Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Four For All (1975)

I like turkey.  Every Thanksgiving (or any time that it’s served with my family), I get chosen to carve up the bird.  It’s not that I’m especially adept at it, I believe.  I think it’s more that I’m willing to do it than anything else.  The carving itself is actually quite simple, once you understand how to take the breast off the bone, and know where to crack off the wings and drumsticks.  It can get a little messy, however.  I should probably invest in a pair of turkey-handling gloves (I assume that this is something that exists), but normally I just use a little tin foil to hold anything steady (any tips or tricks you may have would be appreciated).  At any rate, while I enjoy turkey, I don’t like gravy.  Like, on anything.  I guess this is the same proclivity that makes me dislike condiments (with the exception of possibly ketchup [or catsup, depending on where you’re from]) on hot dogs, hamburgers, and so forth.  There’s just something about gravy that turns me off, but what can you do, right?  What the hell has this got to do with Giulio Giuseppe Negri’s (credited on screen) and Yilmaz Atadeniz’s (credited as co-director on IMdB) Four for All (aka Dort Hergele aka Fighting Killer)?  Well, the film is an Italian/Turkish co-production and was filmed in Istanbul, Turkey.  But really I was just grasping at straws for an introduction this week.

Members of The Organization are murdered at the command of the villainous Joseph (I love the genericity of foreign language genre film character names, don’t you?), who wants total control of the crime world in Istanbul.  The unlikely-named Tony Tiger (Irfan Atasoy, also a co-writer on the film and a man who perhaps enjoys Frosted Flakes a bit too much) and his family are targeted soon thereafter, but Tony survives, thanks to former flame (no pun intended; when you read further you’ll understand) Olga (Feri Cansel).  Calling upon three buddies he bonded closely (perhaps intimately) with during “The War,” including Nick (Richard Harrison) a gambler, Gordon (Gordon Mitchell) a Judo expert, and Brady (Fikret Hakan) a crooner, Tony plots his vengeance.

Four for All is, first and foremost, a revenge story, and in this it is, like so very many films from Turkey, both straightforward and quite insane.  Tony certainly has good reason to be out for blood, as I think almost anyone who is tortured and whose family is ruthlessly murdered does.  But the four killers really go the extra mile for Tony.  They beat his son Nino (and I have to say here that the actors actually do throw this kid around and smack him up a bit, unless the boy was in reality an amazing stuntman, and the scene was extraordinarily blocked out, but I doubt it).  They rape his wife.  They tie Tony up, spread eagle and face down, hanging over the carnage.  Then they light his house on fire.  Now, that’s a total “goon service” package, if ever there was one.  What this all does, of course, is gives Tony a reason to go on living, a singular purpose to his now-miserable existence.  Characters like him cannot move on or find closure like normal human beings.  The retribution beast must be fed (maybe this is why his surname is Tiger?), and nothing else matters.  Olga offers him solace (kind of), and while he stays with her, there is no indication that the two ever reignite (no pun intended…again) their former relationship (and the handling of Olga throughout the film is something I’ll let you discover for yourself if you choose to watch this movie).  His friends are there for him, but Tony is myopic in his obsession.  He has to be.  He has no other raison d’etre, now that his family has been destroyed.  I think that the interesting thing about this drive in cinema is that it can end in death for the hero as easily as he can walk away from it at the fade out, but, either way, he will not emerge unscathed, and quite often, the protagonist finds that his revenge, though cathartic for characters (and audiences), ultimately is meaningless.

The film is also an Assemble the Team story, and the camaraderie between the four men (referred to directly as The Four Musketeers, though I think that reference is fairly superficial here) is heightened to an unrealistic degree (this in a film rife with unrealistic touches).  In the flashback scenes to their time in “The War” (I assume this is a reference to Vietnam [though possibly not], since all the guys are the same age then as they are in the present), the men are shown laughing and having a good old time (as you would expect of soldiers during wartime).  Nick, Gordon, and Brady are also shown running (practically skipping with glee) from different sides toward Tony (who inhabits the camera’s POV), calling out his name, because Tony is the center of the group and of this story.  This will be revisited as a visual motif when the four meet up again before and after their “mission.”  Tony stands on a silent hilltop.  As he turns, each of his friends approach from separate (yet deliberately geometric) directions.  These men are so dedicated to their bond, they actually stack hands to display their solidarity with one another (I always think of the origin story of The Fantastic Four when I see this type of visual, but that’s just me).  

Nevertheless, the film, its characters, and its structure are distinctly comic-book-esque.  The cabal of gangsters is straight out of a James Bond film.  They gather at a long table, sneer at each other, and discuss their business with the polished casualness of executives delivering quarterly budget reports.  They all dress like they were peeled off a Dick Tracy cartoon with a glob of Silly Putty (and it should be said, I believe this film may have the most magnificent collection of mustaches ever assembled under one roof).  They wallow in their cruelty, chuckling and grinning as they go about their work.  

By that same token, our heroes’ story is divided up in such a way that I was immediately reminded of the longtime structure for DC Comics’ early Justice League of America books (and others like The Sea Devils and so forth, but the JLA stands out for me and is the most recognizable to folks for our purposes here today).  In the comics, there would be a basic threat introduced (say, Starro or Despero, it doesn’t matter).  The characters would then split up and each would tackle some aspect of the peril in individual chapters before they would all gather again at the end to finally vanquish their foe.  The same thing happens in Four for All, where each of the boys tracks down and roughs up one of the four assassins (Gordon chases Bob from a Turkish bath house, Brady busts up Johnny’s wedding day, Tony lures Brahma [Brimmer? Brummer? Who the hell can tell from the various pronunciations heard in the movie] to a remote locale, Nick goes skiing in pursuit of Charlie).  Funny enough, this is one of the most entertaining aspects to the film, since it helps keep the pace moving, gives us varied setups (while still sticking strictly to a formula), and showcases just how outlandish this whole affair is.  Tony’s plan is utter nonsense from stem to stern, and no one with half a brain would agree it, but like reading an old JLA comic, it’s enjoyable nonsense, and in this I can honestly state that I didn’t mind the gravy so much.

MVT:  The action in the film is practically non-stop, and it’s all goofy fun.

Make or Break:  The classic underworld meeting that kicks off the film lays all of this picture’s cards on the table.  S.P.E.C.T.R.E. would be proud.

Score:  6.5/10

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