The Ruthless Four

aka Das Gold von Sam Cooper (WG), Chacun pour soi (Fr), Ognuno per se (It)
Alberto Pugliese and Luciano Ercoli for P.C.M. (Rome), Eichberg Film (Munich)
Director: Giorgio Capitani
Story & screenplay: Fernando Di Leo, Augusto Caminito
Music: Carlo Rustichelli
Cinematography: Sergio D’Offizi {Techniscope – Technicolor}
Editor: Renato Cinquini
Set design: Nicola Tamburro
Cameraman: Giuseppe Gatti
Original running time: 106 mins
Release information: Registered 06.02.68. Italy (09.02.68), Germany (06.06.68, 106 mins), France (28.04.71, 90 mins)
Cast: Van Heflin (Sam Cooper), Gilbert Roland (Mason), Klaus Kinski (Brent, aka ‘Blonde’), George Hilton (Manolo Sanchez), Sarah Ross (Anna), Doro Corrà (the Marshall), Rick Boyd [Federico Boido] (Fred Brady), Sergio Doria (Al Brady), Ivan G. Scratuglia, Giorgio Gruden, Harry Reichelt

The Ruthless Four
The Ruthless Four

Here’s a neat little film that encapsulates just about everything that’s good about the Spaghetti Western. There’s a twisty, no-nonsense script (by the reliable Fernando Di Leo and Augusto Caminito, who also collaborated on the twisty, no-nonsense Poker With Pistols), great cinematography, decent production values and the participation of personable performers in even the smallest of roles. It’s not particularly groundbreaking, to be sure, but it works more than adequately as an above average, unpretentious B movie.

Prospector Sam Cooper (Van Heflin) discovers a rich vein in the heart of the desert and, after surviving an attempt to double cross him by his partner, makes his way to the nearest town to cash it in. It proves to be a difficult journey: attacked by desperate bandits, who steal his horse and gun, he is forced to dump the gold in a handy river and continue on foot. He eventually makes it back to civilization on the brink of death and, having recovered himself, determines to return to the mine and work it further.

In order to do this, however, he needs to have some help from someone he can trust, and there’s only one person who fits the bill: Manolo (George Hilton), the son of an ex-girlfriend. Unfortunately, such faith is misplaced. Manolo is being stalked by Blondie (Klaus Kinski), a sinister friend who he seems to be both afraid of and in thrall to. Cooper reluctantly agrees to take them both along with him, but also pays his old associate, Mason (Gil Roland), to accompany them… just in case. Mason, by the by, is under the impression that it was Cooper who snitched him to the authorities some years earlier, resulting in a lengthy prison sentence and a lasting dose of malaria.

Being another ‘tyranny of gold’ type film, in which the venal urges of men are made implicit via a close proximity to the precious metal, it comes as no surprise when the quartet begins to scheme against each other. Blondie, particularly, seems keen to ensure that not all of his companions survive to share out the takings.

Obviously inspired by the classic The Treasure of Sierra Madre (48), this brings to mind another effective Spaghetti, Find a Place to Die (Joe… cercati un posto per morire!, 68), which also features a motley assortment of characters helping somebody to reclaim the gold from a distant mine. There’s lots of eulogizing about the yellow stuff, not to mention the very act of searching for it, all of which implies that it stands for more than its physical mass: it’s it tied up to the dreams – and also the failings – of the characters themselves.

Van Heflin and George Hilton in The Ruthless Four
Van Heflin and George Hilton in The Ruthless Four

The main reason for the success of The Ruthless Four is some effective direction on the part of Giorgio Capitani. As well as some excellent set pieces – most particularly an ambush at an abandoned fort that makes great use of anticipation as much as action – there is a surprising amount of tension generated. This is particularly true of the second half, once the quartet have arrived at the mine: nothing much actually happens, but it is the interplay between the small cast which is the focus of attention. It may sound like a sagebrush chamber piece, but it more than maintains the interest and is never less than exciting. Unfortunately, it was Capitani’s only western. He made a couple of interesting sixties films (Che notte, ragazzi (66), L’arcangelo (69)) before making a run of successful and critically acclaimed comedies throughout the seventies.

He is well supported by a cast of uniformly high quality. Van Heflin – who made a handful of euro-productions at the time (Once a Thief (Les Tueurs de San Francisco, 65), The Man Outside (67)) – is the least flamboyant, but acts as a valuable anchor for the narrative. Hilton plays against type or, to be more precise, accentuates the least admirable qualities – fickleness, hedonism, shallowness – of his stock character of the time. Manolo is the equivalent of One More in Hell’s Billy Rum or Last of the Badmen’s Kitosch without the inner strength. The nature of his relationship with the frankly nasty Blondie is never fully explained, although it is intimated that they are homosexual lovers. Whether or not this is the case, Kinski is almost as nasty as in The Great Silence, and his initial appearance (dressed as a priest and wearing what looks like a trench coat and trilby), almost makes him look like the Nazi villain in a war film. The final member of the central foursome is the dignified Gilbert Roland, a wily old dude with a physical fragility to mirror Manolo’s emotional weakness. Spaghetti fans will also relish the sight of genre regular Federico Boido settling back in a steambath, a sight that, once seen, is not easily forgotten.


  1. I remember getting up at 1:00 a.m. to watch this on television before I had a video recorder and being enthralled by the story and cast. Many years later I was working on my computer and listening to a classical music station when the main theme from the film came on which immediately drew my attention. I’ve never been able to track down the name of the composition or it’s composer. The Ruthless Four is one of those films, although not a great film is very memorable for several reasons brought forth by Matt’s excellent summation.

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