Distinguished only by its incessant cruelty, the American/European coproduction Four Rode Out is one of those bleak low-budget Westerns portraying the American frontier as a wasteland of morally bankrupt opportunists laying siege to innocents. Distinctly different from higher-minded projects with similar themes (e.g., Sam Peckinpah’s thematically complex Westerns), these cheap flicks embrace nihilism as a means of justifying lurid content. That said, there’s a crude sort of magnetism to films of this stripe, especially when actors lean in to the darkness infusing the storylines. Some of that happens in Four Rode Out, with grumpy Pernell Roberts and wicked Leslie Nielson playing monstrous gunslingers while Sue Lyon, a world away from the sophisticated provocations of Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita (1962), gets caught in between. So while it’s necessary to indicate that nothing unique happens in Four Rode Out, and that the visual style of the picture is quite bland—all interchangeable desert locations and rickety-looking frontier towns—it’s also true that the picture boasts a certain morbidly appealing ugliness. There’s even some beauty in the mix, because the great folksinger Janis Ian contributes a song score and appears onscreen to warble a tune near the beginning.
The plot begins with gruesome events. Mexican crook Fernando (Julián Mateos) slips into the bedroom of his gringo girlfriend, Myra (Lyon), and makes out with her until her father bursts into the room. Disgusted by their interracial and out-of-wedlock coupling, he commits suicide in Myra’s presence. Fernando flees. Soon U.S. Marshall Ross (Roberts) shows up to track Fernando down, as does an acerbic Pinkerton known only as Mr. Brown (Nielsen). By way of several overly convenient plot twists, Brown and Ross end up not only working together but also traveling with Myra, who hopes to cajole Fernando into surrendering without violence. Close proximity leads to crises including a rape, so by the time the pursuers find their quarry, emotions have reached a state of feverish intensity. In stronger hands, this basic material might have been more interesting, but director John Peyser fails to impose a distinctive point of view. Furthermore, the script often devolves into rambling nothingness, and the acting is inconsistent, with Lyon’s serviceable turn blocking the audience’s emotional pathway into the narrative. However, if frontier nastiness is enough to hold your interest, Four Rode Out has plenty.
Four Rode Out: FUNKY