COMBAT! star Vic Morrow co-wrote and directed A MAN CALLED SLEDGE, a brutal spaghetti western produced by Dino de Laurentiis. Morrow's co-writer, Frank Kowalski, was a member of the COMBAT! crew, and his star, James Garner, became famous as the easygoing Western gambler Bret on ABC’s MAVERICK series. Garner had just been seen in the crowdpleasing comic westerns SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF and SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER when A MAN CALLED SLEDGE slid into American theaters, and I suspect audiences were disappointed to see him playing against type as a taciturn anti-hero.
In his 2011 memoirs, Garner called SLEDGE “a turkey” and claimed he let de Laurentiis talk him into doing it. It isn’t as bad as all that, but it’s really only memorable because of actors like Garner, Dennis Weaver (MCCLOUD), and Claude Akins (RIO BRAVO) appearing in their only Italian western. Notorious outlaw Luther Sledge (Garner) has himself tossed into a prison where $300,000 in gold rests in a basement vault. He and his gang, including Ward (Weaver), Hooker (Akins), and an old man (John Marley) who spent twenty years in the cell next to the vault, bust the money out, and Morrow takes the third act into TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE territory.
Italian western expert Thomas Weisser claims Morrow was fired during shooting and replaced by director Giorgio Gentili (MADIGAN’S MILLIONS). There’s no telling which director shot which footage, so who knows who to credit with the handful of artful shots, such as a man who falls dead amid a cloud of gold dust. Wayde Preston, who was a Warner Brothers contract player (COLT .45) at the same time as Garner, plays the town sheriff. Also with Laura Antonelli, Ken Clark (MISSION BLOODY MARY), and Tony Young (POLICEWOMEN). The music by Gianni Ferrio (A BULLET FOR SANDOVAL) is not very good—unusual for an Italian western.