Duck, You Sucker! (Leone/71)
“Duck, You Sucker” (1971) Duck, You Sucker! (Italian: Giù la testa), also known as “A Fistful of Dynamite” and “Once Upon a Time… the Revolution”, is the last Spaghetti Western directed by the legendary Sergio Leone and it is also his penultimate film - his last being the gangster epic “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984) with Robert De Niro and James Woods. This however, stars James Coburn and Rod Steiger in what is probably Leone’s most patchy Spaghetti Western.
The screenplay was written by Sergio Donati, Leone and Luciano Vincenzoni and follows the escapades of John Mallory (James Coburn) in 1913 during the Mexican revolution, an Irish Republican explosives expert who has fled from Ireland after killing British soldiers. In Mexico, he meets Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger), a Mexican outlaw and together they raid the great bank of Mesa Verde. However, John has already joined forces with the revolutionaries.
The screenplay is rather episodic at times and there does seem to be a lack of focus, especially up to the bank raid. After that, politics and the revolution are brought into sharper reality. The direction too, is fantastic at certain points. The scene where John and Juan find most of their comrades, including Juan’s family and children, have been killed by the army in a cave is one of the best pieces of work Leone ever did. The massacre, later on in the movie, shot in an abandoned sugar mill in one shot, is so huge and horrifying that it amounts to one of the best depictions of mass murder on film. Yet at other times, the direction seems to be rather by-the-numbers and not at all inspired, like the slightly predictable shoot-em-up final. The cinematography by Giuseppe Ruzzolini, though, is excellent at all times, as is Ennio Morricone’s strange score that will definitely grow on you. The performance by James Coburn is his usual minimalist stuff, but he does that very, very well. Rod Steiger sometimes overacts, yet it is different from anything else he did.
So, it is not Sergio Leone’s best movie; in fact it is probably not even as good as his basic (if classic) “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964). Yet when the film gets it act together, there are scenes that equal the best he ever did.