The Best Film of 1971!!
Sergio Leone’s final western, the 1971 saga “Duck You Sucker,” also known as “A Fistful of Dynamite” is a triumphant masterpiece that features perhaps the most stellar casting, composing, set pieces, and finale you will see in any spaghetti western. Rod Steiger’s superb performance as Juan, a Mexican bandit would be dismissed as “cultural-appropriation” today, and James Coburn’s performance as an Irish outlaw seeking refuge is nothing short of extraordinary. However, Steiger is so genuine and convincing that it’s easy to forgive this sincere and brilliant performance. How Steiger wasn’t nominated for this film proves how bizarre the Oscars are. How “Duck, You Sucker” isn’t championed today in the same way as Leon’s other pictures is also a crime, considering how “Duck, You Sucker” was Leone at his most melancholic and profound. It’s an even great crime how “Duck, You Sucker” wasn’t nominated for any Oscars which it deserved to be nominated Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Origional Score–Ennio Morricone, I will seriously take this film over the other Best Picture nominees that year that included “A Clockwork Orange,” “The French Connection,” “The Last Picture Show,” certainly over “A Fiddler on the Roof” and “Nicholas and Alexandria”” any day, and yes “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Last Picture Show,” and “The French Connection” are in fact masterpieces that I fully embrace.
“Duck, You Sucker” is a purely concentrated spaghetti western and also Leon’s most idealistic. It’s slow-burn, shattering, heartbreaking, and emblematic–Leone’s ambitions and scope are concerned on the plight of humanity, and how these struggles will forever remain universal and tragically endless as this rewarding voyage of his expertly drawn characters. There are so many breathtaking sequences in this film. Everything from the slow-motion shootouts, to the exhilarating set-pieces including a shootout and explosion at a bridge, along with the chemistry between Steiger and Coburn are first-rate. Leone’s breathtaking technique and visual grandeur are in full gear here, and it’s truly a speculator film. Leone also finds genuine character depth in many poignant moments and scenes involving both the Juan (Steiger) and John (Coburn) character, as Juan is an apathetic bandit who ends up finding purpose for humanity in the revolution, where John’s torment of losing his lost love to his best friend delivers true pathos on the tragedy and heartbreak of loss love and betrayal. Also, the great Ennio Morricone provides arguably his most fascinating and eccentric score of his career. Truly a memorable film with an even stranger, yet rewarding finale than “Once Upon a Time in America.”
Though “Duck You Sucker” valorizes many of the same themes and ideas Sergio Leone explored in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” about the toll and revolution it has on humanity, Leone dives deeper into these themes and rewards them with even greater nuance. When John notices a fascist firing squad take out a revolutionary soldiers as their leader betrays them in a surreal setting during a drizzly night, this results to flashbacks in what led to John’s betrayal of his best friend going to the British Empire Irish Free state during the early years before the Irish Civil War. John finds the same chaos recycling itself in Mexico in their nonstop war during the Mexican Revolution, which is depicted here in specular set-pieces involving Mexican peasants and the Mexican Army serving the wealthy oligarchs under control of Porfirno Diaz. Throughout the film Leone submerges his layered narrative with rich political ideas and history.
The film’s shattering finale provides one possible answer: Even if we transcend and turn our apathy into action that includes combating back against oppression–the battle is far from a lost cause. Revolution is a vicious cycle where the call for action sadly creates more human suffering and death, but remains an undeniable force of nature that’s utilized against the primitive nature of oppression and injustice that we tragically still witness today around the world. Leone takes the idea a step further, as we see through in beautifully rendered flashbacks of John’s past in Ireland, that all unfold visually and with absolutely no dialogue as Morricone’s main theme plays to visuals. Leone profoundly intertwines political cause with love, and how the people we love the most can in fact betray and oppress us to an even greater decree than any government or any army. Was Leone suggesting that it is within human nature to oppress each other? The ambiguity here is dense, and that is what made Leone a truly brilliant mind and remarkable director.