Here’s a fascinating if obscure and not entirely effective Spaghetti Western from Alberto Cardone, one of the most underrated figures of the genre who – like Sergio Garrone – could be relied upon to turn out effective low budget product. Cardone’s westerns tended to be gothic melodramas, simultaneously overwrought and poetic, and he never really managed to recapture the intensity he bought to the genre elsewhere.
Although 20000 dollari sporchi di sangue doesn’t really work, it’s still packed full of interesting ideas and shot in a very unusual fashion. The plot mixes aspects of the trend for Sardinian kidnap films at the time (Barbagia, Sardinia Kidnapped etc etc) with the notable sub-genre in which an alcoholic gunslinger rediscovers his skills with a pistol (see also El puro). A gang of bandits (including genre regulars Fernando Sancho and Gino Marturano) kidnap the son of widow Teresa Gimpera, demanding $20,000 dolars ransom in exchange for his safe return. For some reason drunken ex-sheriff Frank, aka ‘Sh*tfaced’ (Brett Halsey), who’s pointedly characterised by the absence of a star on his chest, becomes the prime suspect, not least because the new Sheriff (Germano Longo) has a grudge against him.
This is a very odd film. The plot is familiar, but it’s all shot with an overexposed and yet deliberately dark and gloomy look. Some of it makes no sense at all – a forest shrouded in red mist – and much of it looks like a western equivalent of a Dario Argento movie. There are constant close ups, deliberately shakey camera movements and weird uses of focus, making this one of the more authentic acid westerns. Unfortunately, at the same time the pace is also sluggish and the editing bizarre (it’s one of those films where you can really tell it was filmed in several locations). But Cardone was one of the most interesting figures to work on the Spaghetti Western arena and, although this isn’t his best film, it’s still well worth a look.