June 2: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is Westerns! We’re excited to tackle a different genre every day, so check back and see what’s next.
The Price of Power (AKA A Bullet for the President) is an absolutely deranged idea for a movie. It uses the attempted assassination of President James A. Garfield in 1881 to work out the feelings of the death of President John F. Kennedy just six years earlier.
Except that it’s a Western.
Made in Italy.
The idea came from commedia all’italiana director Luigi Comencini’s brother-in-law Massimo Patrizi, who wrote the script with director Tonino Valeri (Day of Anger, My Dear Killer, My Name Is Nobody) and Ernesto Gastaldi, whose writing credits include All the Colors of the Dark, Torso and The Suspicious Death of a Minor.
Bill Willer (Giuliano Gemma, a true star of the Italian west thanks to turns as Ringo and Arizona Colt) is trying to get revenge for the death of his father while trying to save the life of Garfield from the Pinkerton agency.
The Pinkertons may be heroes elsewhere, but in Pittsburgh, you can drive past the two adjoining cemeteries of St. Mary’s and Homestead where remains of six of the seven Carnegie Steel Company workers killed are buried, the bloody aftermath of the Battle of Homestead on July 6, 1892, when Henry Frick tried to use the agency to break strikers with violence.
Van Johnson plays the idealistic Garfield, who is coming to Texas to speak to people who have no interest in hearing what he has to say, yet he believes in the goodness in everyone. Of course, he’s killed and the Lee Harvey Oswald figure is Jack Donovan (Ray Saunders), a black man, which adds even more of a connection to the way the world of 1969 was looking, what with Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King being killed and the start of the Years of Lead in Italy. And I’m not certain that the scars in America’s psyche had yet healed, so I doubt anyone was ready for a movie they surely saw as escapism having María Cuadra play Jackie Kennedy and follow her exact movements in Dallas. She’s even given red roses, just like the President’s widow was.
The joy of the Italian west is in finding movies that explore not only the way that film depicts a time and place we can never go to — indeed, many of the filmmakers had not even been to America — and even find that an alternate version of history can tell us so many things about the world we live in today.
You can watch this on YouTube.