THE RUTHLESS FOUR is a 1968 western that starred Van Heflin, Gilbert Roland, Klaus Kinski, and George Hilton as four partners after gold.
Sam Cooper(Van Heflin) is a prospector that had spent twenty years looking for gold only to be double-crossed by his partner when he finally made a strike. Forced to kill him in self-defense, he tries to pack all the gold they had mined out by himself. Deep in the Nevada Desert, he nearly dies trying to get out, then drinking at the river he finally reaches, is waylaid by desperate bandits who take his horses, weapons, and food, leaving him alive but knocked out with his gold.
It’s never explained why these men don’t take the gold as well. But then we wouldn’t have a movie, I guess, if they had. Cooper caches the bags and takes only a couple that he can carry out safely.
Once he gets back to town, after hiding the two bags he brought with him, he starts planning an expedition to the mine. Trusting no one, he sends for his adopted son, Manolo Sanchez(Hilton) who he hasn’t seen for years since he got tired of traipsing through the desert after the old man.
The young man comes and, as the plan is shaping up, reveals Brent the Blond(Kinski), insisting he’s going along. The relationship between the pair is never fully explained, but Manolo seems afraid of him and there is something else. Kinski plays his usual cold-blooded role, though he dresses as a priest and has that death-like start that he does so well.
Cooper suddenly wonders if he can trust the boy and hires Mason(Roland), an ex-army buddy, former friend who believes Cooper turned him in after they deserted for the reward, leaving him with several years in a prison in the Florida swamps and a case of malaria.
The four men never fully trust each other. Manolo and the Blond hang together, Mason makes it plain he’s really along to make Cooper pay for turning him in. Cooper insists he didn’t.
Cooper is the only one who can get them to the mine and, once there, greed starts to overwhelm the four men. If this all seems familiar, and I’m sure it does, the movie reads like a spaghetti western THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE.
As opposed to a lot of these genre, it has a nice, tight script by Augusto Caminito and Fernando Di Leo and was directed by Giorgio Capitani with some nice acoustic guitar work in places. Highly recommended.