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DVD SAVANT

FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE
- another Leone restoration


Sergio Leone's 1972 epic Western Giù la testa! (direct translation: Duck Your Head!) has had one of the most confusing release histories, on film and video, of any film around. The 1996 MGM Home Entertainment / Image laserdisc presented a version of the film longer and more complete than any shown in the United States. But the story is far more complicated than that; it looks as if even longer prints are going to surface soon. Revised, 3/5/00, with NEW information about the longer cut of Fistful of Dynamite.

Note, 3.24.07: The long, restored original cut of this film will be released on DVD on June 5, 2007 as a two-disc Special Edition, along with similar restorations of Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Savant's review here.

A Fistful of Dynamite saw its first American release in 1972 as Duck You Sucker!, at the relatively short running time of 121 minutes. Savant remembers the theatrical prints having almost no color (the early 70's had some of the worst exhibition quality in the history of American cinema) and the film being marketed as a kiddie Western. Nothing really happened except things blowing up ... my interest in it was so low that I gave away a now-rare insert card poster of the film to my little brother in Arizona.

Apparently unhappy with the results of the release, United Artists reissued the film only a few months later with a new title obviously meant to capitalize on Leone's earlier boxoffice triumph: Fistful of Dynamite. Whether or not this theatrical version added footage, I have not been able to determine.

It was not until 1989, when Image released its first laserdisc version of Dynamite that Savant saw a longer, 138 minute cut of the film. Even though the colors were still pretty poor, one could get a good idea of what Leone was going for: references to the revolutionary politics of the characters were restored, along with some fairly salty cursing cut for the previous kiddie-safe versions. The resulting film began to bear comparison with Leone's earlier Once Upon a Time in the West, whose rebirth as a cult title in the 80's had won me over to the director's unique style. Indeed, an alternate title for Sucker! in Europe was Once Upon a Time ... The Revolution.

Sean as seen by Juan: a serio-cartoonish style.

In 1994, Savant stumbled across an unreleased reference cassette of Fistful of Dynamite on the MGM vault shelves labeled 'uncut'. Its running time was given as 154 minutes. How could this already long picture get any longer? Not being a fully informed fan of Leone, I was unaware of the frequent mentions of a longer Giù la testa! Although the transfer was poor and the image pan-scanned, the film was a surprise from the very beginning, with its incredible title card (detailed below).

I personally had no idea Image was going to release this longer cut, with restored color and a full letterboxed image, until it was announced in 1996; but Savant can make a claim to influencing the release in a positive way. When a screener of the new transfer was available, I asked to take a look at it and discovered that one of the best scenes, the conclusion's final flashback, was missing. Where all the versions of the film seen previous (including the unreleased vault copy I had ferreted out) had retained James Coburn's final flashback to happier days in Ireland, this intended laser version of the movie ended abruptly with an explosion.

Happier days: almost dropped.

Savant went to Alan Fisch, the head of the department preparing elements for the laser and let him know about the problem, showing him the previous versions of the film and making a big case about what a mistake it would be to omit the flashback. Without the sentimental ending, not only would the balance of this predominantly coarse film be thrown off, but the new disc would surely be rejected by Leone fans everywhere as incomplete. 'All you would be doing', I argued, 'would be making the older, otherwise inferior, disc a collector's item.'

Happily, the flashback went back in. The cut negative had reportedly come from a French source, with assurances that it was Leone's personally reedited, approved cut. Whatever its merit, it was retained as an 'alternate ending' on the disc.

( Discussion of the even LONGER version continues at the bottom of the article...)

