- Released on BEAT records Italy, June 2013
5000 DOLLARI SULL’ASSO.
LOS PISTOLEROS DE ARIZONA, to give it it’s original Spanish title was released on December 31st1964 and had a number of alternative titles, 5000 DOLLARI SUL’ASSO, in Italy, 5000 DOLLARS ON AN ACE in the U.K. and DIE GEJAGTEN DER SIERRA NEVADA in GERMANY, to highlight just a few. Although produced after Sergio Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and Sergio Corbucci’s initial entry into the western arena MINNESOTA CLAY, it became one of the first Spanish/Euro made westerns to be purchased and distributed by Metro Goldwyn Mayer.
Essentially this was a Spanish or “Paella” western but was co-produced by Italian (FIDA-CINEMAFOTOGRAPHICA-ROMA) and German (INTERNATIONALE GERMANA-COLOGNE) film studios, which is something that occurred regularly during the early 1960,s on European productions, the movie however was filmed entirely in Spain on location in the Aragon region of the country and at the Balcazar studios in Barcelona, which had been established by Alfonso Balcazar Granda and his Brother in 1951. Produced by Edmondo Amati and Alfonso Balcazar Granda, 5000 DOLLARI SULL’ASSO was predominately inspired by the westerns that had been made during the 1940,s and 1950,s by American filmmakers and also a handful of German made westerns that had been released in Europe, although a fairly entertaining movie with an active storyline, it was not a movie that could be deemed to be either particularly original or outstanding within the western genre. The film was released at a time when the Euro-western had not fully established itself as a separate entity from American productions and many critics looked upon any non-Hollywood western as a clone or rip off of the already established genre. Alfonso Balcazar Granda directed the movie under the pseudonym of Al Bagran and also collaborated with Jose Antonio De La Loma and Alessandro Continenza on the films screenplay, the latter being the author of the original story. When working on the screenplay the director was keen to cast an American actor in the leading role so Alfonso travelled to Paris to look for an actor to take the lead in their movie, it was there that heard about Robert Woods who was a fresh faced American actor and model.
Woods had been working in Paris acting in the theatre and also doing modelling sessions for Helmut Newton and Piere Cardin for which he was well paid, he had travelled to the French capital on his way to Italy to be considered for a part in the Otto Preminger movie THE CARDINAL. Unfortunately for Woods but fortunately for Balcazar Granda the actor was not successful in getting the role. At first Woods turned down Balcazar Granda, but the filmmaker was convinced that Woods was perfect for the movie and the day after his first meeting with the actor a determined Alfonso returned to the theatre where Woods was performing and offered him a five movie contract which the actor agreed to sign, as Robert remembered. “When Alfonso Balcazar offered me the lead in the film “$5000 On The Ace”, I was doing a Chekhov play called ‘The Seagull’ at The American Theatre in Paris, on the Quay D’Orsay… I turned Alfonso down at first, because of the money… but when he returned a successive night with a contract for five films and a much improved offer, I accepted without reluctance… I had no reluctance to doing a European Western… In fact I thought it was a great idea…something new”. Woods character Jeff Clayton had an uncanny resemblance to the central figure portrayed by actor Giuliano Gemma in the RINGO films, but when one takes into consideration that 5000 DOLLARI SUL’ASSO was released before these, maybe the Woods character had in fact inspired the main protagonist in A PISTOL FOR RINGO and THE RETURN OF RINGO in some way, the film having a common link because of Alfonso Balcazar Granda performing writing duties on A PISTOL FOR RINGO for director Duccio Tessari. Robert Woods also took a hand in contributing to the screenplay for 5000 DOLLARI SULL‘ASSO, the actor adding a number of his own ideas to a script which possessed a SHANE slanted storyline and an ending that had certain similarities with the classic western RIO BRAVO. “The movie took eight weeks of principal photography to complete and an additional week of action-scenes after they sold it for an American release to MGM…I didn’t do much re-writing…the script was good… I just tightened up some of the scenes and took out some clichés… all by mutual agreement” recalled the actor. The film included an international cast of actors from Spain, Italy, America and Germany with Woods being ably supported by Fernando Sancho as the lovable but untrustworthy rogue Carrancho, Helmut Schmid who put in a convincing performance as a cruel henchman named Jimmy el Negro and Maria Sebaldt (under the alias of Maria Sevalt) who portrayed Hellen, the love interest in the story.
