Time for another look at a Weird Western in anticipation of the Frontierado holiday coming up on Friday, August 3rd. Once again, think of me as The Bronson Canyon Kid as I look at another weirdass western to get us all in the Frontierado mood. This flick restages the JFK assassination in the Wild West.
THE PRICE OF POWER (1969) – When it comes to Spaghetti Westerns most people are only familiar with the mainstream examples like the Clint Eastwood vehicles or the monumental classic Once Upon A Time In The West. There were literally more than 550 other Spaghetti Westerns made in the 60’s and 70’s since when the Italians do something they do it in a big, big way. Those hundreds of films vary in quality from pretty good to hilariously awful and the creative talents behind them often tried to outdo each other in terms of colorful heroes and oddball plots. My favorites include those movies where the Italians took more liberties with Western history than American filmmakers ever dreamed of.
That brings us to The Price Of Power which was also released under the title Texas. The point of this film is … well, it’s hard to say really. Even after repeated viewings. It’s difficult to determine if the filmmakers were trying to make a statement about the alleged conspiracy behind the assassination of President John F Kennedy or about the civil rights movement, or about capitalism’s impact on the political process in a free society or what.
Whatever they were trying to do the end result is like a history lesson taught by Ed Wood himself. Let’s compare the historical record to the plotline of this very odd movie.
IN REAL LIFE – President James Garfield was assassinated in 1881 in Washington, D.C. by a disgruntled patronage job seeker, an incident which caused an outrage large enough to help ease the way toward the current civil service system. … IN THE PRICE OF POWER – President James Garfield gets assassinated in 1890 in Dallas, TX by die- hard supporters of the long-dead Confederacy who are planning a second Civil War. …
IN REAL LIFE – Garfield’s Vice President, Chester A Arthur, rose above his corrupt past (well, generally) and resisted the influence of his sleazy political patron, New York Senator Roscoe Conkling. … IN TPOP – Garfield’s Vice President Chester A Arthur is in the pocket of the Neo-Confederate conspirators, who plan to blackmail him into running the USA in a way favorable to them in the upcoming conflict. …
IN REAL LIFE – Allan Pinkerton worked with Union intelligence in the Civil War and established the U.S. Intelligence Service, the forerunner of the Secret Service. … IN TPOP – Allan Pinkerton is one of the Dallas conspirators looking to eliminate Garfield and install their puppet Arthur. …
IN REAL LIFE – James Garfield was dark-haired and bearded. … IN TPOP – James Garfield is played by the blonde and clean-shaven Van Johnson. Yes. Van Johnson.
On top of its distorted history this film piles on plenty of JFK assassination parallels. … The President is shot while riding in an open vehicle down a Dallas street. There are lingering arguments over how many gunmen there were and from which location the fatal shots originated. The First Lady strolls around for awhile in a dress stained with her husband’s blood.
There is a patsy for the assassination, and yes, he is indeed killed while being transported between jails, albeit in the film it takes place during a well-staged running gunfight. (Sort of makes you wish Jack Ruby had consulted a fight choreographer before shooting Oswald)
The VP is suspected of complicity in a coverup and/or the assassination itself. That VP takes the oath of office in Dallas before heading back to Washington, DC, however, his first words as President are NOT “Let’s get airborne”. (rimshot)
The hero of the movie, played by Giuliano Gemma, is Bill Willard, a man who served under Garfield in the Union Army during the Civil War. Bill is a native Texan who scandalized his family by fighting for the North while they all sided with the South. He’s on the opposing side again since his father is in tight with the conspirators trying to kill the president.
Early in the film our hero saves Garfield’s train from being blown up on its way to Dallas in some very nice action scenes that have a sort of Wild Wild West feel to them. The patsy for the assassination is an African American friend of Bill who is depicted as having served in the same unit with our hero even though there were no integrated troops in the U.S. Civil War.
This movie is so well-directed and acted (even the venerable Fernando Rey is in the cast) and has so many well-choreographed action sequences that you come to regret how ultimately laughable it is. The filmmakers would have been better off just going with a completely fictional president in this story to make their points about the JFK assassination and potential coverup and the civil rights movement.
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