Friday, October 12, 2012
Duck, You Sucker!
Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 9/19/09 w/ Additional Edit.
Directed by Sergio Leone and screenplay by Leone, Sergio Donati, and Luciano Vincenzon from a story by Leone and Donati, Duck, You Sucker! or in the more well-known title, A Fistful of Dynamite tells the story of a Mexican outlaw who meets an ex-IRA revolutionary in 1910 Mexico. When they set out to rob a bank, they discover some political turmoil in Mexico that prompts the two men to be involved in the Mexican Revolution. Part-western and part-political drama, the film marks a transitional period for Leone as he would stray away from the west into something much broader for what was to come in his later work. Also starring Romolo Valli, Franco Graziosi, Antoine Saint-John, and David Warbeck. Duck, You Sucker! is a thrilling, powerful, stylish film from Sergio Leone and company.
After robbing a stagecoach with his six sons and father, Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) has done another successful robbery when a man in a motorcycle rides past him. Juan shoots at the motorcycle where the man in the motorcycle decides to shoot a hole in the stolen stagecoach with explosives. He is revealed to be a former IRA terrorist named John Mallory (James Coburn). Impressed by his collection of dynamite and liquid explosives, Miranda asks Mallory if he could join them which Mallory declines. When Miranda mentions the Mesa Verde bank that he wants to rob, Mallory becomes interested though the two butt heads over who should run things. When Mallory takes a job to destroy a mine run by a German, he gets unexpected help from Miranda and his gang.
On their way to Mesa Verde as Mallory, Miranda, and their entourage are on horseback, they encounter a train that Mallory takes. Miranda and his team take the next train where they meet a man in glasses reading a book who quietly helps them in dealing with train conductors. Upon their arrival to Mesa Verde, Miranda is surprised to see that the town has changed as it's surrounded by soldiers under the orders of Governor Jaime (Franco Graziosi). Miranda finally founds Mallory at a restaurant where in the back is a revolutionary led by the man Miranda met at the train in Dr. Villega (Romolo Valli). Villega makes plans about organizing an attack on the troops in Mesa Verde while he wants Miranda and Mallory to lead an attack at the Mesa Verde bank. After Mallory sets up plans for explosives, Miranda goes into the bank where he makes a shocking discovery that would make him an unlikely hero in the Mexican Revolution.
Miranda, who had been through a previous revolution, becomes reluctant in taking part as he feels screwed by Mallory. Though the revolution could mean great things for his family, he isn't so sure since it often favors the rich. When an army led by Colonel Gunther Reza (Antoine Saint-John) is coming to the hills where a large group of revolutionaries are hiding. Mallory and Miranda stay put with machine guns where they succeed in blocking an entire battalion but return to their hideout at the caves with a shocking discovery. Miranda gets captured forcing Mallory to make another discover that recalls an event involving an old friend (David Warbeck) back in Ireland. After successfully freeing Miranda from Reza and his men, Miranda and Mallory hide in a train where they would encounter not just the Govenor. They also get an encounter from Pancho Villa's troops as they ask for the help of Miranda and Mallory where Mallory makes a drastic move.
A mixture of Leone's westerns but also political films and drama, the film marks as a transitional film for Leone as he moves away from the Western for something more ambitious. Leone, who had never delve into politics with his previous films shows his leanings towards Socialism. Though Leone doesn't dwell too much into his views, the film does reveal the fallacy of revolutions from the viewpoint of a man like Miranda who is poor and felt revolutions hasn't done much for the poor. For Mallory, it's a chance to make himself feel useful while dealing with guilt over what happened in his past in Ireland that involved his best friend.
The script definitely has Leone's trademark of playful dialogue, banter between characters, and set pieces. Yet, at the heart of the film is the love-hate relationship between the two Johns. Juan Miranda and John Mallory. Two different men from different backgrounds and intellects. Yet, they bring the best in each other for a revolution they're both reluctant to take part in. The film begins with a quote from Mao Zedong about class struggles and revolutions where the opening 20 minute sequence that involves a stagecoach robbery with rich people reveals rich people's view on peasants the poor with Miranda listening in as an observer before he robs them all. While Miranda is this ragged Robin Hood of sorts with little ambition. Mallory is a man who believes that explosives can change the world and hopes to get Miranda involved fully in the revolution. What neither expect is a friendship that would change their perspective on the world.
The script Leone co-wrote with his collaborators definitely show some ambition in the storytelling. Yet, it's Leone's direction that shows the man doing what he does best. While a lot of the compositions recall some of the ambitious set pieces and camera movements of his previous film Once Upon a Time in the West. Leone's visual approach is broader with its wide landscape of the Spanish mountains pretending to be Mexico while flashback scenes shot in Dublin which are more intimate and dream-like. With action sequences filled with grand explosions, battles, and gunfights. It looks like a Leone western but the difference is the time, setting, and event that is occurring throughout the film.
