THE UNHOLY FOUR (1970) Blu-ray
Director: Enzo Barboni
Kino Lorber

Before the TRINITY series, there was THE UNHOLY FOUR, a schizoid comic-tragic spaghetti western obscurity hitting Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

When robbers create a diversion to rob a bank during a gold delivery by setting fire to the local nuthouse, the only survivors of the blaze are escapees Woody (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST's Woody Strode), Hondo (George Eastman, ANTHROPOPHAGUS), Silver (Peter Martell, DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT), and an amnesiac they call Dummy (Leonard Mann, CUT AND RUN). When one of the wounded robbers recognizes Dummy as Chuck Mool, the quartet set off for the town of Oksaka where his father lives. Along the way as they tangle with bounty hunters and card sharks – among them DEATH SMILED AT MURDER's Luciano Rossi (looking more dapper and less demented than usual) – and Chuck discovers that he is a fast gun. Meanwhile, the robbery's planner Tom Udo (Lucio Rosato, NAVAJO JOE) has not only taken his share but that of the hired men after executing them, and returned with the spoils to Oksaka where he and his father (Giuseppe Lauricella) are in a longstanding feud with Chuck's father Joe Caldwell (Helmuth Schneider, THE BEAST IN SPACE) and his other son Alan (Alain Naya, SALON KITTY). When the quartet rides into town, the locals claim to have never heard of Chuck Mool. Udo's men kidnap and torture Woody, learning from him that Chuck has no memories beyond his asylum stay; whereupon, the Udos hit upon the idea to convince Chuck that they are his family and the Caldwells are the enemies in order to set the fast gun up to eliminate their enemies. The weak link in the plan, however, may be Tom's sister Sheila (Evelyn Stewart, MURDER MANSION) who has a hard time pretending that her lost love is her brother.

Although the scripting and direction of THE UNHOLY FOUR is generally sober and straightforward, the scoring of Riz Ortolani is lush but light-hearted and only switches over to spaghetti western-esque twangs during suspense set-pieces. The plotting is rather uneven with the plot to manipulate Chuck quickly exposed and a surprise twist all too easily anticipated, but we do come to care about the central quartet and are saddened when not all of them make it to the end. The shootouts are rather sloppily shot and edited, and some of the longer dialogue scenes are perfunctorily covered, yet Barboni and cinematographer Mario Montuori (GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON) do manage to give the opening sequence preceding the fire and the cemetery set-piece where Chuck faces off against his father an almost Mario Bava-esque atmosphere in their use of light, shadow, and color gels. Mann, who had previously headlined Ferdinando Baldi's THE FORGOTTEN PISTOLERO as a similarly troubled hero and dressed to look like Django here, makes for a handsome but bland hero; although virtually all of performers fare best when being expressive with their faces and eyes rather than the stilted dubbed dialogue. Mann was an Italian-American actor who worked primarily in Italy and Spain during the 1970s up to the mid-1980s with parts in films like DEATH STEPS IN THE DARK, THE PERFECT CRIME, THE BODY (with Carroll Baker), Aldo Lado's THE HUMANOID, and THE MONSTER OF VENICE with a few American roles including a lead in the slasher NIGHT SCHOOL, a supporting bit in New World's screen adaptation of FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC, and SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 3. According to IMDb, he was a teacher for the Los Angeles School District in later years. He is also set to appear in some Blu-ray extras later this year from Code Red (presumably for CUT AND RUN). Director E.B. Clucher was actually cinematographer-turned-director Enzo Barboni who had shot DJANGO, TEXAS ADIOS, A LONG RIDE FROM HELL, and THE FIVE MAN ARMY among others before making THE UNHOLY FOUR his directorial debut. He is better known to spaghetti western fans, however, as the director of the Trinity series with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer.

Unreleased in the States (it did play in the UK on a double bill with Giorgio Ferroni's DESERT TANKS) until Wild East's DVD double bill with Ferdinando Baldi's THE FORGOTTEN PISTOLERO (also starring Mann), THE UNHOLY FOUR comes to Blu-ray in a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that looks flat at first under the title opticals (black rather the white ones seen on English prints) but takes on some nice depth in the first shot after the credits. Sharpness and clarity vary due to the heavy use of zooms and shaky handheld camera (presumably for fast coverage since a couple insert shots within the same sequences are rock steady), but it is a solid presentation overall (certainly better than some of Kino's other spaghetti western releases thus far). English and Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono tracks are provided along with an optional English subtitle track. The Wild East DVD ran just under 89 minutes while the Blu-ray runs 94 minutes (which would still run slightly longer even if the DVD is an uncorrected PAL conversion). The only extras are trailers for NAVAJO JOE and SABATA. Licensed from Euro London, Kino's Blu-ray of THE UNHOLY FOUR is coded for Region A players. (Eric Cotenas)