A Fistful of Dynamite (1971)

Genres - Adventure, Western  |   Sub-Genres - Spaghetti Western  |   Run Time - 157 min.  |   Countries - Spain, Italy  |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Keith Phipps

In its uncut version, Sergio Leone's final foray into Western territory opens with a quote from Mao -- flashed a few words at a time, à la Godard -- establishing its political nature immediately. Though not the first to see the spaghetti Western's potential for political commentary, Leone predictably claims the burgeoning (since the 1968 uprisings) genre variation as his own. A fantastic opening pitting Rod Steiger's earthy bandito against a stagecoach filled with rich bigots begins the film on a fantastic note that Leone has difficulty sustaining. But what the film loses in momentum, it gains in complexity. Pairing Steiger's character with James Coburn's nearly disillusioned Irish revolutionary expands the scope of the film in ways other than the geographical. While other political spaghetti Westerns simply pitted the haves against the have-nots, Duck, You Sucker! (named after a "popular" American catchphrase known only to Leone), attempts to portray the full scope of revolution. That the director includes chilling scenes of wholesale massacre on the part of the ruling class would seem to betray his sympathies, but he also portrays the impact of revolutionary activity on those who rebel. Mao's words about revolution being an act of violence take on new meaning in light of the losses incurred by the two heroes over the course of the film. Does Leone endorse the statement, reject it, or simply view it as an inevitability? Whatever the case, the debate is housed in a film unmistakable for the work of any other director -- one that's larger than life but still quite affecting and contains inimitable suspense sequences. Though it includes too many awkwardly paced passages to qualify as anyone's favorite Leone film, the film's disastrous financial performance in America granted it an undeserved obscurity. The strange (even by his own standards) score by Ennio Morricone alone makes it worth seeking out.