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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Four Bullets for Joe Blu-ray Review


MVD Classics

Blu-ray Release: October 24, 2023

Video: 1.66:1/1080p/Color

Audio: English LPCM 1.0 Mono

Subtitles: English SDH

Run Time: 79:39

Director: Agustín Navarro


The mysterious death of a man who is about to leave a small town in Kansas with his girlfriend sets off a series of unfortunate events that will only end when her brother, the legendary and notorious gunslinger Frank Dalton (Paul Piaget) exacts a ruthless and bloody revenge. (From MVD’s official synopsis)


For the most part, the term “spaghetti western” refers to Italian-made movies, but, in reality, most of these films were multinational co-productions. They featured cast members from across the Americas and Europe, were largely shot in Spain, and several were funded by German, Hollywood, and even East Asian companies. Given this, the preferred term is probably “Eurowestern,” as to include the likes of Terence Young’s Red Sun (Italian: Soleil Rouge, 1971) and Burt Kennedy’s Hannie Caulder (1971). Spanish western co-productions were the most common, however, and technically pre-date the Italian western craze. Agustín Navarro’s Four Bullets for Joe (Spanish: Cuatro balazos; aka: Shots Ring Out!) was released in Italian theaters a few weeks before A Fistful of Dollars (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari) in 1964. As such, it doesn’t try to mimic Sergio Leone’s subgenre-defining, hyper-stylish approach, sticking instead to the same budget-level, ‘50s Hollywood look that served most pre-Leone Eurowesterns up until that point.



At risk of disappearing into the fray, Four Bullets for Joe does a couple of things to rise above the mire of mediocrity by doing something most few films did, even in the early years of the post-Leone era – employing a storytelling gimmick. One of Fistful of Dollars’ more underappreciated innovations was adapting a non-western source, namely Akira Kurosawa’s samurai thriller Yojimbo (1961)*, and applying it to a traditional southwestern backdrop. A lot of imitators (and predecessors) lacked the imagination to look beyond western tropes, but there were creative exceptions, such as Luigi Bazzoni’s Man, Pride and Vengeance (Italian: L'uomo, l'orgoglio, la vendetta, 1967), which adapts Prosper Mérimée’s Carmen (pub. 1845), Enzo G. Castellari’s Johnny Hamlet (Italian: Quella sporca storia nel west, 1968), which adapts Shakespeare’s Hamlet, or Tonino Valerii’s The Price of Power (Italian: Il prezzo del potere, 1969), which is a procedural based around the assassination of James A. Garfield.


Four Bullets for Joe doesn’t adapt an existing text or movie, but does dress up its cowboy setting with murder mystery trappings. This is bolstered by courtroom scenes and extensive procedural elements, all of which frame it as a noir melodrama that just happens to take place in the Old West (there are even hints at a rum-running subplot). The script’s mash-up qualities might be attributed to the fact that it was written by a small army, including Fernando Galiana, Mario Guerra, José Mallorquí, Julio Porter, and Vittorio Vighi. This confluence of ideas and inspirations created a secondary lead in Paul Piaget’s Frank Dalton, a character with curious connections to Colonel Mortimer, Lee Van Cleef’s character from Leone’s For a Few Dollars More (Italian: Per qualche dollaro in più, 1965). Admittedly, these comparisons are mostly vague revenge western tropes, but each man is a hotshot gunfighter who has come into town seeking retribution for his sister (Frank doesn’t realize she’s dead until he arrives and is initially trying to rescue her from trumped-up murder charges) and each carries a musical pocket watch that sentimentally links them to the to their dead sibling. On top of this, both watches are at the heart of major plot twists.



While the narrative pieces don’t always fit, cinematographers Manuel Martinez and Ricardo Torres give us a real sense of place with a combination of beautiful location photography and nighttime scenes straight out of a Gothic chiller, complete with deep blacks, long shadows, and colorful backlights. There are even a couple of jump scares, but what’s really surprising is that Navarro’s secret murderer dons black riding gloves and strangles his victims in POV shots. Four Bullets for Joe was released mere months after Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (Italian: Sei donne per l'assassino, 1964) established such things as classic giallo conventions (noting that it took another two years for Bava’s film to hit Spanish theaters). Four Bullets for Joe doesn’t push these unique visuals as far as you might prefer and it only looks like a full-blown Gothic horror movie a couple of times, but it’s still stylish enough to overcome the limitations of its generic daylight sequences.


* Yojimbo and Fistful of Dollars were both also inspired by two Dashiell Hammett books, Red Harvest (pub: 1929) and The Glass Key (pub: 1931).



Video

I can’t find any evidence that Four Bullets for Joe ever made its way onto stateside VHS. It isn’t even included on any of those 25 to 50 western movie collections the budget labels put out. There was apparently a French language DVD that you can find ripped on YouTube, it streamed on Mubi at some point, and there’s at least one UK-based MOD DVD site that will sell it to you, but, otherwise, it isn’t easy to find on physical media before this MVD Classics Blu-ray release. This is MVD’s second hard-to-find Spanish western Blu-ray, following Hudson River Massacre (1965), and I was nervous, because that disc was in rough shape. This 1.66:1, 1080p transfer starts in the same boat with what appears to be a well-worn print as its basis, meaning that detail and grain texture are at a premium and, more obviously, contrast is set super high. This isn’t one of those loving 4K remasters you see from Arrow’s spaghetti western collections.


That said, it does accurately reproduce the look of a well-worn print and doesn’t feature heavy digital artifacts and oversharpened edges, like the Hudson River transfer. The high contrast blows out whites and crushes darker colors, but might actually improve the look of those all-important nighttime sequences. The most distracting issues – frame wiggle, vertical lines, and black levels with bouts of blue streaks – all appear to be problems with the original material and are, fortunately, not too persistent. Until someone finds the original negative in a Barcelona closet somewhere and spends several thousand dollars restoring it, I think this disc (which is being sold at a lower price than MVDs Rewind collection Blu-rays) is a pretty good placeholder.



Audio

Four Bullets for Joe comes with only one audio option and that is the English language dub, but it is in uncompressed LPCM and its original mono. Like all of these films, it was shot without sound, so all language tracks are dubbed. Still, being a Spanish-made Italian co-production, the inclusion of other options would have been welcome. The muffled, over-squeezed overall quality of the sound is expected, given the beat-up print source, and doesn’t press out important dialogue or score. The music is credited to Manuel Parada, though I suspect that a lot of it is library music, not in the sense that Parada didn’t write it, but that it was recorded for use with any western film or even as part of an unrelated symphony.


Extras

The only extras are trailers for Hudson River Massacre, Pierre Chevalier’s Convoy of Women (French: Convoi de femmes, 1974), and Jess Franco’s Barbed Wire Dolls (under the alternate title Jailhouse Wardress, 1976).




The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.


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