Some of the scenery Leone creates which involves moments of chaos has a strange beauty to its movement. Notably a crane shot that moves to emphasize the struggle between the poor and adversaries at the Mexican Revolution. Compositions include scenes of executions that are inspired the paintings of Francisco Goya. Part of Leone's grand visual styles include great close-ups that are prominent throughout, notably the first 20 minutes with all of these shots of rich people eating with their mouths full and talking. Plus the shot of eyes with these amazing close-ups that are a trademark of Leone. The grand visual style, depth of field and Leone's camera movements with fast-paced action shows the director still at the top of his game as a director.
Cinematographer Giuseppe Ruzzolini does an excellent job with the film's cinematography with amazing, broad shots of desert exterior of Spain that is a great mixture of rugged landscape and sunlight. The interiors for some of the scenes in the caves and trains are wonderfully lit to convey a sense of intimacy for the film while some of the best work comes in a battle sequence shot at night. With its mixture of fire and moonlight, it's got some beautiful compositions with movements by Ruzzolini's camera that is truly spectacular. Leone's longtime editor Nino Baragli does some brilliant cutting with rhythmic edits and fast-cuts to convey the sense of action and energy that happens. Baragli's stylish cutting for the close-ups has an amazing sense of rhythm and timing as it maintains the energy and pacing of the film without being too slow or too fast. Baragli's work is phenomenal as he is one of the most overlooked editors in cinema.
Art director Andrea Cristani and set decorator Dario Micheli does some fantastic work with the set design of the stagecoach, interior train sets, banks, and basements that reveal the idea of a new modern world against the old West that the main characters still live in. Costume designer Franco Caretti does some nice work with the lavish clothes of the woman in the stagecoach mixed in with the rugged look of the main characters and the clean look of Dr. Villega. The sound work by sound mixer Fausto Ancillai and editor Michael Billingsley is brilliant for its layering of sounds of explosions, gunshots, and everything else. Notably the climatic battle scene where the mixture of explosions, gunshots, and machine gun battery is amazing in its layering.
One of the film's technical highlights and often in a Sergio Leone film is the music score by the Maestro, Ennio Morricone. The themes Morricone brings from the comical score to accompany Juan Miranda to the opening, clavinet keyboard introduction of John Mallory. Yet, the score also has a mixture of intense action pieces with broad orchestral arrangements to the dream-like theme with the word "Sean" sung repeatedly for an operatic piece featuring an operatic vocal. While it may not be as memorable as some of his other score pieces, the music that Morricone does create works as it's one of his finest music scores of his career.
The cast is overall excellent with appearances from Franco Collace and Goffredo Pistoni as two of Miranda's kids plus Antonio Casale as a notary in the stagecoach, and Maria Monti as a woman in the stagecoach. Other notable small roles include David Warbeck as John's old friend Sean in a flashback scene along with Vivienne Chandler as the woman in the flashback. Franco Graziosi is excellent in his small role as the power-hungry governor while Antoine Saint-John is really good as the villainous Col. Reza. Romolo Valli is excellent as Revolution organizer Dr. Villega who is a man of great intelligence yet he isn't what he seems to Mallory as Valli does a fantastic job in underplaying his character with charm and humor.
The film's best performances definitely go to the duo of Rod Steiger and James Coburn as the two have an amazing rapport with each other as well as a sense of humor to their roles. Though Steiger's role is more comical than Coburn's, Steiger brings a lot of joy to the character of Juan Miranda with bravado and Old World values. While having to sport a tan and an accent to play a Mexican, Steiger manages to be great in his character while often being the guy who is deceived. James Coburn is great in the straight-man role of the two as he sports an Irish accent while having some deadpan humor of his own in his performance. Yet, Coburn is the most tortured performance of the two while Steiger gets to show his own mastery of drama as the two men are the heart and soul of the film.
The 2007 Region 1 2-Disc DVD from United Artists is part of the Sergio Leone Anthology Box Set with remastered 2-disc versions of A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly. Presented in the widescreen format for the 2:35:1 aspect ratio with 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound in English plus mono in English and Spanish while French is presented with Stereo with English & Spanish subtitles. The DVD set presents the film with a dual layer disc for the film while the special features disc is presented in a single layer disc. The first disc features the restored and remastered version of Duck, You Sucker! with footage not shown originally to U.S. theaters until 2007 for a brief theatrical run in art house theaters.
The big special feature in the first disc is an audio commentary track from film historian Sir Christopher Frayling. Frayling's insight, informative commentary recalls on the film and how it is linked to its predecessor Once Upon a Time in the West and the next film, Once Upon a Time in America. Notably in the film's original title as well as the idea of immigrants coming to America where they would make an impact on American society and help lay the groundwork for the gangster era. Frayling also recalled Leone's reluctance to direct the film when he originally wrote the project for other people to do with him in minimal involvement. The reason things between Leone and Peter Bogdanovich didn't work out due to their love of the Western. Whereas Bogdanovich came from the world of Howard Hawks and John Ford, Leone was something different.