Robert Woods recollected memories of the director and one of his co-stars Fernando Sancho, “Alfonso and I had few differences, which were worked out, with the sale of the film to America and the help of my agent, David Niven, Jr…. Petty grievances, for example, about redoing some of the most dangerous stunts… Fernando and I became life-long friends and went on to work many more times together… I miss him”.
The films storyline contains a fairly basic plot but has some interesting twists and turns, Jeff Clayton wins 5000 Dollars in a poker game and gains shares in a ranch as part of his winnings, Hellen and her Brother David (Giocamo Rossi Stuart), are also partners in the ranch and are unwilling to enter into business with Clayton. Soon after collecting his cash winnings Clayton rescues a Mexican bandit named Carrancho, but the only thanks he gets is to be immediately robbed by the same bandit. As if this is not enough bad luck for him Clayton is told by Hellen and her Brother that they think his claim to the ranch is not valid because of the way he obtained it, Hellen and David enlist the services of an attorney called Dundee (Richard Haussler) to see if Clayton’s claim on the ranch is a legitimate one but unbeknown to them, Dundee is actually planning to take the property for himself. The attorney employs a group of thugs to persuade land owners in the surrounding area to sell their properties to him by the use of strong arm tactics and then hatches a plot to have David arrested for the murder of the towns former banker, who has actually been killed by Dundee’s henchman Jimmy. His plan is to prove David guilty and then take possession of the ranch by having a relationship with Hellen. David is arrested and taken to jail and would have been hanged if it were not for the intervention of Clayton who testifies on his behalf and proves that he is innocent. Clayton then enlists the aid of his partners who realise that Dundee was behind the accusation against David and also receives help from the bandit Carrancho who turns out not to be as bad as he likes to think he is, the unlikely allies clash with Dundee and his hired guns in a fight for the ranch. The movie is overflowing with shootouts, energetic fist fights and numerous chases, which are all set against the backdrop of some stunning landscapes photographed by cinema photographer Roberto Reale.
The score for 5000 DOLLARI SULL’ASSO was composed and conducted by Italian Maestro Angelo Francesco Lavagnino and was his first western score. The composer was born in Genoa Italy on February 22nd 1909, he graduated from the Giuseppe Verdi music conservatory in Milan, with a diploma in violin and composition and spent much of his early career working as a musician in orchestras that were performing in the concert halls and opera houses in Italy. Whilst doing this he also began to teach music and it was during this period that Lavagnino decided to start to compose music for film, his first foray into film scoring came in 1947 when he wrote the music for the comedy drama, NATALE AL CAMPO 119, which was directed by Pietro Francisci and starred Vittorio de Sica. As the 1950,s began Lavagnino started to become known within his native Italy as a composer of great talent producing music of high quality and also he was able to adapt to any genre or style of film. He also continued to teach music at this time and helped other composers come to grips with the technicalities of film scoring, one such composer was Francesco De Masi who he not only tutored but engaged as an assistant for a few years. The composers first major film scoring assignment came in 1951 when he provided the soundtrack for OTHELLO which was directed by Orson Welles, Lavagnino also scored the actor/directors FALSTAFF-CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT in 1965 and it was probably because of his first collaboration with Welles that the composer began to be offered assignments on bigger budget productions which included non-Italian movies such as Henry Hathaway’s action, drama, adventure LEGEND OF THE LOST, which starred John Wayne, Sophia Loren and Rossano Brazzi in 1957, the British made GORGO in 1961 and Italian/American co-production ESTHER AND THE KING for Director Raoul Walsh in 1960. Lavagnino seemed to excel when he wrote music for documentaries and won awards for his work in this particular area of film. At The Cannes film festival in 1955 he was nominated for the Palme d’Or for his music to CONTINENTE PERDUTO and won the special jury prize at the same festival for the score. In the same year he won the Silver ribbon award for his score to CONTINENTE PERDUTO which came from The Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists. In 1956 his stunning score for L’IMPERO DEL SOLE (EMPIRE IN THE SUN) garnered him another nomination from the film journalists and in 1957 he was awarded the silver ribbon from the same organisation for his music to VERTIGINE BIANCA (WHITE VERTIGO).
