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A Fistful of Dynamite (Duck, You Sucker)
Remind Me

A Fistful of Dynamite (aka Duck, You Sucker)

During the Mexican Revolution (1913-1914), Juan, a peasant turned outlaw, forms an unlikely alliance with Sean Mallory, an expatriate IRA terrorist and dynamite expert. Together the duo plots to rob a bank but in the process, Juan becomes an unwitting participant in Sean's political agenda. Through a series of comic misadventures, Juan becomes a local folk hero but he also incurs the wrath of the Federal Army who take revenge on his family and village.

A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) is known by many titles; in Italy it was titled Once Upon a Time the Revolution and when it was first released in the U.S., it bore the title Duck, You Sucker. Producer/director Sergio Leone originally offered the project to Peter Bogdanovich and then to Sam Peckinpah. The latter accepted the assignment but then the financial backers insisted on a less problematic director. Leone, who only wanted to produce, gave the film to his assistant Giancarlo Santi. As for the casting, Leone wanted Jason Robards, Jr. to play Juan and Malcolm McDowell as Sean. Once again the studio wanted more established stars so Leone hired Rod Steiger and James Coburn though it meant deviating from his original premise of an older man becoming politicized by a younger one. Ironically, Coburn had originally been approached to play the 'Man With No Name' in Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (1964) but turned it down, paving the way for Clint Eastwood's international success.

Once production began on A Fistful of Dynamite, Steiger and Coburn insisted on being directed by Leone and not Santi, explaining that they had agreed to do the film with the understanding that Leone was directing it. The director later commented that Steiger "thought of the film as very serious and intellectual and had a tendency to come off in the style of Pancho Villa. Once he understood his mistake, everything went very well. Coburn, that's something else. With him, it's the star system: you explain the scene to him, he says "yes, sir" and off he goes and does it."

A Fistful of Dynamite is permeated with the political disillusionment of the sixties and its numerous depictions of human slaughter reflect the same sense of futility that marked America's involvement in Viet Nam. At the same time, the film often veers off into sequences of broad comedy creating an unusual Western hybrid that swings from high tragedy to low humor. With the added complication of a title change and some severe cuts in the English language version (the Italian release was twenty minutes longer), A Fistful of Dynamite failed to reach a wide audience. Yet fans of spaghetti Westerns will find much to enjoy here, from Steiger's flamboyant performance to the spectacular action sequences to Ennio Morricone's haunting score - the 'Sean' theme is guaranteed to stick with you for days. And critics continue to champion the film for its unorthodox depiction of opposing ideologies - revolutionary (Sean) versus anti-revolutionary (Juan) - with no easy answers for either side.

Producer: Claudio Mancini (associate producer), Fulvio Morsella, Ugo Tucci (associate producer)
Director: Sergio Leone
Screenplay: Sergio Leone (also story), Sergio Donati (also story), Luciano Vincenzoni
Art Direction: Andrea Crisanti
Cinematography: Giuseppe Ruzzolini
Costume Design: Franco Carretti
Film Editing: Nino Baragli
Original Music: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Rod Steiger (Juan Miranda), James Coburn (John Mallory), Romolo Valli (Dr. Villega), Maria Monti (Adolita), Rik Battaglia (Santerna), David Warbeck (Sean's IRA friend).
C-138m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford