I really hate to say this, but Four Candles for Garringo (1971) is not very good. Let me say this though before that sinks in too deeply: it is a hugely enjoyable, very watchable, albeit bizarre film. And I am not saying that dreaded it’s “so bad it’s good” spiel. What I am saying is that it is so amazingly over-the-top bonkers that it defies a clear labeling of it and quite honestly transcends into the cinematic realms of strangeness. I am not talking The Greasy Strangler (2016) strangeness, but it belongs in that film’s weird universe where within that stratosphere resides the likes of Night of the Bloody Apes (La horripilante bestia humana, 1969), Django Kill… If you Live, Shoot (Se sei vivo spara, 1967), El Topo (1970), Possession (1981) and Brazil (1985) among others.
Films so oddly turned that it shakes your preconceived notions about many things, especially the narrative of a film as being a redundant form of expression. I shall state this now: I think this film is one of the most comedic-less Italian comedy-westerns quite possibly ever made. Now, think about something for a moment. Okay, let’s say you set out to make a comedy film and it’s not the least bit funny. Or if you are making a miserable dredge of a film and you ask your lead actor to not just chew the scenery, but to gluttonously gorge on it all in the name of art or exploitation.
One thing I must clarify to the reader of this piece before we progress is that Four Candles for Garringo – although technically an Italian western – is a so gloriously genre abusing absurd that it will entertain, confuse, titillate or downright anger any film fan regardless of genre preference and/or bias. The film stars the legendary Robert Woods in one of the most animated and bizarre performances ever caught on film. It’s by no means a bad turn, but it is so over-the-top strange that it transcends the film and exists and resides on its own outside the scope of the film. It’s as if Woods was acting in another film altogether as if he was the only actor let in on the fact that the film was an intended comedy.
No other actor in the film including the sometimes over-zealous Cris Huerta, who is very reserved here, seems to be acting on the same strange frequency as Woods. The Italian western Last of the Badmen (Il tempo degli avvoltoi, 1967) is another film that has an acting performance that transcends the material it is included in. In the film the Joshua Tracy character played by the late, great Frank Wolff is so unhinged and mean-spirited, and is so overly animated, that the character and his actions don’t fit within the mostly lightheartedness of the film. It does not help that Wolff has to play off the charming, but slow, methodical acting of George Hilton. Hilton turns in a fine – if slightly bemused – performance. And there’s the always sophisticated, oily, cunning Eduardo Fajardo.
Western-comedies were around even before Sergio Leone jumped started the sputtering Italian western genre with A Fistful of Dollars (Per un pugno di dollari) in 1964. Most of the comedy-westerns made after the success of the Leone ‘Dollar’ films were more along the lines of parodies. The team of Franco and Cicco made numerous films that aped the successful Italian westerns of the day including Two Sons of Ringo (I due figli di Ringo, 1966), The Handsome, The Ugly and The Stupid (Il bello, il brutto, il cretino, 1967), 2 RRRingos, No Texas (Due rrringos nel Texas, 1967) and Two Sons of Trinity (I due figli di Trinità, 1972).
The Italian actor Lando Buzzanca appeared in two notable parodies in 1966, those being For A Few Dollars Less and Ringo (Per qualche dollaro in meno) and Ringo and Gringo Against All (Ringo e Gringo contro tutti). Other noteworthy comedies that preceded the phenomenal worldwide success of the films They Call Me Trinity (Lo chiamavano Trinità…, 1970) and Trinity is Still my Name (Continuavano a chiamarlo Trinità, 1971), includes Enzo G. Castellari’s Any Gun Can Play (Vado… l’ammazzo e torno, 1967), Train to Durango (Un Treno per Durango, 1968), A Sky Full of Stars for a Roof (E per tetto un cielo di stele, 1968) and Alive or Preferably Dead (Vivi o preferibilmente morti, 1969).
Four Candles for Garringo is an Italian/Spanish co-production that was directed by Ignacio F. Iquino. Iquino was born in Spain and among his eighty-seven directorial credits he helmed a few westerns. His first western directing foray was in Guns of Nevada (Oeste Nevada Joe, 1965) which is a straight-forward, oddly paced affair that tries to unsuccessfully borrow a bit of the flair and undertones of the film Johnny Guitar (1954). Ultimately it fails, and in the process wastes a spirited performance by the always reliable George Martin.
