Though Van Johnson may play a character named James Garfield and claims to be the twentieth President of the United States, that’s where the historical accuracy of Tonino Valerii’s The Price of Power ends. In real life, President Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau in Washington D.C. on July 2, 1881. In The Price of Power, Garfield is the victim of a vast conspiracy, falling pray to assassins in Dallas, Texas. The film is a Spaghetti Western reinterpretation of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
“Texas is against you, even the Governor himself,” warns Garfield’s aide, Arthur McDonald (Warren Vanders). Despite the discontent, Garfield feels that he can’t be a proper President if he’s afraid to visit all of the United States. Yet, more than just the Governor (Julio Pena), the pit of vipers into which his train enters includes renegade former Confederate, Pinkerton (Fernando Rey), the Sheriff of Dallas, Jefferson (Benito Stefanelli), and dogmatic thug Wallace. Regardless of the best efforts of Garfield supporter Jack Donovan (Ray Saunders), Garfield rides in an open-air stagecoach to his doom. Worse, Donovan gets saddled with the murder charge and massacred during a prison transfer.
If only President Kennedy had a defender like Bill Willer on the case. Donovan’s pal, Willer doggedly pursues the truth, choking confessions out of suspects and playing Russian roulette with conspirators in the dark. Willer is played by Giuliano Gemma who occasionally goes went under the moniker “Montgomery Wood”. This is a fitting name as it describes his acting style. He’s as charismatic as a bag of wet flour.
Released a mere six years after the Kennedy assassination, The Price of Power is steeped in conspiracy theories that have the Vice President as a corrupt logroller beholden to businessmen and other “good ole boy” constituents. There are no Cubans or Mobsters in Massimo Patrizi’s screenplay. It’s telling that nearly everyone playing a part in the conspiracy wears a badge, calling into question the involvement of state and federal infrastructure in the plot.
Despite a fascinating premise, the pacing of The Price of Power leaves a lot to be desired. The film degrades into Willer and McDonald chasing after a written confession with a lot of bumps along the road. Things aren’t helped by the score by Luis Enríquez Bacalov which turns into a bombastic racket during action scenes and calls to mind Aaron Copland’s “Hoe Down” so much that you’ll be telling yourself that “Beef, it’s what for dinner,” whenever things get exciting.