Sergio Leone made his name with the Man With No Name trilogy, three movies starring Clint Eastwood, set in the American west. However, by 1971, Eastwood wasn’t eager on repeating himself and he turned down Leone’s movie, “Once Upon a Time… The Revolution.” Leone simply cast someone else and got on with the movie. With that story, you would think that “Duck You Sucker,” (or, as it was also know, “A Fistful of Dynamite,”) would be a pale imitation of Leone’s best known films. But it’s not. In fact, in many ways, “Duck,” is a much more mature piece of work.
The movie opens with Rod Steiger’s Juan Miranda robbing a stagecoach. The heist comes to a premature end with the arrival of John Mallory, (played by James Coburn,) an Irish nationalist hiding out in Mexico. Juan and John quickly become friends and co-conspirators. Juan’s decision to rob a bank as an attack on the army makes John dream about the happier times in his life, when he was doing what Juan was doing, but in his own homeland. There are a series of various encounters and escapes, and John and Juan always find themselves laughing about things as the movie progresses. However, in the last third of the story, things take a much darker turn, as Juan begins to see the human toll to what he’s doing.
In many ways, the end of “Duck,” is one of Leone’s saddest scenes as a writer and director. (It’s closest comparison could be to “Once Upon a Time in the West”’s destruction of the family and their farm in slow and graphic detail.) What makes the movie so great, (and really, what makes Leone so great,) is his sense of time. Things take time in his movies. And he’s not afraid to stretch a moment out. However, he’s equally happy and adept at allowing things to play out in real time, adding to the sense of action and terror in a situation. However, “Duck,” has many great sequences that have little dialogue and need time to grow and expand. In fact seeing the movie at it’s full 157 minute run-time, it’s hard to imagine what audiences would have thought of the original US running time of only 120 minutes.
Leone didn’t want to direct “Duck,” and only did so after ten days of shooting when lead actors Steiger and Coburn refused to work with the director Leone had hired. Leone ended up directing only one move after this, (not counting his ghost co-directing on “My Name is Nobody,” which doesn’t feel like a Leone movie at all, and “A Genius, A Partner and a Dupe,”) and it truly feels like Leone’s farewell to the western proper. The two movies he co-directed where farces and spoofs on the genre, which were popular, but did not remain as popular as the films that stated the Italian western craze.
“Duck You Sucker,” is an important part of Leone’s cannon. His mastery of a frame and his use of Ennio Morricone’s music is as good as ever. If you only watch the Dollars trilogy, you’re really missing out on some of his best work. Check out “Duck You Sucker.” -Sam