Some scenes from Guns of Nevada were recycled and used in Four Candles for Garringo, including the use of a scene at the beginning where a clean-cut Gasper ‘Indio’ Gonzalez is shown drinking at a table in the evil boss’ saloon and he resurfaces shorty aged five years as the grizzled deputy ‘Gonzalez’. Other scenes are lifted, and the matching of the prints causes quite the odd juxtaposition at times. In 1966, Iquino shared directing duties on the painfully bad oater Five Dollars for Ringo (5 dollari per Ringo, 1966), with Juan Xiol. One last helming of a western would follow for Iquino after Four Candles for Garringo in the 1972 Richard Harrison production starring Fernando Sancho titled Fabulous Trinity (Los fabulosos de Trinidad).
I can’t comment on the overall directorial career of Iquino, as I have only seen a handful of his non-western films, I can say that his westerns, as both director and screenwriter while mostly are average at best, were loaded with numerous bizarre touches. Iquino was prolific on the writing side also, contributing to numerous productions both westerns and otherwise. A small portion of his western writing credits includes contributing to the screenplays of the wonderfully titled Stagecoach of the Condemned (La diligencia de los condenados, 1970) the amazingly bizarre El Puro (1969) and Dig Your Grave… Sabata’s Coming (Abre tu fosa amigo… llega Sabata, 1971), among others.
The original Spanish title of this film Un colt por cuatro cirios translates to A Colt for Four Candles and the Italian title La mia colt ti cerca… 4 ceri ti attendono to My Colt’s Looking for you… 4 Candles Await you. How the film became saddled with the title Four Candles for Garringo, one would assume was from the French release title Quatre salopards pour Garringo which translates out to Four Bastards for Garringo. One would also assume that the French title attempts to tie it to a 1969 film called Garringo which stars Anthony Steffen and Peter Lee Lawrence and was directed by Rafael Romero Marchent. Iquino was dubbed the “Roger Corman” of Spanish cinema which I suppose would refer to his production from around 1970-1984. During that time, Corman directed an amazing twenty-eight films. Some tawdry titles included Emmanuelle Y Carol (1978), Can You Be with Five Girls at Once? (Podrías con 5 chicas a la vez?, 1979), The Hot Girl Juliet (La caliente niña Julietta, 1981) and Secta Siniestra (1982).
Garringo directed by Rafael Romero Marchent allows not a moment of comedy intentional or unintentional to seep into its unbridled brutal nihilism. The Robert Woods character Sheriff Frank Garringo in Four Candles for Garringo is absolutely unhinged and sadistic, but the dueling psycho characters (Steffen, Lawrence) in Garringo ratchet the violence up tenfold. And they are not in a joking mood, with each bringing their own psychologically extreme barbarism to the proceedings. Garringo is a well-made affair. Once the violence kicks in, the brutalizing action does not let up for a moment. And while some sentiment made briefly creep in, the violence is so cruel and profound it washes any hope for redemption for either character or mankind for that matter from the viewer’s mind.
Sheriff Garringo is a vicious, cruel man who seemingly is on the verge of exploding at any minute. He is constantly slapping, hitting and kicking any person in his sights. Those actions are so extreme that surely the film must have been modeled after the Trinity films with its over-inflated slapstick. But the Trinity films play it for laughs and for the most part the films are wonderfully realized and hilarious in their deconstruction of the otherworldly mythos that the Italian westerns had taken their anti-heroes into.
I’ll be damned though if I can find the comedy in Four Candles for Garringo. Then again, many non-Italian viewers find the comedy within the Italian western-comedies, for the most part, severely lacking. Some Italian westerns mix the comedy and the violence into such a toxic stew that they are quite difficult to not only fathom but also serve as a sensibility-shaking viewing experience that produces more groans and grimaces than laughter.
Notable Italian western films that mix humor with sadistic violence include Sky Full of Stars for a Roof, W Django (1971), They Believed he was no Saint (La caza del oro, 1972), and Dallas (ll mio nome e Scopone e faccio sempre cappotto, 1974). When viewing this film, one must take into consideration the effects of the social and political conditions of the two countries who co-produced this film: Italy and Spain. Both countries had only twenty-five some odd years prior to being involved in a world war. Spain was ruled before, during and after the war, by a military dictatorship under General Francisco Franco.
