Duck, You Sucker (1971)
, directed by Sergio Leone.
In 1913 Mexico, a scruffy bandit patriarch picks up a disillusioned Irish revolutionary who specializes in explosives. Juan now sees his life's dream within reach: cracking a big bank. Sean may have other ideas.
Although I have enjoyed some of his earlier work, with his fifth western I finally warm up to Leone. I like it better than anything he did previously:
- Gone is the tough-guy fashion show. Much more dress-down now.
- No big arena duel, less sadistic violence.
- The characters are no longer types, but actual people who change and develop new depths in the story.
- The buddy-film formula works out nicely here.
- Once we are past the bank job at the midpoint, I couldn't have predicted where the story would go.
- Actions have consequences. Leone still loves trains, titanic explosions and mowing crowds down with machine guns, but doing so causes later tragedy.
Normally I would be restless during his long mood shots or those extreme closeups, but Leone and his editor seem at home with their techniques now and have delivered a film that keeps me involved, uncomplaining.
Rod Steiger's "method" lays on the Mexican peasant bandit pretty thick. His accent reminds me of Pacino in Scarface (1983)
. Leone would do two dozen takes just to wear him down and make the performance smaller.
James Coburn's Irishman is more laid back, if tormented with secret sorrow. ("I used to believe in many things. Now, I believe only in dynamite"). Coburn asked that his lines be reduced as unnecessary to the performance. Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood would do that, too.
Neither actor was Leone's first choice. He wanted Eli Wallach for Juan and Jason Robards or Malcom McDowell for Sean, but the studio decided to go for bigger names.
Leone was doing political commentary here, replying to left-wing fashions in Italian film at the time. He was more of an anarchist than a socialist. The film opens with quotes from Chairman Mao, then cuts to Juan pissing on an anthill.
Juan later gives his opinion on Revolution:
The people who read the books go to the people who can't read the books, the poor people, and say, "We have to have a change." So, the poor people make the change, ah? And then, the people who read the books, they all sit around the big polished tables, and they talk and talk and talk and eat and eat and eat, eh? But what has happened to the poor people? They're dead! That's your revolution. So, please, don't tell me about revolutions! And what happens afterwards? The same ****ing thing starts all over again!
The Italian title means "keep your head down, don't get involved". I always knew the film by its American title A Fistful of Dynamite
, but it has also been called Once Upon a Time in the Revolution
Ennio Morricone score. Filmed in Spain and Ireland.
Available on Blu-ray with an excellent commentary track by a Leone biographer.
He provides a wealth of background and production info, and much insight into Leone's intentions. The film works off the film genre of Mexican Revolution adventures, but also illustrates incidents that happened in WW2 Italy.
He points out that if you use the alternate title, it shows that his final three films are a long trilogy:
- Once Upon a Time in the West (1968): the end of the West
- Once Upon a Time in the Revolution (1971): the time of revolutionary turmoil
- Once Upon a Time in America (1984): the urban darkness
This may be a longer cut than I've seen before. I hear more f-words than I remember, and see several extended scenes.