Now, the movie itself. Viewers will be surprised to find the film opening with a quote from none other than Chairman Mao (!!!) that would seem to establish Dynamite as pro-Marxist:

THE REVOLUTION - IS NOT A SOCIAL DINNER, -
- A LITERARY EVENT, - A DRAWING OR AN EMBROIDERY; -
- IT CANNOT BE DONE WITH ... - ELEGANCE AND COURTESY. -
- THE REVOLUTION IS AN ACT OF VIOLENCE ... -
- MAO TSE-TUNG

One can immediately understand why the American distributor would have dropped the quote like a hot potato - 1972, of course, was the middle of the Vietnam War. What viewers will see only here in DVD Savant is the uncut original quote, presented on two cards in that '80's transfer:

A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; It cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows the other. -MAO TSE TUNG

I'll leave it to more politically sensitive minds to characterize both the differences in the quotes and their meanings. Here is a film where Leone, previously not considered a 'political' director, opens his big-budget epic as if in hommage to Jean-Luc Godard. Savant finds it interesting that the restored Dynamite should contrast pro-revolutionary agit-prop with a clear condemnation of the revolutionary process. He ends with a sentimental nod to the Catholic faith and love of family as worthier ideals ... but not necessarily contradictory ones.

The sixteen minutes of cuts that make up the added material in the new laser release fall into several categories:

1) Trims in violent moments. There are extra angles of stagecoach drivers, etc., being shot. These would seem to be the logical result of instructions to 'tone down the violence'. In the central flashback to the betrayal scene in the Irish bar, James Coburn's gunning down of the English Black 'n Tans was previously shortened in a way that made it appear that Coburn had felled two men with one shot. The largest cut of this kind is in the railway massacre sequence, where a crane shot of hundreds of men being executed in pits is cut by over half a minute, reducing what looks like genocide to something much less overwhelming.

Genocidal murder ... trimmed for American audiences.

If The Good, The Bad and the Ugly makes the American Civil War look like WWI, then Duck You Sucker! casts the Mexican Federales as Nazis, plain and simple. Also, the short version omits over a minute of Juan's tearful reaction to this massacre, obviously mourning his dead sons.

2) Trims of profanity, nudity, and crudity. The uncut version now begins with an unpleasant closeup of barefoot peasant Rod Steiger urinating on some ants. It is also more definite that he rapes the spinster in the caravan, and exposes himself to her in a scene meant to reveal her as a hypocritical prude. When Juan sends the naked wagonload of capitalists careening down a hill, the uncut version shows them tumbling into a pigsty - more crude political comment, I suppose. Other cuts cleverly remove almost all of Steiger's constant profanity.

3) United Artists was owned by Transamerica in 1972. One major cut sequence (5 1/2 minutes) shows Coburn murdering German mine owner Aschenbach and his Federale cronies by dynamiting them wholesale in what appears to be a church. Later, a dialog cut has the revolutionary doctor Villega (Romolo Valli) say lines that most certainly were dropped because of the real-life underground radical threat of the time: Viega: "'Til now, nobody dared take a crack at foreign capitalists, Not even Pancho Villa."

4) Major cuts obviously made to shorten two scenes that result in changing their meaning. The grotto scene where John and Juan discover that Juan's entire family has been massacred with dozens of others, has been cut by three minutes. In the long version, Juan walks around in a daze, sits, is finally joined by John, and then goes out to face the army alone. Only then does John look into the cave and we see the bodies of the children among all the other dead revolutionaries. John's reaction is stressed, as well as Juan's. In the shorter version, shorter glimpses of the dead bodies are intercut with fragments of the held shot of Juan's dazed wandering. John's later gazing at the corpses is reduced to almost nothing, and his walking exit is shortened too.

A long pause has been restored, with music, after John shoots the British soldiers in the pub. In slow motion, Sean nods mysteriously to John, either in approval of the killing of the Brits or, more likely, urging John to shoot him as well and cleanse him of the guilt of being an informer. The short version has John shoot his comrade almost immediately, turning what seems to be a shared moment of truth into a much colder execution by John.

The release of the new Fistful of Dynamite laser has brought some perplexing letters from viewers who remember seeing yet longer versions of the film.

(1) The most prominent scene mentioned would go immediately after John's final dynamiting of Juan's stolen caravan, and before the weird nighttime scene where John dynamites Aschenbach, itself a restored scene. According to reports, Juan's men disarm John and lead him on a forced march in the desert, taunting him much in the same way Eli Wallach had taunted Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. If this were so it would make some sense of John's seemingly unmotivated disorientation as he sets up to dynamite Aschenbach. There was one emotional letter from a French reader furious at the deletion of this scene. It and other scenes, it is claimed, would add at least ten more minutes to the film.