Lavagnino was Sergio Leone’s first choice of composer when the filmmaker was filming A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, but the director was persuaded to engage a lesser known young music composer named Ennio Morricone, because the films distributor felt that Morricone would be a better choice. One wonders if the music for the Italian western genre would have evolved in a different way or indeed would have been as successful as it was if Lavagnino had scored the first Leone western. Obviously Morricone would have at some stage in the proceedings scored a western, but maybe the sound achieved would have also been different if Morricone had not collaborated with Leone in the early days of the genre. I say this because although Lavagnino’s music was at times highly original it was certainly more classical in its style and sound than Morricone’s and often leaned towards a more Americanised or conventional sound with some of what can now be deemed as being Spaghetti infused passages when the composer worked on westerns, but saying this Lavagnino created numerous western scores and put his own unmistakable musical fingerprint upon them. In the latter part of 1964 and throughout 1965, Lavagnino not only composed the score for 5000 DOLLARI SULL’ASSO but in addition worked on a number of other Euro-westerns, THE TRAMPLERS, L’UOMO DALLA PISTOLA D’ORO, THE MAN FROM CANYON CITY, OCASO DE UN PISTOLERO, SEVEN HOURS OF GUNFIRE, JOHNNY WEST IL MANCINO, SOLO CONTRO TUTTI and the comedy western I DUE SERGENTI DEL GENERALE CUSTER. He also penned the music too at least another seven western movies over the next few years one of the last being, SAPEVANO SOLO UCCIDERE in 1971. Lavagnino scored over 200 movies during his illustrious career and was responsible for creating some of cinemas most haunting and atmospheric soundtracks, his music supporting, enhancing, ingratiating and in certain cases almost caressing the movie or project he was involved with. The composer passed away in Gavi, Italy on August 21st 1987.
The music for 5000 DOLLARI SULL’ASSO was issued on compact disc (CAM-CSE 116) in 1993, but the soundtrack release did not contain all of the music from the score, the song for example A GAMBLING MAN which was performed by Don Powell, who also provided the lyrics and included a whistling performance by Lavagnino was missing from the edition that C.A.M issued although an instrumental version of the theme, minus the whistle was included twice? Powell’s vocal version however was released on a 45rpm single at the time of the films release and the recording did make an appearance on a two record set called THE BEST OF THE BLOODY WESTERNS, on seven seas records in the 1970,s and later appeared on disc two of the Japanese four compact disc compilation, THE SPAGHETTI WESTERN ENCYCLOPEDIA, (King Records KICP-434) in 1994.
The edition of the score that was released by CAM in 1993, had a running time of 42 minutes and contained 17 selections from the soundtrack. This expanded release of the score from BEAT records has a running time of 53 minutes and includes 23 cues, including the Don Powell vocal. The music is a fusion of the sound and style that was associated with western movies that had been produced in Hollywood and also it contains certain sounds and quirks of orchestration and instrumentation that would eventually themselves become a part of the “Spaghetti Western Sound”. Mexican Mariachis, jaunty saloon piano passages, dramatic and tense sounding pieces and melodic and plaintive interludes which are all enhanced and punctuated by electric guitar, trumpet performances and a brief but memorable whistling introduction to the song. Lavagnino’s score is a classic work from a genre that has produced a veritable smorgasbord of sounds, styles and musicality that still to this day inspires and influences cinema and film scoring.