A sadly unappreciated classic. I loathe the crass "A Fistful Of Dynamite" Dollars trilogy tie-in title that the US distributors insisted on allocating to the fifth and last Sergio Leone western so I'll be referring to the far more exciting and original "Duck,You Sucker" title instead for the remainder of this review. This film is set amidst the Mexican revolution in the early 1900's and it's as much of a (very funny!) political comedy as it is an unconventional comedy western or a genuinely moving and tear-jerking experience.
There's not many dvds that are truly essential purchases for me but I'm happy to report that this is one of them. MGM have released this Leone film in its infinitely superior 2:35,1 ratio at an appreciated mid-range price. The anamorphic print is SLIGHTLY grainy, the sound is mono and the only extra is a trailer but I'd easily have paid twice the amount that I picked it up for (shhh, don't tell MGM) and still have walked away with an outrageously large smile plastered all over my face.
This DVD contains the original cut that Leone delivered to the US and the UK markets. Yes, the Mao Tse Tung revolution quotation is back, as are the multiple comedy "fuck" utterances, the fabulous pissing on ants intro (surely a metaphor for how the Mexican nationals were being treated by the ruling classes before the imminent revolution?) and it contains slightly more violence. Amongst other important changes! I had only seen the always trimmed television version of this film before so this was a very exciting watch indeed.
It's reported that Leone didn't want to make this film (but that's also said about his similarly incredible Once Upon A Time In The West feature) as the director was keen to get his Once Upon A Time In America project up and running instead. Leone's initial reluctance certainly does not affect this film though. Duck, You Sucker is a fascinating look at two distinctly larger than life anti-hero characters reluctantly caught up in the events of a revolution.
Rod Steiger delivers a wonderful performance (surely the best of his career) as Juan the murdering rapist bandit, finding himself confused by the changing world around him. The likable James Coburn (a close friend of Bruce Lee and surely the owner of the greatest smile in the world!) plays Mallory, the disillusioned former IRA terrorist and explosives expert seeking to escape his past deeds, and the 300 pound reward placed on his head by the British authorities, by starting a new life in another country.
Coburn's Irish accent is VERY poor but no doubt Steiger's Mexican accent sounds similarly unimpressive to folks who have met real Mexicans in everyday life. I can overlook the poor Irish accent though, it certainly doesn't have a particularly adverse affect on the feature.
Morricone's excellent and similarly unappreciated score does pretty much the same as the film itself. It treads a very fine line between comedy and tragedy. The score and film are inseparable, both causing the viewer to laugh and cry in equal measure. Once again, this Leone film features a recurring flashback. This time around, it belongs to Mallory, a man seriously haunted by guilt and remorse over his judging and execution of a one time friend and IRA member (David Warbeck!) who betrayed both the organisation and Mallory himself.
This is the Leone western that got away. The Dollars trilogy is enjoyed and appreciated by many mainstream viewers, and the Once Upon A Time In The West and America films are lauded as masterpieces by the critics and keen fans. For some incomprehensible reason, Duck You Sucker is usually considered to be the weakest of the post-Fistful Of Dollars features. Yet DYS is the bravest and most unusual of those six films. It contains the funniest dialogue and scenarios, the most genuinely emotional moments and many wry observations on the act of revolution and implications for the common man.
It seems perfectly obvious to me that the weakest of those six is clearly the Yojimbo remake, A Fistful Of Dollars (it's still a very good film though) in terms of direction, photography and scripting. I'm convinced that Duck You Sucker could actually be Leone's finest hour (or two and a half hours I should say) although Once Upon A Time In The West is probably still my personal favourite. Controversially I actually enjoy Once Upon A Time In America the least, despite the huge amount of respect that I still hold for it.
It's great that Duck, You Sucker should finally get a dvd release and I would urge all to seek it out. See the cut that Leone delivered, not the butchered abomination that screens (rarely at that) on the television instead. Thank you MGM for this release! As I once read a professional reviewer remark of another Leone film, "This is cinema." Perfection.