troubles of incest and statutory rape, it takes little for the viewer to get on board with that romance, but the remainder of the film, while driven by that love, does not focus on it.

     After making love to his adolescent cousin in the lush garden outside the large, although rundown home occupied by both sects of the family, Ferdinando consults Italian law to discover how his crime could be punished. simultaneously, a trial proceeds to the conviction of a woman for shooting her husband for infidelity. Ferdinando finds the penalty is up to seven years for murdering a cheating spouse, however, Italian culture considers it a disgrace to the entire family, and those who associate with them, when a spouse is unfaithful. Given that Ferdinando has already comically fantasized about murdering his wife for us, he makes a natural leap to finding a suitor for su moglie, Rosalia.

     The chosen culprit is a man who was in love with Rosalia prior to and during World War II. He is now a mural restorer/artist, who Ferdinando commissions to mend some ancient paintings on the walls of one room of the house. He next sets up a microphone so he can monitor activities, which progress to his liking. Ferdinando hopes that when Rosalia feigns a headache while the rest of the family goes out, it will be his opportunity to catch her in the act and unload some bullets into her. Instead he returns to find his wife leaving with a suitcase, but is unable to beat her to the train. News spreads throughout the town and the family is shunned because Ferdinando has not defended his honor by killing his wife, but he is playing it cool. When he finally does discover where the lovers are hiding, it is Rosalia’s partner’s wife who shoots him, just moments before Ferdinando reaches them. Saying “What about mine?” he next shoots his wife.

     The story is a bit gruesome at times and not an obvious comedy. It certainly uses Hitchcockian humor that the British/American director inserted into all his films. Like a Hitchcock flick, Divorce – Italian Style deals with serious circumstances but is filled with goofy moments and circumstances that seem odd until the viewer realizes they happen for comedic effect, albeit dry effect. Ferdinando has a lively imagination that involves voice-over dialogue of a famed attorney pleading his case before the crime is ever committed, in addition to visual dramatizations of various deaths that could befall Rosalia. I’m not sure if Mastroianni’s appearance in the movie is also a joke, but it must be noted that he sacrifices his good looks in order to sport a mustache and side-parted lacquered hair that today we would associate with a child molester. Apt, aye?

     One final note: The greatest joke in the film is that when the entire family, minus Rosalia, go out, they are attending the opening of La Dolce Vita, a Federico Fellini film staring Mastroianni and released the year prior to Divorce. Granted the scenes shown are exclusively of the lustful Anita Ekberg, but nevertheless, an inside joke for the astute.

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