Duck, You Sucker

 

Duck, You Sucker (1971) movie poster

(1971) dir. Sergio Leone
viewed: 06/29/08

Duck, You Sucker, known alternately as both A Fistful of Dynamite and Once Upon a Time… the Revolution, both titles more easily associated with the brilliant director and co-writer of the film, Sergio Leone (he of A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) as well as Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Once Upon a Time in America (1984)), is perhaps one of the lesser recognized of his films.  I’d seen it more than a decade ago on video and on some whim put it back up on my queue.

This newest DVD version of the film has an excellent commentary track by a British film historian and Leone biographer who has much to offer.  I do not make a practice of listening to commentary tracks on the whole unless its a historian or critic, and even then, I rarely listen to it all.  I ended up hanging in with this one longer than I had intended.  It was quite enlightening.

The film is set during the Mexican Revolution, featuring a peasant bandido (Rod Steiger) and his tribe of sons and fellows who happens upon an ex-IRA explosives expert (James Coburn) with whom he tries to team up with to rob a bank.  Dupe after dupe, duper gets duped and Coburn’s character tricks Steiger’s character to join in the revolution, which is what has brought him to Mexico in the first place.

Though the film starts with the polemic words of Mao Tse-Tung “(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…”, the film has a somewhat subversive attitude about revolution and socialism, though it’s is clearly set against fascism.  The political subtext is quite significant and surprisingly erudite and intelligent.

Of course, I love Leone for his visual surprises, his visual language, contrasting extreme close-ups with wide-angle shots of open desert and grand vistas with huge crowds.  It’s truly epic, as his films increasingly were.  But some of the visual play is so clever and pleasing.  In one shot, the camera starts looking in the distance about a set of peasants who are about to be executed by shooting.  The camera pans slowly over to the left, moving away from the violence while the voice-over of the commandante is counting off the orders of execution.  The camera happens upon some posters that bear the image of the current presidente, the figurehead of the soon to be toppled government.  But, as soon as the camera settles on the poster, a pair of fingers start ripping the poster from the side, tearing a stripe across the president’s face, which is funny enough, but then Steiger’s face appears, peering through the newly cut slat to view the execution.

It’s a lot to describe, sure, but it’s that type of visual play that tells the story all the way through.  Leone plays the story and scenes out with turns of fate, holding off on the really telling element until the drama has paused, tricking the viewer.  His play is alive in the relationship of Steiger and Coburn, who both are quite great despite some largely painful accents.

It’s a pretty brilliant film.  It’s fun, but not without depth.  In some ways, it feels much darker than Leone’s other Westerns (though I haven’t seen Once Upon a Time in the West in an even longer time.  I recall it being quite dark.)  Leone is a brilliant filmmaker, one of my favorites.

My Name is Nobody

My Name is Nobody (1973) movie poster

(1973) dir. Tonino Valerii, Sergio Leone
viewed: 05/07/07

Based on “an idea” by Sergio Leone and produced by Leone, and according to some web research, perhaps co-directed in part by Leone, My Name is Nobody is a much more loosey-goosey Western, a contrast, perhaps, in styles, of the more somber side, portrayed by Henry Fonda, and the more goofy side, portrayed by Terence Hill as the titular “Nobody”.  In some ways, it’s kind of a prolonged joke.  Fonda’s character, Jack Beauregard, is an aging gunslinger, who from an opening sequence, is noted that “nobody” is faster than him when it comes to shooting up bad guys.  Nobody turns out to be a real guy, a Loki-like imp, who is faster than anyone, but actually doesn’t shoot or kill anyone either.  In the end, he is “Nobody” is faster than Fonda.  Punch line shows up on a coffin.

The story doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Why “Nobody” wants Beauregard to go out in a blaze of glory never really comes clear.  I guess that this film is somewhat about legend-making and the passing of a genre and a period.  Hill’s character is comic relief and has quite a few good scenes, particularly the drinking/glass-shooting sequence in the saloon.  I haven’t seen the other Terence Hill Spaghetti Westerns, so I can’t really say what he might represent, other than something much more comical…though in this film, he could be much more of a sort of mystical character, one who simply pushes Beauregard into a final gun battle with the “Wild Bunch”, 150 outlaws on horseback.  And his final gun battle in the streets of New Orleans.

