The Grand Duel (1972)
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Lee Van Cleef made his name with Sergio Leone and the masterpiece westerns 'For a Few Dollars More' and, of course, 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly'. This film is nowhere near the quality of those two, but Van Cleef does well in his 'man in black role', which is a variation on the common western 'loner' theme, which was made famous by the likes of Clint Eastwood and Django. Van Cleef's presence is felt throughout, and he continually makes every scene his own. As you might expect, the rest of the cast don't live up to the central star; but even so, The Grand Dual features a good ensemble cast, and Peter O'Brien does especially well in his central role. The film features a lot of shootouts and chases on horseback, which are always good to see; but at times, The Grand Dual puts too much focus on entertainment value and this can mean that the plot suffers. Even so, the story plays out well; and the final twist is a real standout, as even though it's pretty obvious throughout - Gastaldi manages to throw in a twist just before it, which makes the final twist come as a surprise. Overall, this film isn't one of the great Spaghetti westerns - but it's a good one and comes recommended.
For example, there's the device of panning a shot from point A to point B. I'm sure there's a technical term for this kind of shot, but I'm no professional, and don't know what it is. But what seemed to me unusual was the very smooth, automatic auto-timing of the transition. Say looking at Clayton for a few long seconds; then as if someone flips a switch, the camera looks from Clayton to Wermeer, traveling at a fixed rate of speed; and upon arriving at Wermeer, the camera proceeds to look at Wermeer for several long seconds.
There were some strange anachronisms. The hair styles seemed very much out of 1970s era. Some of the strangest "western" headgear I've ever seen were in evidence. These chapeaux looked more like something from the Mardi Gras of New Orleans or the Carnivale of Milano than any Western story. Likewise, the almost Gucci-esquire look of the attire of Adam Saxon.
Some very "spaghetti western" style over-the-top grittiness. So in the opening scene, the tall, tall, tall rock. Then we have Lee Van Cleef playing Clayton in a black, black Western outfit in stark contrast to the white outfits of the Saxons. Then we have this strange contraption involving a gun booby-trap set up to blow up their carriage on opening the door near Silver Bell. I loved the game of checkers played with full shot glasses that the players drank whenever they "jumped" someone. Then the room Clayton stays in, full of bullet holes in the walls. When he asks the proprietress if he could have another room, she says there are three kinds of rooms there: "rooms with women in them; rooms for card-games; and this one is for shooting bullets in." Nuff said, right? I loved the final scene ... sort of a Spaghetti Western version of the Shootout at the OK Corral. The love of the grotesque - such as Adam Saxon's pock-marked face - he is sardonically called "Pocksy" at one point. The typical spaghetti western tongue-in-cheek humor is present in such bits, and throughout the movie.
All in all, if you like spaghetti westerns, please do yourself a favor, get this one on DVD, and enjoy! Charles Delacroix
Roughly speaking, the motives of the characters in "The Grand Duel" reverse the relationship between the old gunslinger (Henry Fonda) and youthful gunfighter (Terence Hill) in Tonino Valerii's "My Name Is Nobody." Meanwhile, Van Cleef's entrance in "The Grand Duel" imitates his striking introduction in Leone's "For A Few Dollars More." In these Italian horse operas, Van Cleef is presented initially as a commercial passenger. In "The Grand Duel," he rides in a stagecoach, while he rides in a train with his head bowed beneath a black hat in "For A Few Dollars More." In the latter film, Van Cleef concealed his face behind a huge Bible when he asked the conductor about the train making an unscheduled stop. The conductor warns him they aren't going to stop where Van Cleef's frock-coated, black hat clad character wants. Nevertheless, Van Cleef tugs the emergency cord, halting the train, and disembarks to fetch his horse from the freight car.
