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The Stranger’s in Town

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

by Tony Nash

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Some spoilers may follow)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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Un Dollaro Tra I Denti (A Dollar Between the Teeth/A Stranger in Town) (1966) *** ½

Tony Anthony: The Stranger

Frank Wolff: Aguilar

Jolanda Modio: El Chica

Gia Sandri: Maruca Pilar

Raf Baldassarre: Corgo

Aldo Berti: Marinero

Lars Bloch: Lt. Ted “George” Harrison

Fortunato Arena: Captain Cordoba

Salvatore Puntillo: Aguilar Gang Member

Written by: Warren Garfield & Giuseppe Mangione (as Jone Mangione)

Directed by: Luigi Vanzi (as Vance Lewis)

Synopsis: A bandit gang led by Aguilar plans on heisting a cash box full of Union Army gold. A wondering vagabond gunman agrees to help for a share of the loot and poses as a Union Captain helping a group of Federales. When he’s betrayed and beaten, he goes after them with a vengeance while protecting a local woman and her baby son.

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By the late 1960’s, early 70’s, the Italian Western was beginning to experience the early stages of internal cannibalism within itself as a genre. The success of filmmakers like Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, Gianfranco Parolini, and Enzo G. Castellari had every producer in Italy thinking Westerns were automatic money makers and a flood of average to subpar to downright awful Westerns began flooding Italian theaters. Only a handful of filmmakers, including the above mentioned, were still making good Westerns, but these were few and far between the less than stellar product of others. Relief came from an up-in-coming actor from the Mid-West who studied at the Actor’s Studio named Tony Anthony. Initially beginning with more serious-minded filmmakers in supporting roles, Anthony finally saw his chance at stardom, and along with his friend and producing partner Allen Klein, pitched an idea for an Italian Western that would help reignite the genre and make money.

(Author’s note: Allen Klein would later become noted as the lackluster manager of The Beatles in their declining years)

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Ironically Anthony’s debut, Un Dollaro Tra I Denti, wasn’t a hit with the Italians, most likely it was seen as a poor man’s version of Leone’s Per Un Pugni di Dollari (A Fistful of Dollars), but was successful in the United States, seen as a successor to Leone’s debut Western, and where a sequel was immediately green-lit. Many Italian Western fans are divided as to whether this is a worthy entry into the genre’s great pantheon of classics as its slow-paced, lacks in plot, has little dialogue, and has something of a repetitive score. While it’s all true about the film, it makes up for its low-budget with a good amount of suspense and atmosphere that’s able to keep to the viewer interested and intrigued as to what will happen next. Many critics of the genre are right in that it lacks what many of its predecessors and some successors were able to accomplish with smaller budgets, but because its even lower in budget than what other filmmakers started with, the film gets that maverick guerilla-style cinematic quality to it that has viewers feeling this was a film made by a bunch of people with little prospects, hoping to find even a small audience who would appreciate it.

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Tony Anthony, who would later become a producer successful both abroad and in the States, is not at all bad as the character of The Stranger. Normally akin as a poor imitation of Eastwood’s Man with No Name character, Anthony brings something new and different to this type of character. Normally Italian Western Heroes/Anti-Heroes have some sense of how they’re going to one up the bad guys they’re up against, but The Stranger plays what he does totally by ear, at times even unsure of how he’ll get out of his situation. Not a coward by any means, Anthony’s The Stranger is more of a common man type, going from town to town trying to earn a few bucks and then move on. He never sets out to be a hero, but a personal vendetta and a type of ethics cause him to take on his foes. It was Anthony who gave fans of the genre the torture-revenge Western as his character is majorly driven by getting payback for having the crap beaten out of him by the bandidos not once, but twice. While the Lee Van Cleef & John Philip Law Western Da Uomo a Uomo (From Man to Man/Death Rides a Horse) solidifies and expands the revenge themed Western and popularizes it, it was Anthony and Un Dollaro that began the concept.

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Frank Wolff, one of the major stalwarts of the Italian Western, and Italian Cinema in general, is in his usual fine form as the villainous bandit Aguilar. Adept at playing a wide variety of roles, Wolff plays a Mexican bandit with ease and uses his UCLA training well. He doesn’t go too in-depth with the character, but he does the conniving, sneaky, and despicable antics of the atypical villain to a tee. Like any good villain he’s after money and women, and likes to beat up potential rivals and scammers for his amusement. In keeping with the idea that this is a poor man’s Per un Pugni di Dollari, Wolff appears to take some aspects of Gian Maria Volonte’s introduction in the film as he guns down a militia of Federales to get away with his scheme to steal money from the US Army, all with a smile on his face. Even in scenes were he appears to do nothing and just watch his comrades drink and carouse, Wolff uses his facial features to give off the idea that Aguilar is constantly thinking of his next move and even the next few moves afterward. Another good performance by a well versed actor.

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A point of interest is that the screenplay of the film was co-written by a man whose work all lovers of cinema have seen, but never knew he was behind them. Warren Garfield, the man responsible for thousands upon thousands of movie trailers was somehow asked to help in the writing of this film, one of only two screenplay credits he received, the other being for a one episode stint of the Western TV series High Chaparral. Garfield’s effort proves interesting and is a shame he didn’t try to write more scripts, but his passion was editing movie trailers so one can’t really blame him for sticking to what he loved.

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While many have dismissed this as an oddity, even for Italian Western standards, this film is still well worth watching as it attempts to breath new life into a genre many were already aware was slipping into that loop of over-extension that would soon lead to its downfall. What this effort provides is a completely different take on an already established character prototype and put him into a new terrain and personality that does manage to work. The minimalist style used in the film was put to much better use and effect in Robert Hossein’s Une Corde, Un Colt (Cimiterio Senza Croce, The Rope and the Colt, Cemetery Without Crosses), which is the true minimalist Western with its use of landscape and faces, though it’s hard to deny the approach works very well in this one too. What helps the film as well is the feeling and knowledge that it doesn’t try too hard or be obvious that it’s a reworking of a previous classic, that it’s an original work that does its job in bringing up interest. Hardly perfect, but still very interesting and intriguing to look at and watch, Un Dollaro Tra I Denti is an overlooked, underappreciated, and under the radar film that deserves to get a second chance.

(Not a perfect film, and even a little slow and wooden, Un Dollaro Tra I Denti is still a worthwhile oddity to check out and enjoy. I myself recommend it for being different and managing to find its own voice in spite of the limits of the budget and script. The German double pack DVD of the film and its first sequel Un Uomo, Un Cavallo, Una Pistola (A Man, A Horse, and A Gun/The Stranger Returns) is the best quality out there and the recommended purchase. Avoid the Warner Archive edition as even though it contains the first three films, is a cheap DVD-R copy. There’s a Japanese Blu Ray of the first film, but I believe it’s either out of print or very hard to find)

All images courtesy of images and their respective owners

For more information Dollaro Tra i Denti

For those preferring a single disc edition of the filmÉdition-Collector-Blu-ray-Livret/dp/B07PCGWLZM/ref=sr_1_9?__mk_fr_FR=ÅMÅŽÕÑ&keywords=Tony+Anthony&qid=1568862031&s=dvd&sr=1-9

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

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