Jailbreak! Amnesia! Gunfights! Dubbing!
I was so onboard for the first half of The Unholy Four, the 1970 spaghetti western directed by Enzo Barboni (credited here as “E.B. Clutcher”) and new to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, that I was convinced I had stumbled across an unsung new classic — a smaller, more violent and more Italian take on The Magnificent Seven. But then the second half becomes something different that, while by no means bad, is a big enough departure from the ensemble opening that it’s almost jarring. The film doesn’t fall apart, but it veers enough away from the expectations that it had set up that it falls short of being an undiscovered classic. The Unholy Four has to settle for being a cool movie if not a great one.
It opens with a bank robbery in which a gang of criminals sets fire to a prison to create a distraction. The fire at the prison allows four convicts, Silver (Pietro Martellanza, billed here as Peter Martell), Woody (Woody Strode), Hondo (the great George Eastman, going by his actual name Luca Montefiori for a change) and an amnesiac played by Leonard Mann, break out together. As they ride, Mann starts being recognized as “Chuck Moll” and eventually becomes a pawn in a clash between two warring families, each of whom claim to be related to Chuck Moll to get back at one another.
I really shouldn’t be surprised that the movie eventually gives itself over to Leonard Mann’s character, as one of the original Italian title is Ciakmoll – L’uomo della vendetta, aka Chuck Moll – The Man of Revenge. But because Mann’s character and performance are among the least interesting in the movie — his biggest character trait is that he has amnesia and is very handsome — it bummed me out to see the more interesting characters played by Woody Strode and George Eastman take a back seat to a family drama in which I’m not really invested. I’ll give credit to The Unholy Four for being unpredictable; it keeps revealing new surprises practically up to the end credits. The final shootout is pretty epic as well, so it’s not as though it narrows in completely on Chuck Moll and drowns everything else out. But I was so enthralled with the first half, in which the ensemble rides around and has adventures, gorgeously photographed under former cinematographer Barboni — here making his directorial debut — and with a fantastic theme from Riz Ortolani, that I wanted that version of the movie to keep going.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray looks incredible; the 1080p HD transfer makes the movie appear as if it was shot this year and brings out a ton of detail in every face, texture in every piece of clothing. This is a well shot movie and this high def transfer is strong enough that it alone may help audiences rediscover the film. Two lossless tracks are offered, one an English dub and the second in the original Italian (playable with English subtitles). It’s sometimes thin and hissy but it works, especially when Otolani’s theme plays over and over. The only bonus features are a trailer for the movie and a bonus trailer for Navajo Joe, another good spaghetti western available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.
I suspect The Unholy Four is a movie I’m going to like even more on a second viewing, when I can better appreciate it for the movie it is rather than the one I’m hoping it’s going to be based on the first half. It looks great, the score is great and the cast is cool. This is exactly the kind of catalogue title I love to find on Blu-ray and one I know I’ll be revisiting a number of times in the future.
Cool spaghetti western ready for rediscovery.