Believe it or not, it’s been almost fifty years since Swiss goddess Ursula Andress arose from the sea, clad only in a white bikini with a knife at her hip, and set the standard unbelievably high for all future Bond girls in 007’s first big-screen adventure, Dr. No (1962). That’s only tangentially related to the subject of my post, but since a more attention-grabbing piece of pulchritude could scarcely be imagined, she can certainly serve the same purpose here. Robert Aldrich wisely built up to another memorable Andress entrance in 4 for Texas (1963) as she directs a fusillade of rifle shots at Dean Martin from offscreen, before realizing he is her new partner and revealing herself.
Aldrich’s film is one of a quartet with Martin, Frank Sinatra and, in some cases, other members of the Rat Pack such as Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop, each of which has a numeral as part of the title. The others are Lewis Milestone’s Ocean’s 11 (1960), on which our very own George Clayton Johnson shared story credit with Jack Golden Russell; John Sturges’s Sergeants 3 (1962); and Gordon Douglas’s Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964). I’m no numerologist, but I noticed, back when they used to air some of them on The 4:30 Movie during my youth, that the numbers added up in several ways (e.g., 3 + 4 = 7, 4 + 7 = 11); maybe it’s a gambling thing?
I’m also no expert on Aldrich—I’d love to read a good book on him, if there’s one out there—yet knowing what I do, I had trouble imagining such a strong personality getting on with the notoriously volatile Sinatra. Then I read on the IMDb that he “intensely disliked Frank Sinatra’s non-professional attitude and tried unsuccessfully to have him dismissed from the film” (since it was produced by The SAM Company, as in Sinatra And Martin, it’s a wonder it wasn’t the other way around). It’s certainly interesting that each film had a different director, although Douglas did work with Sinatra on Tony Rome (1967), The Detective (1968), and several others.
It’s also interesting, in light of the lounge-lizard personae of the Rat Pack (epitomized by Oceans 11), that two of the films were Westerns made by masters of the form. Sergeants 3 transplanted Gunga Din (1939) to the West, and featured Martin, Sinatra, and Lawford in the roles created by Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., with Davis as the Din analog. Sturges made Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), its underrated sequel, Hour of the Gun (1967), and The Magnificent Seven (1960)—itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954)—while Aldrich directed Burt Lancaster in Apache, Vera Cruz (both 1954), and Ulzana’s Raid (1972).
Although by no means a classic, 4 for Texas has several things going for it, including Andress (who, in my view, completely eclipses co-star Anita Ekberg) and Charles Bronson as Matson, the killer hired by crooked banker Harvey Burden (Victor Buono). Both men appeared in other Aldrich films—most notably The Dirty Dozen (1967) and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), respectively—as did Martin’s right-hand man, Nick Dennis, who essayed a similar role in Kiss Me Deadly (1955). But along with The Choirboys (1977), disowned by original author Joseph Wambaugh, and The Frisco Kid (1979), it showed that comedy was not Aldrich’s forte.
Fortunately, 4 for Texas is more of an adventure film than a comedy; such inanities as Martin’s mugging and double takes (including his reaction to a walk-on by Arthur Godfrey), plus a cameo by the Three Stooges, take a back seat to the action. Bronson gets to kill Jack Elam in an early scene, as in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1969), and is gunned down twice by our boys, finally succumbing to a head shot on the paddle wheel of a riverboat that is central to Frank and Dino’s rivalry as would-be gambling bosses of Galveston. I seem to recall reading somewhere that Bronson later sued somebody for promoting this as a starring vehicle for him.
I’ve been wanting to write something about Aldrich here for a long time, something a little more substantive than including several of his films in the B100, and this post is a roundabout excuse to do so. I can’t think of a single filmmaker, alive or dead, who could do no wrong, be it Bava, Hitchcock, or Kubrick, and Aldrich is certainly no exception, but he had more than his fair share of noteworthy credits in his oeuvre. Among other things, he worked with Lancaster, a big BOF favorite, on four films—more than any other director except The GREAT John Frankenheimer—which in addition to those aforementioned Westerns included Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977).
At his best when prefiguring or subverting entire genres and subgenres, Aldrich made heroes of a sympathetic Indian in Apache, at a time when few would do so, and unsympathetic—but weirdly compelling—p.i. Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) in Kiss Me Deadly. The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) anticipated the wave of all-star disaster films launched, as it were, by Airport (1970), and Ulzana’s Raid used a Western setting to make a statement about the war then raging in Vietnam. In The Dirty Dozen, he turned the star-studded WW II epic on its head twice, first by making a bunch of convicted criminals his main characters, and then by making us really care about them.
With Baby Jane, Aldrich could lay claim to creating an entire subgenre of his own, unleashing a torrent of “dotty old lady” thrillers, which he perpetuated as both a director (Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte ) and a producer (What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? ). In fact, he often produced his own films and, like Dino De Laurentiis, used his early success to establish his own production company, only to have it shuttered by a series of flops. Among his directorial efforts, he’s credited as a writer on only three (Ten Seconds to Hell , 4 for Texas, and Too Late the Hero ) and, perhaps predictably, was never so much as nominated for an Academy Award.
Clearly, Aldrich inspired loyalty among his actors, many of whom worked with him repeatedly, from stars like Lancaster to such supporting players as Richard Jaeckel. Lee Marvin appeared with Jaeckel in the anti-war film Attack (1956) and The Dirty Dozen, also starring in the Tom Flynn fave Emperor of the North opposite Aldrich regular Ernest Borgnine, while Jack Palance toplined the Hollywood exposé The Big Knife (1955), Attack, and Ten Seconds to Hell. Other familiar faces include Cliff Robertson (Autumn Leaves , Too Late the Hero), Bette Davis (Baby Jane, Sweet Charlotte), and Burt Reynolds (The Longest Yard ; Hustle ).
I won’t keep you from your DVD player much longer, but I can’t resist closing with a couple of quotes, courtesy of the IMDb. On Davis: “[She] is a tough old broad and you fight. But when you see what she puts on the screen you know it was worth taking all the bull.” On Lancaster: “He has matured gracefully, plays men his own age and understands the need not to win the girl. He is much more tolerant of other people’s point of view.” On Marvin: “Look, this feller is a pretty good boozer, he’s got a short fuse, but he can be handled okay.” And, finally, on Sinatra: “Unpleasant man. No one has yet worked out what really makes him tick. But he sings well.”
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