As "The Grand Duel" opens, lawmen fire warning shots at the stagecoach that Sheriff Clayton (Lee Van Cleef) is riding in and refuse to let Big Horse (Jess Han of "Escape from Death Row") enter Gila Bend. They explain that escaped killer Philipp Wermeer (one-time-only actor Peter O'Brien, aka Alberto Dentice) has holed up with a girl in town after breaking out of jail in Jefferson. The authorities have posted a $3-thousand bounty on Vermeer's head. Nevertheless, Clayton disembarks and strolls without any apparent concern past two lawmen and several bounty hunters to quench his thirst in Gila Bend. This introductory scene unfolds at a leisurely pace as it covers points, such as where the bounty hunters are hidden and Clayton's imperturbability in the face of death. Clayton indicates the positions of all the bounty hunters to Vermeer. Later, after our wrongly convicted hero eludes the bounty hunters during a furious horse chase. The villains kill his horse, but he flags down a stagecoach. The entire scene resembles the scene from John Ford's "Stagecoach" when Ringo (John Wayne) who was afoot clambered inside the vehicle.
The omniscient Lee Van Cleef hero dominates the action. The hooked-nosed, veteran Hollywood heavy delivers a stern but seasoned performance as the worldly-wise elder. Van Cleef smokes his signature curved pipe. Actually, when we meet Clayton, he is no longer the sheriff of Jefferson. He protested Philip Vermeer's conviction and the authorities stripped him of his badge. Earlier, he had taken the Patriarch to court three times. Eventually, as the best man with a gun in the entire state, Clayton ushers in justice above the law. Anyway, one of the Patriarch's sons Eli Saxon (bald headed Marc Mazza of "Moonraker") accused Philipp Vermeer of killing the Patriarch, (Horst Frank in a dual role wearing whiskers), a wealthy, unscrupulous power-broker hated by half of the state. Vermeer suspects that the Patriarch had his father shot in the back because he learned about the silver on Vermeer's land. Meanwhile, Eli demands to know the identity of the man who killed his father. Clayton reminds Eli that the Patriarch was gunned down from behind and that Vermeer stood in front of them at the railway depot. Clearly, Vermeer couldn't have killed the Patriarch.
The vicious and degenerate "Grand Duel" villains qualify as challenging adversaries. David (Horst Frank of "Johnny Hamlet") rules the Saxon clan, while Eli serves as Saxon City's marshal, and Adam Saxon (Klaus Grunberg of "Fire, Ice, and Dynamite") runs the saloon. Grunberg plays Adam as a depraved homosexual who wears a vanilla-white suit, fedora, and constantly caresses a long scarf looped around his neck. The first time that we see Adam, he guns down an old man that his henchmen have thrown out of the saloon. Later, Adam massacres a wagon train with a machine gun and Brother David orders him to leave no eyewitnesses. David's words: "In a violent country, he who seizes today, controls tomorrow," epitomizes his treachery.
"The Grand Duel" plays out in three settings: first in Gila Bend; second at the isolated Silver Bells stagecoach station, and third in Saxon City where a showdown occurs in the stock pens in traditional western style. Santi never lets the action malinger. He does a good job with the first large-scale gunfight at the stagecoach station. The bounty vermin not only blow-up the stagecoach, but also shoot each other to increase their shares after Vermeer surrenders. The Saxon City shootout when Vermin pole vaults to safety is neat. The black & white night sequence that he stages during the Patriarch's killing has surrealistic quality. Meantime, hardcore Lee Van Cleef fans won't want to miss "The Grand Duel" for its several shootouts as well as the twists and turns in Gastaldi's screenplay. Get the wide-screen Wild East DVD; it surpasses the full-frame, public domain DVD or the foreign, semi-letterboxed version.
It's one of the numerous European Western (this time co-produced by Italy, France , Monaco, Germany) posterior to Sergio Leone ¨boom¨ and follows the Spaghetti Western models . Thus , there are violent confronting , harsh and brutal villains , rapid zooms , spectacular and bloody shootouts, and musical score with Ennio Morricone influence . Features appearance by stalwart Spaghetti , Lee Van Cleef , he plays his usual role , even wearing similar black clothes of former characters as Colonel Mortimer , Sentenza and Sabata . It appears known secondary actors from European films as Jess Hahn (Topkapi) and the usually baddie Horst Frank (Vengeance of Fu Manchu) . Special mention to Klaus Grunberg who plays a cruel gay killer . Atmospheric and enjoyable music by Luis Enrique Bacalov , subsequently Oscar winner for ¨The Postino and Pablo Neruda ¨. The direction by Giancarlo Santi is uninspired and predictable although gets a surprising ending . Santi was usually direction assistant to Sergio Leone . The flick will appeal to Lee Van Cleef fans and Spaghetti western buffs .
