Based on the Edward Bulwer-Lytton novel. Set in the shadows of Mt. Vesuvius just before its famous eruption, the film begins with Glaucus, a Roman legionnaire, returning to his home from ... See full summary »
In Mexico at the time of the Revolution, Juan, the leader of a bandit family, meets John Mallory, an IRA explosives expert on the run from the British. Seeing John's skill with explosives, Juan decides to persuade him to join the bandits in a raid on the great bank of Mesa Verde. John in the meantime has made contact with the revolutionaries, and intends to use his dynamite in their service. Written by
Coming off the triumphs of his "Man With No Name" series and his frustrations with the cutting of "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly" and "Once Upon a Time in the West," Sergio Leone directed the big budget, epic western, originally titled, "Once Upon a Time in the Revolution". Since "...West" had been released by Paramount and United Artists was releasing "...Revolution," some executive decide the rename the movie "Duck! You Sucker!" after the phrase Sean (James Coburn) uses repeatedly before blowing someone or something up with dynamite. Likely the same executive choose an advertising campaign reminiscent of "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly," creating caricatures of Sean and Juan (Rod Steiger) adding the caption "...the master of adventure, Sergio Leone". Well, I doubt many theater audiences knew who Sergio Leone was, since he was yet to be recognized as a directoral genius the equal of John Ford or Howard Hawks. Worse, the advertising implied "Duck! You Sucker! was a laugh romp, a parody of Leone's early masterpieces. This impression was made even worse when the film failed to perform. In any event, "A Fistfull of Dyanmite" was a dismal failure at the box office and Leone never made another big budget western drama.It's too bad, because "A Fistfull of Dynamite" is Leone's trueist work, his most accurate vision of life, politics and revolution. Neither Rod Steiger nor James Coburn were strongly associated with westerns, even though both played strong roles in earlier films (Steiger in "Run of the Arrow" and "Jubal," Coburn in "The Magnificent Seven" and "Ride Lonesome". Worse, Steiger's Juan looked like something of a buffoon and the movies villains were bland and underdeveloped. However, I believe this was Leone's intention: corrupt politicians and Prussian officers are pretty well interchangeable. Kill one and another pops up. This isn't a very satisfying truth, but it is truth, nonetheless. Juan is a peasant, a bandit with a large family of bandits. Sean is a Irish Republican Army terrorist, an explosives expert. In Leone's world, or at least in all his films, there are only two types of people: predators and victims. His major characters are all predators. The only thing that distinguishes his protagonists from his antagonists is that his antagonists start with a large body count and his protagonists usually spare the innocent. That works with a taut enough storyline, but "...Dynamite" covers large areas of real estate and the goal is never clear. Juan didn't plan to become a hero of the revolution, and that is small payment for his losses. When one looks at history, the rewards of revolution and warfare are never worth the sacrifices, for just as we kill one bastard, another takes his place.
I think "A Fistfull of Dynamite" largely reflects Leone's fate as well. Leone proved he was the greatest western director in less than four years with only four major films. Yet, he was hardly appreciated during his short life and only a few films after his magnificent achievement. "A Fistfull of Dynamite" is also Leone's saddest movie. A beautiful, big budget metaphor for a man's talent wasted by underappreciate film executive and smug, self-serving critics.
Coburn should have won an "Oscar" for "Dynamite." With the exception of some tabletop model trains, the effects are convincing and exciting. The color cinematography is phenomenal, clearly the equal of "Once Upon a Time in the West. The sound and music (by Ennio Morricone) is phenomenal, as usual. While not as satisfying as Leone's best films, "A Fistfull of Dynamite" is an exemplary film. I give it a "9".
79 of 93 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?