All in all, it’s highly entertaining.  I found the final monologue/letter from Beauregard as a somewhat heavy-handed attempt to put the narrative into some perspective.  I actually kind of liked the spartan story-telling and the unusual set-ups that make for most of the film.  It’s solid stuff overall, though not top drawer Spaghetti Western.  Worth a view, for sure.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) movie poster

(1966) dir. Sergio Leone
viewed: 07/07/03 at Castro Theater, SF, CA

I was on vacation for a while and had hopes of catching up on my little diary entries. Now, much later, I am afraid that I am not going to do these films the sort of justice that I would have, having come right off from seeing them.

This movie totally kicks ass! When the film ended, all of us in our party came out feeling like shouting “Fuck Yeah!” or something, so totally satisfying and exciting it was to see it on the big screen. I have to say that despite the fact that it seems like such a mainstream sort of choice to say this about, but I would definitely classify this film among perhaps my all-time top 10 favorite films.

Eli Wallach is utterly fantastic, carrying the whole film on his grizzly, comic anti-hero’s back. From the iconic music, to the campy inter-titles that announce the characters, to the climactic shoot-out in the amphitheater-like graveyard, this movie is hands-down awesome.

The film’s epic, picaresque narrative is set against a truly sweeping scope of a backdrop, the fallout and leftover doom from the end of the American Civil War, with maimed, lost soldiers wandering everywhere. It was only on reading about this film, just briefly before going to see it, that I realized that in essence it is a prequel to the other two films, most notably as when Clint Eastwood picks up the poncho near the end of the film that he so iconically wore in the first two. I think I had also been somewhat confused as the fact that Lee Van Cleef plays an altogether different character in this one, too. I think the first time I saw these, I didn’t see them nearly so close together as this time, having seen them all in a couple of nights.

I can’t say enough about it…but I have, so I will stop.

A Fistful of Dollars

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) movie poster

(1964) dir. Sergio Leone
viewed: 07/05/03

In preparation for watching The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly at the Castro Theater as part of our Monday Night Movie Club, we decided to watch the first two films of what is now referred to as Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name Trilogy”. I had, of course, seen this film before and really loved it, but it had been some time since I had seen it all the way through. It’s still an excellent film.

I am always amused by the fact that this film was essentially a period Western adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 period samurai film Yojimbo, which was an open adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel of political corruption and private detectives, Red Harvest. And even more amusing is the fact that Walter Hill’s Last Man Standing (1996) adapted the story back to the gangsters of the American 1930’s, forgoing the source material.

Seeing it again, I have to say, it’s still a great deal of fun, though the direction isn’t quite as over-the-top as I always imagine it to be (seems that impression really is latent from the finale rather from this initial installment). Though, it must be said, there are some awesome framings that always really appeal to me. I like the way that Leone frames a really intense close-up contrasted with an image in the background, i.e. a huge boot fills the bulk of the screen while the smaller part of the screen shows a figure down the street, reacting to the implied foreground giant.

Fun stuff.

For a Few Dollars More

For a Few Dollars More (1965) movie poster

(1965) dir. Sergio Leone
viewed: 07/05/03

Oddly, For a Few Dollars More, I always thought of as the lesser of the trilogy, partially because I had a bit of a hard time remembering the plot from it, compared with the other two films. As it turns out on this viewing, that it’s actually pretty cool in it’s own right.

It features one of my favorite shots from all of the films. Lee Van Cleef, as Civil War Veteran turned bounty hunter, Col. Douglas Mortimer, sees the Wanted poster for villain, El Indio. The camera flashes back and forth with greater and greater rapidity and in tighter and tighter close ups between the image of El Indio back in to Van Cleef’s glaring eyes. Each flash is punctuated with the sound of gunfire, “Pow!” “Pow!” “Pow!” “Pow!” “Pow!” “Pow!” “Pow!” “Pow!” “Pow!”

Funny, now that it’s been a month since I saw this one, again much of it has faded away. It’s definitely still great fun to watch.