Sunday, 18 October 2015

A Dollar to Die For (1968) Brian Fox Review- spoiler-free version

When I first heard of this novel, I was hyped. It told the story of the continuing adventures of the Man with No Name. And not only that, but Tuco, that lovable buffoonish bandit of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, makes his only other official appearance.
The blurb had me worried, though. It told of "a murderous friendship based on greed and hate- which only one of the four could survive". I was depressed for a while. From the blurb, it looked to me like Tuco Ramirez, the character I related so much to in terms of being so energetic and accident prone, was really not going to make it this time. Images swam through my imagination as to how the story would progress. Does he die or not? What were the chases like? Does Pablo return? Despite myself, I finally went ahead and bought the book.
I was pleased to find out he lives! His subplot, however, was adequate.

First of all, the book is not as humorous as the movie. It's very dramatic and violent, with a lot of double crossing from different directions and a very strange Apache torture device.
Second, Blondie and Tuco have very few scenes together, for those that miss their violent bromance that they shared in the film. There's still a little bit of a post-breakup trust exercise, but there's so much story going on that it's kind of lost in there.

The MacGuffin of the story is the gold that the Count de Cabronet failed to send puppet Emperor Maximilian to save his life. I like the presentation of authority brutality in the story. There's a short scene where the greedy and corrupt governor kills the guard who had slipped Maximilian the note telling him he would be saved while torturing him for information. It's a nice demonstration how in such a huge political crisis, no side is innocent.
The Mexican Army is out to recover the money, and Sgt. Tuco Ramirez is among them. But he wants the gold for himself, of course. And he's more vicious here than he is in the movie, now that he's in a position of power.

I liked Tuco when he was just a tinhorn bandit. He was the constant victim of pratfalls and outright horrible luck. He constantly got tied up, nearly hanged and then left behind in the desert only to start mouthing off like he had suffered a breakup. And his obsessive determined revenge against Blondie, like that of a rejected lover, was a distinguishing and relatable feature, and so petty it was hilarious. The fact that he's so down and out was a constant source of humor, and I think that if Brian Fox had taken a different creative direction he'd have made the book as funny as the movie that inspired it.
Reading this, I feel like he's changed so much that I barely recognize him anymore. Then again, I guess five years can do that to a man.
He's still energetic and very entertaining to read about, but I think he could have suffered a little more consistently. We could have laughed at him a bit more.
Also, Fox is mean to him. He calls him ugly constantly. I know that's his designation, but the point is he's ugly on the inside. From what I've seen he was not bad looking.

So the Sergeant is kidnapped by Apaches, who aren't interested in the gold but there's an outlaw among them who decides to hold him hostage until he gets the hidden gold and...

And here's where it gets weird. The book has this bit where Apaches would stake their prisoner on an anthill and have ants eat them alive. I don't know if that's a real Apache form of torture or not. It sounds really made up. Maybe Fox was racist against Native Americans, I dunno. It seemed really pointless to kill a bunch of guys who aren't interested in gold.
This part of the story could have gone in a direction that was a bit less racist, and could have re-established the relationship between the bandit and bounty hunter, but unfortunately it chose not to.

What I like about the book is that there's moments of peace. There's moments where our bandido can just kick back and relax and once more, you feel it with him. You feel his health returning after a moment of extreme starvation and you can't help but smile with him.
There are few funny moments in the novel, but one is where he's dreaming that a beautiful woman is touching his shoulder when really it's Captain Alvarez. You can just picture his expression.

The last little bit of the book was just okay. For better or for worse, it's all a confusing mess. There is a fairly satisfying ending in all this. As I said before, there's none of that wonderful vengeful near-sadomasochistic behaviour between these two. In fact, their relationship can be compared more to Do-won and Tae-goo from The Good, the Bad, the Weird than to themselves. Still, the last line of the book implies that Blondie is returning those feelings that seemed unrequited in the movie.

This book was decent. There were a lot of things to enjoy about it. Things like Tuco's emotions were very well described. As usual, at times you really felt what he was going through, as soon as he wanders into Tyopa and collapses by the well. The violence makes the action in the movies look tame. There's not just guns, there's knives in it as well. And for some reason, ants.
I just wonder how such an ambitious premise would turn out in the hands of a different writer. Not that Fox's writing was bad, I just wonder if it would have turned out better in the hands of a different writer. How would Sergio Leone have handled the characters? Would he have made Blondie and Tuco still as emotionally close as they were in GBU? Would the characters have received expansion and development? Who can tell?
I'd forgive it if it was a fan fiction, but this is an official tie-in novel. This is officially what happens in the story's canon, or so it seems. I think I'd have kept to the spirit of the movie more.
On the whole, it's not as good as it could have been, but if you're really curious, maybe check it out.

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