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Adrian Mackinder

Published January 1st, 2005 | by Adrian Mackinder

Duck, You Sucker / A Fistful of Dynamite Review

It’s worth mentioning that this film has been messed around with considerably since its release. Leone’s originally wanted it to be called “Duck, You Sucker”, based upon a misguided notion that it was a commonplace American phrase, but the distributors marketed it along side Leone’s previous successes; in the UK and the US it was called A Fistful of Dynamite, while in other countries it was known as Once Upon A Time…The Revolution. It was also considerably edited, with a view to make it more palatable – some of the more adult scenes were cut and the ending was altered. Here, at last is the chance to see Giù La Testa exactly as it was envisioned by Leone himself, including it’s original title and ending, and it’s a better film as a result.

The plot takes place many years after the events of his previous westerns, this time at the turn of the Twentieth Century. On the run from the British government in Mexico, Sean Mallory, played by James Coburn is an IRA explosives expert who becomes befriended by Juan Miranda – a very grubby Rod Steiger – the leader of a bandit family. Upon witnessing Mallory’s skills with explosives, Juan asks Sean to join his gang to raid the bank of Mesa Verde but before long he’s caught up in the Mexican revolution.

A more complicated movie than any of the Dollars Trilogy, this film reflects Leone’s style becoming more mature, dark and overtly political. Ultimately this film is about friendship, but it is also a criticism of the wave of revolutionary thinking that was so prominent in the late 1960s. The first thing we see as the film begins is a quote by Mao Tse Tung, which illustrates that Leone has a different agenda, and which may explain why this wasn’t as massive a hit as his earlier films. Although the prerequisite gunplay, cracking one-liners and massive explosions are present and correct, the film is much more introspective and tragic, and does not have as broad an appeal as his previous efforts.

The tone is decidedly melancholy, using a tragic back story to Mallory’s life told in slow motion flashback at various points throughout the film that underpins the sadness his character carries with him, as well evoking images of the horrors of modern warfare amongst the chaos of revolution; just as the cemetery featured in the climax of The Good The Bad And The Ugly evokes the sea of graves to mark those soldiers killed in WWII, there is a particularly remarkable scene showing dissidents being shot in long trenches that is unmistakably mirroring those prisoners of Auschwitz and Dachau that were forced by the Nazis to literally dig their own graves before being shot dead.

In keeping with the themes that run throughout Leone’s films, Giù La Testa is a critique of the way the Mexican Revolution had been documented in American filmmaking, as well as a message about the destructive consequences this kind of bloodshed and betrayal can have on friendship and the family – two elements of life so important to Leone. If you haven’t seen this film, check it out as it is a powerful piece of filmmaking that, although not being as satisfying as any of the Dollars films, it certainly has more to say.


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