Dollar cinema wasn’t born with the hyper-masculine Schwarzenegger and Stallone flicks of the 1980s, even if that’s where many of us cut our teeth on the genre. Dollar movies have existed since pictures started moving. Not only that, but many of our beloved modern dollar movies have direct antecedents in previous decades.
“Four Brothers”, the 2005 story of siblings who return home to Detroit after the murder of their adoptive mother, is a loose retelling of the John Wayne / Dean Martin vehicle “The Sons of Katie Elder” from 1965. Though neither film is a peak-level production compared to some of the actors’ other films (Wayne and Martin had made “Rio Bravo” six years prior, and Wahlberg was two years away from dollar classic “Shooter”), they both represent high-quality dollar-fare. Plot devices are certainly different between the two, but themes and character profiles are very similar. Let’s look at a few of the most relevant to dollar cinema.
Protagonists are pieces of shit: each film featured sons who, for the most part, left as teenagers and rarely visited again, despite each mother being saintly by all accounts. They then seek redemption for their souls by a lot of vigilante violence (especially in “Four Brothers”).
Crooked cops: you better believe there are crooked cops in each film. In “The Sons of Katie Elder”, deputies who were supposed to transport the Elder boys to a different jail were paid off by the villain. A crooked cop is front and center in “Four Brothers”, probably one reason why it remains so beloved by the dollar crew.
Town-controlling villains: each film features a solid villain, a prerequisite for a good dollar movie. In “Four Brothers”, Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Victor Sweet, a fur-wearing gang leader, while in “The Sons of Katie Elder”, James Gregory plays the gunsmith who murdered the husband of Katie Elder, and then stole the Elder’s ranch. However, much like Han Solo with the Millennium Falcon, Gregory claimed he won the ranch in a card game. Also awesome: George Kennedy plays Curley the gunslinger.
Cheap heat: unsurprisingly, one of the lesser brothers bites it in each flick.
Usually the original is the greater film, but “The Sons of Katie Elder” suffers in posterity because it is overshadowed by so many superior westerns starring John Wayne. However, there’s nothing like “Four Brothers”. It’s great dollar theater.