The film also recalled the early tension between Leone and Rod Steiger due to Leone's directing style and Steiger's method acting approach. Though things didn't work out at first, Steiger immediately got into Leone's approach while did agree to do little post-production work for the sound which Steiger never liked to do. With James Coburn, it was easier as Coburn chose to work on the film due to the suggestion of Henry Fonda, who worked with Leone on Once Upon a Time in the West. Coburn, like Clint Eastwood, wanted less lines which Leone was gracious to do. Frayling also recalled on Leone's politics which got him in trouble with left-wing film critics because Leone was apolitical. Leone used the Mao Zedong quote to reveal the fallacies of revolutions and how characters become either disillusioned by it or are forced into it against their will.
Frayling also revealed the scenes that got cut of the film in its various versions for this restored, completed version. Among them was a scene where Miranda catches up with John as they blew a church where the entire sequence was cut. Explicit language was cut along with the Mao quote, the opening shot of the film, some flashback sequences, and some violent scenes. Often for length or the extreme nature of the film. Frayling also revealed Leone's relationship with some fellow Italian directors, notably Luchino Visconti whom he shared similar ideas of directing while Pier Paolo Pasolini said that Leone has never made an uninteresting film. Duck, You Sucker! Pasolini says, is Leone's most interesting to the very Socialist director who agreed with Leone's political commentary in relation to the state of Italy and its films. Frayling's commentary is overall superb and most insightful while never being boring at all.
The second disc is filled with loads of special features. First is the 22-minute featurette The Myth of Revolution in which Christopher Frayling discusses a lot of the things discussed in the audio commentary. Yet, he also divulges more about Leone's dissolution with Italian politics and his ambitions for the film. The segment also revealed some of the original casting for the John Nelson character that included Jason Robards, Malcolm McDowell, and Clint Eastwood, the last of which had never heard about. For Juan Miranda, Eli Wallach was originally cast but the studio wanted a bigger name that eventually led to a falling out between Wallach and Sergio Leone. The film also revealed that one of the reasons Eastwood and Leone fell out because of Leone's ambitions to make bigger films. At the same, Leone was becoming clearer about what he wanted as his improvisational approach in early films were traded for something more planned.
The seven-minute segment Sergio Donati Remembers Duck, You Sucker! features the film's co-screenwriter and longtime Leone collaborator as he discusses the film. He talked about writing a treatment for the script when Once Upon a Time in the West was in production. He also talked about Peter Bogdanovich's involvement and how it fell apart along with tension between Leone and himself. Donati likes the film though he wished Sergio made more films because he was alienated a bit by Leone's ambitions. The six-minute Once Upon a Time in Italy (The Autry Exhibition) is about a 2005 museum exhibition at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles dedicated to Sergio Leone. Headed by Christopher Frayling with people at the museum, the exhibition is more about posters and artifacts from the films of Leone as the team is creating a fascinating exhibition that Leone fans will love while getting as many people involved from Leone's film to talk about the man and those films.
The 11 ½ minute Sorting Out The Versions featurette is an analysis of what got cut from the film and the different versions of it. Featuring still pictures of deleted scenes involving Mallory dehydrated from a walk in the desert before the church blow-up scene and a torture scene involving Dr. Villega. The film also reveals scenes that were trimmed for international releases where in France, it was called Once Upon a Time... the Revolution and in the U.S., A Fistful of Dynamite where the U.S. version cut a lot of the political context of the film. The six-minute segment Restoration Italian Style featuring MGM Technical Operations Director John Kirk on the restoration of the film based on the 1996 Italian restored version. Kirk reveals one of the big problems in the restoration was the various versions of the film as it took years for a complete restoration of Duck, You Sucker! that Kirk feels is one of his best works in restoration.
The nine-and-a-half minute Location Comparisons Then & Now is basically a look into all of the locations from Ireland, Italy, and Spain from the scene where the film was shot to what it looks like in 2007. Some of which are now filled with grass and in ruins in the deserts while the train station looks great with its modern settings. The Ireland locations still look beautiful while the tree in the flashback scene is still there. The second disc also includes four minutes of 6 radio spots for the film back in 1972 along with its and several trailers. The trailers include the original theatrical trailer under the A Fistful of Dynamite title. Other trailers include DVD releases for The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly Collector's edition DVD, The Great Escape, Hoosiers, Raging Bull, and the Rocky anthology. Included in the DVD is a booklet about the film and DVD release.
Duck, You Sucker! is an exhilarating, entertaining, and exciting film by Sergio Leone featuring top-notch performances from James Coburn and Rod Steiger. Fans of Leone will no doubt see this film as essential while be overjoyed that it's finally shown in its completed version. While it may not live up to the brilliance of other Leone films like The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Once Upon a Time in America. It's definitely a film that lives up to Leone's brilliance while serving as a great transitional film between West and America. It's also a film that reveals Leone finally taking on something that was modern but still relevant in the political sense about the fallacies of revolutions. In the end, Duck, You Sucker! is a mesmerizing, sprawling film from the late, great Sergio Leone.
Sergio Leone Films: The Last Days of Pompeii (1959 film) - The Colossus of Rhodes - A Fistful of Dollars - For a Few Dollars More - The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly - Once Upon a Time in the West - Once Upon a Time in America
Related: Once Upon a Time: Sergio Leone - The Auteurs #16: Sergio Leone
(C) thevoid99 2012