Italy was under the fascist regime of Mussolini until the end of the war. Besides suppressive governments, both countries were heavily influenced by the Catholic church which lends to much oppression and suppression because of the heavy religious rhetoric and rule. So, when the directors and writers who had lived through those brutal years of war pooled upon their resources, it came out in both masked and unmasked shots at both the political and religious institutions. Therefore, when one is surrounded by both violence and religious suppression, one has a different outlook on life and humor and the mixing of that humor with the violence and suppression manifested itself in many of theses Italian westerns.
Sheriff Frank Garringo is determined to find out who robbed a gold shipment. He quickly turns his full attention towards the evil town boss Oswald (Cris Huerta) and his hired goons. The problem is that one of those hired goons Farley (Antonio Molino Rojo) has made off with all the heist money and is killed fleeing the scene by a mystery person who makes off with the loot. The use of the money from a heist being stolen from the gang that committed the crime was used various times through the life of the Italian western genre including in the Robert Woods starring film My Name is Pecos (Meu Nome é Pecos, 1966) and Django Kill… If you Live Shoot!
Antonio Molino Rojo is one of the most prolific and recognizable faces in the whole of the Italian western genre. Rojo, while always a character actor in these films, was a very capable and dependable force who popped up in many of the genres classics including uncredited-turns in A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More (Per qualche dollaro in più, 1965), Once Upon A Time in the West (C’era una volta il West, 1968) and as Capt. Harper in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo, 1966).
Farley’s wife Beltha (Maria Martin) is carrying on an affair with another member of the gang Rogers (Mariano Vidal Molina) who is also the primary suspect after taking out towards Farley’s homestead after Farley absconded with the loot. Maria Martin is probably best known in Italian westerns circles as playing Kitty in the brilliant Sergio Corbucci film The Hellbenders (I crudely, 1967), which showcased an outstanding performance by the legendary Joseph Cotton. Martin would get to play a character named Mrs. Rogers in the in the nicely realized Anthony Steffen/ Mark Damon starring western Dead Men Don’t Count (¿Quién grita venganza?, 1968). It is not to be confused with the Anthony Steffen/Peter Lee Lawrence film Dead Are Countless which is the USA title of the film we briefly noted above Garringo.
So, with Oswald and his men out for the blood of Rogers – who they believe made off with the cash – Rogers looks for help from his old friend Sheriff Garringo. The problem is that Garringo is not the least bit interested in protecting Rogers who had followed a life of crime and had talked his own sister out of marrying Garringo. One thing that complicates the investigation and the life of Sheriff Garringo is the daughter of Farley’s named Elaine (Olga Omar) who is full of both rage and an unbridled spitefulness. The gold is, of course, the source of motivation between all the parties as they endlessly double-cross one another. Meanwhile, the sheriff is trying to unravel the whole sordid affair. This film never really introduces a worthy adversary to the fast- on-the-draw sheriff and loses a bit of its potential on that front.
What the film does have though is that crazed performance by the great Robert Woods. Woods would play another deranged character in Gianfranco Baldanello’s outstanding Italian western Black Jack (1968). Woods in Black Jack has a point of reference for his derangement: his sister was killed and scalped by a deviant gang of cut-throats whose robberies he used to mastermind until they viscously turned on him. Black Jack’s mental and physical unfurrowing is from being both physically and emotionally abused. Sheriff Garringo’s constant hitting, punching, kicking, slapping of characters is unfounded and honestly a shock to the system. In a film like this where the cheapness and the genre repetition seeps so heavily through – if not for a standout and strange performance from Robert Woods – it would have just been another repetitious failure.
Robert Woods is still active today and has appeared in numerous Italian westerns, including Five Dollars on One Ace (Pistoleros de Arizona, 1965), My Name is Pecos (1966), Pecos Cleans Up (Pecos è qui: prega e muori!, 1967), Johnny Colt (Starblack, 1966), The Belle Starr Story (Il mio corpo per un poker, 1968), Damned Hot Day of Fire (Quel caldo maledetto giorno di fuoco, 1968) and El Puro (1969) among others. Woods also appeared in a fistful of films for the great Jesus Franco, including, Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff (Los ojos siniestros del doctor Orloff, 1973), The Lustful Amazons (Maciste contre la reine des Amazones, 1974) and The Perverse Countess (La comtesse perverse, 1974).