When I discovered that this film existed a few weeks ago I was immediately very interested in seeing it for a few reasons. I'm a big fan of James Garner, his two famous t.v shows Maverick and The Rockford Files are among my favorites and he appeared in a very good mix of serious and comedy Western films in the 60's and early 70's. What's interesting about A Man Called Sledge is that Garner plays Luther Sledge a completely against type a ruthless violent character which is very much outside the charming, funny Bret Maverick style good guy roles that Garner was usually cast in especially strange as Garner filmed this in between his popular roles in the comedy Western movies Support Your Local Gunfighter/Sheriff. The film is also unique in that it's a Spaghetti Western with very few Italians in the lead roles, alongside Garner are veteran t.v actors Claude Akins, (B.J. and The Bear) Dennis Weaver (Gunsmoke) and Wayde Preston (Colt .45) joined by John Marley, another older actor perhaps best remembered for playing the film producer who awoke to find his horses head in his bed in The Godfather. The only Italian in a major role is actress Laura Antonelli (almost unrecognizable from other roles with dyed blonde hair) as Garner's prostitute love interest. Again unusually for a Spaghetti Western the film was directed by an American Vic Morrow, best remembered for his starring role in the 1960's television series Combat! and for his gruesome death in 1982 while filming Twilight Zone: The Movie. Morrow was mainly a television director and it would be fair to say that shows at points during the film, he also appears in a cameo as a Gold Guard Scout. The score at least was typically Spaghetti Western provided by Gianni Ferrio who scored over 100 of these kind of films and recently provided music for both Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds and the popular Western themed video-game Red Dead Redemtpion. Although acceptable the score is abit of a mish mash of styles and is not generally what one would expect in this setting, it incorporates jazz and is very dull compared to the average score of a Spaghetti Western which can usually be counted on to greatly enhance the movie. The movie's title song Other Men's Gold by the British writing duo of Phil Coulter and Bill Martin is however very enjoyable and fits in nicely with the tone of the movie. Filmed in Almeria, Spain the location of many a Spaghetti Western the film contains beautiful shots and scenery of the desert and surrounding areas which we have become accustomed to when watching this kind of film.
Things move on as Garner heads back to his gang hideout with the old man following him at a distance, when Garner realizes this he captures him and demands to know why he's following him while admitting that he is an outlaw with a large bounty ($5000+) on his head. The man tells Garner that he is not following him but is watching a regular gold shipment being moved to a prison where he spent the last 20 years, when Garner hears of this naturally he is interested in getting his hands on the gold, although the old man warns it is impossible as it is kept in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison. With this in mind Garner takes the old man back to his hideout and tries to work out a way to get the gold, his gang (including Weaver and Akins) are skeptical but he sends the old man and a prostitute into town to get the weapons and ammunition needed for their attack on the prison. While in town the Sheriff (Preston) recognizes the old man as a former jail inmate and becomes suspicious as to why he needs so much armament, realizing the game is up Garner steps out of the shadows and grabs the Sheriff starting a shoot out in which one of his deputies is killed, Garner and his gang manage to escape with the Sheriff vowing revenge on them. The shootout scene is quite well shot incorporated an old dusty town into the foreground and does it's job of establishing Preston as Garner's main adversary going forward in the film. The first half of this movie with the plot of trying to steal gold from an armored truck and the scenes with the gang planning to do so are very similar to the John Wayne-Kirk Douglas 1967 film The War Wagon.
With Garner failing to come up with a plan to get the gold his gang begin to lose faith and begin to threaten to walk out on him, seeing it as his one chance of a huge score Garner is desolate and rejects prostitute Ria's (Antonelli) pleas for her to settle down with her. When the old man remarks that he was closer to the gold in prison than Garner ever will be, Garner formulates the plan of staging his own arrested and breaking out of the prison from the inside, taking the gold with him. Weaver posing as a U.S. Marshall takes Garner to the prison claiming he has captured him, the Warden of the prison (Ricardo Garrone) is skeptical but says he will keep Garner overnight, after Preston is called and beats Garner still angry over the death of his deputy Weaver insists on staying in the cell with Garner overnight so that nothing will happen to his prisoner before he can claim the sizable bounty on his head. Garner and Weaver are locked in the maximum security area of the prison with many deranged and volatile prisoners who constantly shout, with one of them howling like a wolf. All this noise attracts the guards and with the help of the other prisoners Garner and Weaver manage to overpower both guards and get their hands on the cell keys, freeing the other prisoners. With the prison overrun and the warden killed by the prisoners Garner needs the old man to remember the combination if he is to get the gold, at the last second the old man comes through and Garner and his gang take off with the gold in their possession. On the way out of the prison Weaver is killed by Preston and motivated by revenge he and Garner face off with Garner killing the Sheriff. The scenes leading to the breakout and the breakout itself are by far the most entertaining scenes in the entire film, the other prisoners are very humorous and Garner's disgust at them is fairly warranted, when the prisoners escape the prison explodes in an orgy of violence with deaths pretty much everywhere, the filming of the prison is very good especially covering all the action in the courtyard and this is perhaps not surprising as Morrow's only other directorial effort Deathwatch (1966) was also set in a prison. The decision to kill off the Sheriff here is a strange one as that would seem the natural ending of a movie such as this one, one of the big problems with the movie is the pacing with it taking too long to get up to the prison scenes and seemingly not knowing what to do after them, unfortunately the movie pretty much falls apart after the hour mark and goes off on a tangent I really wasn't expecting.
*WARNING ENDING SPOILERS*
With the gold in their possession at a safe house Garner's men inexplicably decide to play poker against each other with the gold as the stake, after catching him cheating the old man shoots one of the other gang members which leads Garner decide to enter the game, having won all the gold from his gang Garner rides off leaving them with only a cup full and swearing to get revenge on him. In retaliation they kidnap the prostitute Antonelli who has not been seen for awhile and tell Garner to return the gold or they will kill her. Sledge agrees to give them the gold but they rape and kill her anyway and Garner faces off with the rest of the gang one by one lastly killing the old man who says that he has hidden the gold so that Garner will never find out, before he kills him Garner remembers Antonelli's dieing words "we did not need the gold to be happy" seemingly realizing that there are more important things than gold Garner rides off into the sunset. I really did not like the ending to this as from the card game on the I felt the plot was very nonsensical. All men had an equal share of the gold why would they play cards for more of it, and why would Garner leave his friends with nothing? The film is seemingly trying to make a point about greed and how it get's us all in the end but given how evil all the characters involved seemingly are it doesn't really work, even when his prostitute/girlfriend is killed it s hard to feel any sympathy for Garner's character as he has brought it all on himself and has killed countless people throughout the movie in order to get what he wanted. That is however not to say the film is all bad, although I don't think the role was a good fit Garner does well with this out of character role as Luther Sledge and John Marley is also very entertaining as the gold crazed old man, Weaver, Akins and Antonelli also do well but do not receive very much screen time. The movie is almost worth watching for the excellent prison sequence alone, and is certainly watchable for any fans of Garner or the Spaghetti Western genre in particular. It is not a bad movie and does some things well but the last half hour really lets it down 5.5/10