The Grand Duel is watchable but not particularly exciting or memorable, with the plot taking way too much time to develop with Van Cleef's motivations remaining murky a bit longer than they should.
Horst Frank is good as the eldest brother with delusions of grandeur. His effeminate psycho brother is a lot of fun to watch too.
The title event where Van Cleef takes on multiple gunmen is the best thing about the movie.
The only other Western I can think of that offers a homosexual character is "Little Big Man", and in that picture it was an Indian. Here, one of the Saxon Brothers is an overtly limp wristed, white suited desperado with a silk scarf for added effect. The fact that he's a ruthless gunman is almost beside the fact, his pock marked face is worthy of a seamy horror flick.
The three Saxon Brothers are out to avenge the death of their father, and numerous flashback sequences that offer the darkened outline of the killer point to only one person, and yet when Sheriff Clayton (Van Cleef) reveals it was himself, it almost comes as a surprise. The Saxon's had fingered rival Philip Wermeer (Peter O'Brien) for the murder of the Patriarch; Wermeer's own father in turn had been murdered over his ownership of a silver claim. Early in the story, it appears that Clayton's quarry is Wermeer, until they team up following the apparent killing of Wermeer by bounty hunters - neat twist!
If you're used to the Eastwood style of the genre, you might find the circus type acrobatics of "The Grand Duel" to be somewhat off base, but it seems to be standard fare in some of the other films on the collection I mentioned earlier. Here it's Philip who entertains with some improbable flying maneuvers, but it does make for highly innovative action sequences.
Also pretty clever was the game of checkers at the Saxon City saloon. Played with glasses of whiskey, it seemed to me that the winner would be the guy who got drunk first; after all, you had to down your shot after jumping the opposition.
I would swear I'd heard portions of the musical score in another film, it's so provocative you find yourself actually anticipating some it. There's a definite Ennio Marricone influence, though here it's provided by Sergio Bardotti and Luis Bacalov. Quite definitely another reason to tune in.
"The Grand Duel" is definitely one to sample, coming out near the end of the Eurowest cycle. Be prepared for marshals in business suits and the not so subtle portrayal of a gay bad guy, but also keep an eye out for the new patriarch David Saxon sporting the same dimple in the middle of his chin as the portrait of his father hanging on a wall. If that weren't enough, I'd say the bartender at the Saxon saloon was one gay caballero too!
As for the movie bit. Yeah there's a bit of a twist to this movie . Some needless action though. Didn't we already have a machine gun in a certain Eastwood western. Horrible acting in that one part. Hey stop faking getting shot. Johnny Cage be thinking "this is the part you fall down" zzzzz for a $3 blu ray with 2 movies on it , probably an easier watch than Battlefield Earth and many other westerns for one single reason. Lee Van Cleef. Think I'll stay away from the spoilers on this one.
Quality: 3/10 Entertainment : 6/10 Replayable: 3/10
Horst is the crooked mayor of Saxon City since his father (also Horst Frank) was probably, but possibly not, gunned down by George Harrison. Horst's brother is the ultra-camp murderer cleaning up loose ends and making sure the family get all the silver that George Harrison's deceased father found in the hills. Lee Van Cleef is the has-been sheriff who is out to clear George Harrison's name, indulge in a bit of banter, be as vague as humanly possible about every question he's asked, and plug him a few bad guys into the bargain.
It's a run of the mill plot that still entertains due to a full on pace, loads of interesting characters, and of course a duel at the end. Good sets in this one too (especially the riverside tavern) which is something I don't say much as usually it's the same set you see over and over and over again. If you're quick you'll spot that ugly bastard that played the Beast in the reprehensible The Beast In Heat.
I guess there's a little influence of the gialli here as the you've got the mystery of who killed Horst Frank's father Horst Frank. I'm just glad they didn't try to turn the "Lee Van Cleef partnering up with a young guy" plot and turn it into a comedy.
