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Fistful of Dynamite aka Duck, You Sucker, A
As a Leone cultist, I grew up having many issues with Duck, You Sucker, which I previously thought to be his only outright bad movie. I think it would be hard to blame me. If I believe every single work of a director is a masterpiece, except for a single one, the faults of that one would tend to stand out a bit more than if it was helmed by a director I particularly don't care as much about. Duck, You Sucker was always the bastard step child of the Leone filmography to me, but I have to admit that when I finally was able to stand back and review it on its own merits, without comparison to the Dollar Trilogy or the sublime Once Upon a Time films, there's a lot to admire here.
In many ways, Duck, You Sucker represents the bridge between giddy genre contortionist Leone and the more mature, character oriented epic drama Leone, as if it was a dress rehearsal for Once Upon a Time in America while acting as one last hurrah for the director's previous work. The charismatic, playful days of old is represented by a plucky and somewhat crazy Mexican bandit named Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) who dreams of one day robbing the biggest bank in Mexico. He gets his chance when he meets an ex-Irish-revolutionary demolition expert, John (James Coburn), and convinces him to blow up the bank so they can get away with the loot.
Juan is yet another tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of the classic western that only Leone could pull off so well. He's brash and magnetic, yet shows a proud lack of moral compass and a hint of sociopathic behavior. Of course he has a heart of gold underneath all that emotional armor, as much as a golden heart as one can find in Leone's stylistically cynical world. On their way to a life of riches, Juan and John get roped up into the Mexican revolution, and have to gradually make a choice between standing for the common good or their pocketbooks. This is where the character-oriented somber dramatist Leone comes in, especially in John, who's a disillusioned former idealist, still haunted by the morbid mistakes of the past.
The story takes place during the early 20th Century, and Leone weaves a palpable modern western with his trademark meticulous framing that seamlessly cuts between intense close-ups and epic wide shots, as well as his kinetic editing technique that takes perfect advantage of the zoom lens. There are of course issues that drag it away from being as great as his other films. His lack of dedication shows a bit, since he was roped into directing this project after Steiger and Coburn said they wouldn't star in it otherwise. The original plan was for his assistant to helm it. It's certainly too long for such a simple story, and Leone spends too much of the runtime on John's slow motion flashback sequences, which are not helped by the overtly cheesy soft focus photography.
Duck, You Sucker certainly reminds us how important Ennio Morricone's scores are to Leone's films. The kind of operatic energy found in Morricone's previous compositions for Leone are mostly missing here, replaced by a far too often repeated chant. The lead performances also lack the some of the effortless charisma and chemistry found in other Leone movies. Steiger is a bit too cartoonish as Juan, and Coburn has problems capturing the right tone for most of the scenes. All of that being said, this is still a captivating modern western that levelheadedly examines the effects of revolutionary acts on the individual.
The 1080p presentation is one of the best that Kino Lorber has put out there, on par with their recent The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Blu-ray release. There's a nice amount of grain and clarity. The black levels are bit wonky, and there are enough dirt and scratches for us to notice, yet this is still the best home video presentation of the film you'll find.
We get two DTS-HD tracks, 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo. I'm a bit disappointed to not find the original mono mix, but both of these tracks show nice dynamic range and clarity between dialogue and score.
Commentary by Alex Cox: The Repo Man director is a big fan of the film, and it shows. This is a lively and loving commentary.
Commentary by Sir Christopher Frayling: This commentary by the renowned film historian is the one you should listen to for direct information about the production and the real history that the story was inspired by.
Featurettes: We get a bevy of making of docs ported from the DVD release, clocking in at around 90 minutes total, with in-depth interviews from the cast and crew. This is a gem for fans.
We also get two Image Galleries, six Radio Spots, and five Trailers.
Duck, You Sucker might not be as memorable and groundbreaking as Leone's other works, but it's not as bad as I convinced myself for years to be either. I've finally made my peace with it, and this solid Blu-ray presentation certainly helped.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com