“Where there's revolution there's confusion, and when there's confusion, a man who knows what he wants stands a good chance of getting it.”
With every new opportunity I get to watch a Sergio Leone film, the more I fall in love with his direction and style of film making. He is becoming one of my favorite directors of all time, and so far every film of his that I’ve seen is either a masterpiece or very close to being one. Duck, You Sucker (also known as A Fistful of Dynamite or Once Upon a Time… the Revolution), is a glorious and epic film that unfortunately has been overlooked by many. I got to experience the two and a half hour restored version of the film and all I can say is that it is incredibly entertaining. This is the second film in Leone’s Once Upon a Time trilogy although this one takes place in Mexico during the Revolution of 1913 and it is his most forgotten work probably because its squeezed in the middle of his most revered films. This was Leone’s final spaghetti western, and I only wish he had made more films like this because they are completely captivating. His classic trademarks are all included in this film beginning with his fascination for extreme close-ups contrasted with his wide angle shots, his collaboration with Ennio Morricone, whose score is always influential in the story, and his unique introduction of main characters who we don’t know for sure if they’ll be the hero or the villain. The introduction of the two main characters in this film is memorable and the chemistry both Rod Steiger and James Coburn shared together was a plus. There is very little I can criticize about this film because Leone once again had me guessing where the story was heading and what motivated each character. His spaghetti westerns always broke genre conventions and he did so once again with Steiger’s character who is an outlaw we eventually end up rooting for. Leone loves to mix things up and during some flashback scenes it becomes evident how much he has influenced modern filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino.
We are introduced to Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) in the very opening scene as he is begging a traveler who is passing by to take him into town. He is mocked due to his poor man appearance but eventually is allowed into the comfortable and elegant stagecoach where some wealthy passengers are heading to America. He is treated with disdain and has to listen to all kinds of hateful and racial remarks when all of a sudden a group of bandits hold up the stagecoach. We discover that they are Juan’s bandit family, and it was all part of a well planned robbery. The victim ended up being the leader of the band and he leaves the disrespectful passengers naked in the middle of the road taking all their belongings with him. As they are celebrating their conquest, a series of explosions go off near the road and a man in a motorcycle passes by them. Juan shoots at the tire and the man suddenly stops revealing himself as John Mallory (James Coburn). Not too pleased with what the bandits did to his motorcycle he sets off an explosive in the stagecoach and threatens them. John is an Irish Republican who is wanted by the British army, but due to his expertise with explosives Juan wants to recruit him for a bank robbery and tries to convince him to stay with his family. What Juan doesn’t know is that John is really in Mexico trying to help the revolutionaries led by Doctor Villega (Romolo Valli) and isn’t interested in money. Juan unwillingly becomes a part of the revolution by trying to stick with John and that gets him into trouble with army Colonel Gunther Reza (Antonie Saint-John) and the tyrant Governor Don Jaime (Franco Graziosi). What ensues is a series of epic and confusing adventures for Juan and John.
Duck, You Sucker is a wonderful epic film that perfectly balances the comedic moments with the action. Steiger and Coburn are excellent together and it was fun to see how they each kept on facing each other when Juan was trying to force John to do things his way. At first I didn’t really care much for Steiger’s character, but over time he grew on me. The true hero however was Coburn’s John. His entrance is as splendid as any of Leone’s introductions and he literally shows up on screen with a bang. The visuals might not have been as groundbreaking as they were in Once Upon a Time in the West, but the performances and the score truly enriched the story. What’s fun about Leone’s style is that his narratives are never straightforward and that always makes for an entertaining adventure. It is missing the usual western duels but it focuses more on building the friendship between the two leads so you can take it as a western buddy comedy of sorts more than anything else. It also has some very emotional scenes as well so Leone once again manages to squeeze different genres into this powerful film. It may not be a masterpiece, but I had a blast with Duck, You Sucker.