Reviewed By-Devin Kelly
CAST: Pernell Roberts, Leslie Nielsen, Julian Mateos, Sue Lyon, Maria Martin, Leonard Bell, John Clark, Charles Drace, Neil Wright
DIRECTOR: John Peyser
PRODUCER(S): Richard Landau and Pedro Vidal
Sagittarius Productions Inc./Ada Films
VIDEO SOURCE: New Pacific Pictures
RUNNING TIME: 93 min. 24 seconds
Opening up to the melodic sounds of 70's folk songstress Janis Ian (who oddly enough is seen performing the main theme at the beginning), what starts out as a run of the mill Euro-western ends up being quite a strange film. FOUR RODE OUT (1969) was shot in Almeria and Andalucia, Spain by New York born John Peyser, a director of mostly television programs and made for TV movie fodder. Here Peyser assembles a unique cast, which is essentially a four man show, and crafts the audience an oddball Spanish desert romp which can be described as more unconventional than most. Maybe not exactly a hidden gem, FOUR RODE OUT benefits from very good performances, unusual plot twists, and gritty landscapes.
Peyser's camera reveals to us a tight close-up of excellent Spanish character actor Julian Mateos (TIBETANA '70, COLD EYES OF FEAR '71, DEMON WITCH CHILD '75), exhausted looking with more than a hint of desperation in his eyes. Mateos is Fernando Nuniez, a grungy, low-down bank robber on the run and headed for the Mexican border with a stolen sum of $120,000 over his shoulder and a rifle loaded and ready to take care of obstacles. He's also being chased down for the murder of a bank guard during the time of this latest robbery, even though only he knows the whole story of it all. Nuniez has to make one last stop though before he attempts his final getaway. Even dirty bandits fall in love, and in Fernando's case, apparently they fall in love with beautiful women.
Enter Myra Polson (Sue Lyon), a young attractive blonde with a sincere personality somewhat overshadowed by the effects of her disturbed father's abuse. She has her lover Fernando though, who stays with her to be in each other's embrace just for a short time before Myra's father comes in raving that she's a whore like her mother. Fernando beats the snot out of him and bolts out the window for Mexico. Myra's father blows his own head off in the aftermath.
Fernando has much more to be concerned about than how long it will take to reach his destination. Determined U.S. Marshall Ross is on his tail, assigned to bring in Nuniez one way or another, and he's not afraid to follow him to the ends of the Earth. Marshall Ross is played by long time all-star gunslinger Pernell Roberts, known for his roles in a parade of western flicks and television programs. He's respectful to the ladies but not hesitant about throwing around his weight with the bad guys. He's got himself a little bit of competition in FOUR RODE OUT, in the unlikeliest form. Leslie Nielsen(!), long before his NAKED GUN days, is also hunting for Fernando Nuniez. He plays the despicable Mr. Brown, a seedy individual who claims to be a Pinkerton special agent, not concerned with what happens to the reclusive Nuniez, but the thousands of dollars he's helped himself to. He makes that perfectly known to Pernell Roberts. "You seem to be forgetting something Marshall. I'm out after $120,000 of bank depositer's money, all you gotta worry about is gunning down a killer", Nielsen tells him. It's Brown's job to secure the dough, but other things suggest this mystery man has ulterior motives.
Nuniez has now ventured deep into the steaming desert, but only his beloved Myra knows exactly what route he has taken. Marshall Ross and Mr. Brown warn Myra to help or there will be consequences, and mostly out of her worry and devotion to Fernando's well being, she takes them to find the desperate desperado. Now it's a trying and physically consuming journey through the desert towards Mexico and these three strangers must work together to catch a criminal. He's not going down the easy way though, and they're going to make things more than a little rough on themselves. No one will count on the end result.
As I said at the start of the review, FOUR RODE OUT rises from a hum-drum storyline into some really unusual sequences and out of the ordinary touches. Although not a whole lot is flashy about Peyser's camera work and the film does play at a slower pace than some may like, it's still a very intriguing watch. The cast is quite a good and diverse bunch and a fascinating assembly for a Euro-western. Pernell Roberts is excellent, trying to stay focused on his mission but slowly unraveling in the hot sun, surrounded by the bickering, tribulations, and dishonesty of those among him. He's also finding he's losing his trust for Nielsen. This is very evident in one good moment when Roberts says, "I've reached a point in life where exposing the back of my head to a fella like you could make me nervous", as Nielsen gives a callous smirk. It's a long haul for this U.S. Marshall and the film's final scene is telling of the toll his job has taken on him.
As for the remainder of the cast, Julian Mateos checks in with another strong turn in the role of the sympathetic villain. The late Mateos was an outstanding and underrated actor who was always reliable to play out the role of the slimy no-gooder. The talented performer would always seem to leave you feeling sorry for the misguided souls he sometimes played however, which made him such a great choice. He's at his best I think as the tormented and troubled Quil in Enzo G. Castellari's superb COLD EYES OF FEAR (1971). Leslie Nielsen will surprise more than a few as the most despised character in the film and he really impressed me here. More than just a funny man, as is clear by his role in this, Nielsen may be the most interesting character in FOUR RODE OUT. He's definitely got the most back story as Mr. Brown and does some awful things, including forcing himself upon and raping Myra after repeatedly gloating that he would gun Fernando to the ground. Myra is played by the pretty Sue Lyon, who a few years later would take a starring role in the sought after futuristic Spanish thriller directed by Eloy De La Iglesia, CLOCKWORK TERROR (1973). She's decent here and kind of just trances out towards the end.
After watching this lesser known spaghetti western out of Spain, I can say I enjoyed it enough to recommend all serious Euro-cult seekers check it out. It's a definite curiosity piece for those looking to unearth a European western most wouldn't take the time to. John Peyser put together a more than competent flick here that's interesting to follow with the screenplay written by Don Balluck throwing in a couple of bizarre moments and quirky touches, such as a zany and tripped out forced wedding in the sand between Lyon and Mateos. It's quite a sight seeing Sue Lyon tripping around the desert in her wedding gown. At times our travelers look like they've taken a tab or two of LSD the way some of the scenes carry on. The mellow Janis Ian score is touching and at the same time clings well to the weirder moments.
Director John Peyser lived in Spain for eight years and following his work on FOUR RODE OUT he did another Euro-western, also with Pernell Roberts and Julian Mateos in the cast, called TIBETANA (also known as THE KASHMIRI RUN). Peyser made that film in 1970. Sadly he died just this last August 2002. Horror fans can also credit him with the exploitation slasher THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS (1974) starring the maniacal Andrew Prine. I'd like to get my hands on TIBETANA to check out another Spanish western Peyser pick for sure, but in the meantime I'm happy to have this one on my shelves. You might be too.