(2) The final flashback, it is claimed, is more like four minutes long as opposed to the 30 seconds or so it is now. Other reports, especially from Leone authority Bill Shaffer, mention these cuts. Besides their inclusion in the novelization of the film, repeat mentions of them from European sources lead Savant to believe they really do exist, and that the full length of the complete Giù la testa! would be 160 minutes.

I've learned never to say 'impossible' to any claim of a longer Sergio Leone cut, especially after the release of the longer DVD version of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

A Longer Leone on the Horizon.

That's where this article ended in 1998. Since then a newly-restored Italian cut print has come to light, reported in 1998 to Savant by Lee Broughton of England, in a set of Italian Film Festival notes. With the help of some Italian translation from my wife, the festival copy claimed that the print was in Stereophonic sound, as it was at its Rome premiere in 1971 (according to writer Ernie Farino, who attended!).

Now .... (in March, 2000) a screening has been announced for London's National Film Theater of a 162 - minute Fistful of Dynamite, eight minutes longer than the Image laser and two minutes longer than the running time given in an official Rafran Production company document shown Savant by Bill Shaffer. It's presently presumed that this is a showing of the 1996 restoration ...

Savant re-contacted Bill Shaffer, who had these descriptions of other possible new scenes:

(3) " ...I still think there is one other sequence missing, (at the point) where Steiger exits the train into the arms of the revolutionaries and then is shown aboard the train being praised by their leader. I think there's still a short sequence where Steiger is introduced to the leader outside the train, mainly because there is a squash-wipe between these scenes now and Leone didn't normally used this kind of effect."

Lee Broughton offered the following as clarification:

"I been wondering about the 160 vs 162 mins angle too. I've seen both lengths listed a couple of times. I didn't send you the Rafran memo but I did send those Italian Festival notes. They did quote 162 mins. Here's what Oreste De Fornari (note: a Leone Author) listed as 'principal scenes cut from the Italian release version' -"

(4) In the desert, Juan's boys completely dismantle the John's motorcycle. Juan yells at them to reassemble it.

(5) The rebels are shown reuniting in the grotto, concerned, after John and Juan dynamite the bridge under Gunther Reza.

(6) Another Ireland flashback, after which John throws a liquor bottle at a gramophone.

(7) Gunther Reza's soldiers torture Dr. Villega, seen as shadows on a wall.


"The (final flashback) scene, that lasts three minutes and forty seconds, was cut from versions in other European countries and was put back into the 1996 version, restored under the direction of Claver Salizzato. It's not unusual for our film festivals to screen a film like 'Dynamite' in Italian with no subtitles. And it should be in Dolby stereo if it's the Italian restoration."

So Leone fans have a lot to look forward to, what with European Region 2 DVD's announced of all of Leone's major westerns. There's every likelihood that they will be dramatically longer European cuts (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly reportedly already available in Italy on VHS at over 180 minutes long!). If MGM/UA follows up with American releases of the long cuts, an awful lot of spaghetti western fans are going to going to be very happy. (February 28. 2000)


A final note: many fans have noted the absence of Juan's dialog line saying 'What about me?' that once was at the very end of the film. This was effectively answered by the end title saying 'Duck You Sucker' and was presumably a joke to give the end of the film a mild lift. Nobody dropped the line with the manufacture of the new disc - the previous disc had in actuality used the Duck You Sucker! ending, even though it was sold as Fistful. The Fistful of Dynamite version of the film omitted Juan's dialog line, which was was a suspiciously non-Steiger voiceover line to begin with. His lips don't even move.


LINK to a related website about director SERGIO LEONE, and the SERGIO LEONE Web Board.


Are Westerns your thing? Check out Savant's other Western - related articles: Foreign Intervention and the American Western * MAN OF THE WEST - A Western We Want To See * THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE RESTORED * Review: The Man from Laramie * Review: The Man With No Name Trilogy * Review: Duel in the Sun.



Text © Copyright 1997-2000 Glenn Erickson





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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