Duck, You Sucker

Year 1971

Rod Steiger as  Juan Miranda
James Coburn   as John H. "Sean" Mallory  
Romolo Valli as Dr. Villego
Antoine Saint-John as Col. GŁnther Reza
Director - Sergio Leone
Screenwriter - Luciano Vincenzoni
Story - Sergio Leone
    Sergio Donati
Musical Score - Ennio Morricone

This is a two-and-a-half hour Sergio Leone film. (There's a shorter version of the movie called "Fistful of Dynamite". This commentary is the result of watching the long version.) Most people who like Sergio Leone don't even know about this movie. It's not one of his best.

Based upon the various DVD covers and synopses, you'd think this would be a western. You'd be only partly right. To me, a western is all about horses, the cavalry (on horses), and six shooters. You know, sometime between the American Civil War and automobiles (horseless carriage). "Westerns" that take place in the 1920's aren't really westerns. So, this isn't really a western.

This is really a movie about the class struggle. Revolutions form the backdrop. You've got an outlaw from the Irish Revolution (circa 1920) helping a Mexican kick off his own revolution (circa 1917). So, there's also a time continuity issue here.

I mentioned the last to call attention to the fact that Sergio Leone did not want to do another spaghetti Western like he had done with Clint Eastwood. You know, do what he did best. What Sergio Leone wanted to do was grind his axe and the tree he wished to fell with it was aristocracy.

With that in mind, the movie can be better appreciated. It's a parable and not a coherent story. I can only hope that the anachronisms are intended to be symbols.

Take the stage coach at the beginning of the movie. Throughout the rest of the movie, everyone is travelling in trucks and tanks. But, the aristocracy at the beginning are traveling by a horse drawn coach. Maybe it's supposed to show that time has passed aristocracts by and they're still living in the past. Either that, or it was an expensive indulgence on the part of Mr. Leone.

The aristocracy in the movie really are jerks and when they are killed off, no tears are shed. But their portrayal is so over the top (remember that this is a parable) that there are no shouts of, "He had it coming" either.

The movie is slow and unimaginative. Every few minutes, there's either a monologue or an excrutiatingly protracted flashback.

Well, onto the plot. Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) is a peasant. He's also a robber, killer, and rapist. But, it's all for a good cause. He's got a family of sons to support. Juan's dream in life is to rob the bank in Mesa Verde. Enter John Mallory (James Coburn). John is an ex-member of the Irish Republican Army who loves dynamite and revolutions. He's only in Mexico because he's on the run.

Johnny and Juan hook up. Juan thinks that the teaming up means that they're going to rob the bank but John has other plans. Anything more said about the arrangement would lead to spoilers.

Sergio Leone does not use a deft touch to make his point and it detracts from the movie. There's about a half an hour just before and just after the bank robbery when things become entertaining. But before and after that, there are the soliloquys with points being driven home so hard that it hurts.

The odd part is that there are some good scenes mixed in throughout the movie. But when the scenes are strung together, they don't mesh well enough to make a cohesive whole. Here are some good scenes that'll keep you from turning the movie off.

In the end, the movie fails to come together because of the lack of a flow or the introduction of any sympathetic characters.

Why watch it? Well, the acting is top notch with Rod Steiger turning in an excellent performance. You almost end up liking Juan. Well, almost. James Coburn was always one of my favorite actors because he managed to turn scoundrels into anti-heroes. In this movie, though, he just can't do it. Both John's and Juan's movie fates left me saying, "Eh".

Not exactly a hearty recommendation.

If you're going to watch it, do it because you like Sergio Leone. Do it because you like his style. Do it for the good acting. Do it because you like the Italian cinema style of adding the sound, including the voices, after the movie has been edited. Do it for the individual scenes.

It's not a bad movie; it's just not a very good one.

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