You would be forgiven for thinking Duck, You Sucker! is an unusual title for what turned out to be Sergio Leone’s penultimate picture, but the absurdity strangely works in the context of this most unusual spaghetti western.
It could be why the title was subsequently revised as the more playable A Fistful of Dynamite, which of course places it as an unofficial fourth companion to Leone’s most legendary work – A Fistful of Dollars, aka the Dollars trilogy. Duck, You Sucker! was a perceived popular American colloquialism Leone was convinced existed, and it speaks to the somewhat perverted lens through which Leone continues to explore the American experience in, what we will call for ease, simply Dynamite from now on. His tale of Rod Steiger’s sleazy Mexican bandit who finds comradeship in James Coburn’s fugitive Irish revolutionary at the heart of the Mexican Revolution of 1913 is messy, explosive and oddly romantic.
This could be why Dynamite has struggled to achieve the cultural or critical reach of Leone’s Dollars trilogy or his final film, Once Upon a Time in America. As much as his first picture, The Colossus of Rhodes, A Fistful of Dynamite is arguably Leone’s forgotten, at times semi-masterpiece.
It would be easy to label most of what Sergio Leone made as a master work but you can’t quite apply that to A Fistful of Dynamite. It’s beautifully flawed. Aspects of it have not aged well. Yet it is arguably stunning in places in a manner his contemporaries or later filmmakers would struggle to equal.
The cultural appropriation is a problem, given how Steiger plays a very broad, leering Mexican without any trace of subtlety, and Coburn has to creak his way through an accent in a role that surely would have been tailor made for Peter O’Toole at the time (Malcolm McDowell was the original choice, reputedly). Yet they are still hugely compelling as two culturally opposite men from different worlds who find a kinship in larceny under the boot of a totalitarian Mexican state. Leone’s films aren’t exactly progressive, nor do they allow any real space for women beyond objectification (Steiger’s Juan Miranda’s opening scene sees him gleefully rape a captured female dilettante), but thematically they track with his almost boyish obsession with flawed and toxic masculinity.
Leone also powerfully cuts away at various points from the sun-baked, guns’n’ammo filled Mexican landscape to sketch out Coburn’s John and his backstory in flashback, taking us to a verdant Ireland and a sweeping, period ménage a trois, all set to Ennio Morricone’s hauntingly lush, velvety score. In their own way, these otherwise jarring cuts are as beautiful in their construction as Leone’s powerful, sweeping cinematography; from scenes as diverse as Juan watching rich elites stuffing their faces in extreme close up on their food filled mouths to hot, sweaty, dirt-filled bridges being blown to smithereens as Mexican soldiers are gunned into oblivion. Dynamite doesn’t get the credit it deserves for how well it utilises these juxtapositions in the framework of deconstructing the revolution myth, the idea that Mexico’s revolt was as messy and unclean as Dynamite is as a movie.
Thankfully, Eureka Entertainment have put together a really terrific package for Dynamite’s first time on Blu-Ray in the UK, with two discs packed with featurettes and commentaries – particularly by Sir Christopher Frayling, the British writer who penned perhaps the textbook autobiography on Leone.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s on offer:
- Limited Edition Hardbound Slipcase [3000 copies]
- A LIMITED EDITION 60-PAGE Perfect Bound Collector’s book featuring new writing on the film by Simon Ward and western authority Howard Hughes; a new interview with poster designer Robert E. McGinnis; and a selection of rare archival imagery
- Two versions of the film presented in 1080p across two Blu-ray disc, including a transfer from the 2K restoration completed by Cineteca di Bologna in 2009
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Original Mono Audio available on both versions
- Original Italian mono audio available on the Italian version of the film
- Audio Commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox
- Audio Commentary by film historian Sir. Christopher Frayling
- A brand new and exclusive interview with film critic and writer Kim Newman
- A brand new and exclusive interview with Austin Fisher, author of Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema
- The Myth of Revolution [22 mins] – Sir Christopher Frayling on Duck, You Sucker!
- Sergio Donati Remembers Duck, You Sucker! [7 mins]
- Sorting Out The Versions: An Analysis of Duck, You Sucker! [12 mins]
- Once Upon A Time… in Italy [6 mins] – featurette
- Restoration, Italian Style [6 mins]
- Location Comparisons [9 mins]
- Radio Spots
- Newly created stills galleries featuring hundreds of rare archival images
Likely to be the Sergio Leone that passed you by, unless you’ve deep dived into his filmography, A Fistful of Dynamite (or Duck, You Sucker! if you prefer) is absolutely worth seeking out and experiencing, particularly via this Eureka release. Sprawling and occasionally masterful, it’s the lesser work of a filmmaker so towering even his non-masterpieces have something special.
A Fistful of Dynamite aka Duck, You Sucker! is available on Blu-Ray from Eureka Entertainment from December 9th…