This is an okay Euro-oater, but nothing to write home about. Van Cleef is stalwart as the grim hero, of course, and the three sibling villains are interesting, particularly the whacko effeminate one who massacres scores of settlers with a Gatling gun. The titular confrontation of the climax is akin to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, albeit with one person against three. In the female department, Dominique Darel and Alessandra Cardini are on hand as Elisabeth and Anita respectively, both good-looking in different ways, but their presence is never capitalized on. 'Barry Gibb' is fine as the secondary protagonist. There are some curious over-the-top sequences, like a character catching a bullet with his teeth and someone else being catapulted, which seem incongruous with the generally serious-but-quirky proceedings.
The movie runs 98 minutes and was shot in Uliveto Terme, Vicopisano, Pisa, Tuscany, Italy, and Elios Studios in Rome.
Instead it's merely a quite good western, sometimes very good, sometimes awful. The stunt team is certainly spot on, although I could have done without the see-saw bit at the beginning where a guy is propelled into the air like something out of a cartoon. The action scenes are well handled and the final duel even manages to approach the ending of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY in terms of quality, with superb accompanying music and decent camera-work. Essentially, though, what makes this more than watchable is the leading presence of Lee Van Cleef, appearing exactly the same as he did in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and giving another stern performance with his acting for the most part in his eyes – hands down Van Cleef is my favourite spagwest actor and he hasn't disappointed me yet.
Van Cleef is given some good support, especially from the likes of regular German bad guy Horst Frank and newcomer Peter O'Brien, who only acted in this one film before disappearing off the face of the earth (he looks uncannily like Ray Lovelock in THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE). The big and bloated Jess Hahn is also around for comic relief, although he's so badly dubbed that I dreaded him popping up on screen, while Klaus Grunberg has a ball as a homosexual villain and Marc Mazza's bald head steals much of the film. Also present is Dominique Darel, a very attractive leading lady who died at the tender age of 28, six years after this film was released. Italian cinema lost a true beauty with her passing.
There is a bit of history for the people involved. The film was directed by Giancarlo Santi, who had previously worked as Sergio Leone's assistant director on "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and "Once Upon a Time in the West". So that's good. Also, the film's music was composed by future Academy Award winner Luis Enríquez Bacalov; the title score was later used in Quentin Tarantino's film "Kill Bill: Volume 1".
As far as spaghetti westerns go, it is decent. Not great, not terrible. Probably not very memorable. Personally, I really like Lee VanCleef, and I think his presence is the film's saving grace. As with many Italian films, the dubbing is cheesy and it is strange to hear VanCleef dubbed when he obviously speaks English. But that's the fun of these films.
The film stars Lee Van Cleef as a lawman named Clayton who is on the trails of Philipp Wermeer played by Alberto Dentice. Framed for the murder of a high profile person, Wermeer is constantly chased by bounty hunters and only Clayton's timely intervention saves him from death and further, sets him on a course to prove his innocence. From then on the usual bloodbaths begin as both Clayton and Wermeer make their way through hordes of bounty hunters, hired guns and finally the vengeance minded sons of the man Wermeer allegedly killed. To his credit Santi shows great competence when dealing with the shootouts. The opening scenes are especially memorable as Dentice's character shows moves that would later become standard part in action movies. It's a shame only he couldn't be more creative during the final duel, which was borderline ridiculous, lacking in atmosphere and a proper location. Problems don't end with that though, as seen through several moments, the film could have used an extra month in post-production. Scene to scene transition is shabby a good example of that happens shortly after the shootout at the inn in the beginning, with the scene directly cutting into the chase between Wermeer and the bounty hunters, spontaneously changing the music. Ruining the mood. Luis Bacalov made a great score for this film and it wasn't edited well enough in, again as an example take the opening scene when Van Cleef's character is walking to the inn.
On the good side, we have Lee Van Cleef who is his usual "Man In Black" self, delivering a great performance as Sheriff Clayton. The same thing can't be said about the rest of the cast though. Alberto Dentice is average at best but still tolerable. What really got to me was the completely useless and downright annoying female lead. Not only was she testing my patience with horrid dialogue but she was also completely devoid of any sort of characterization. Spaghetti westerns often lack decent female leads and "The Grand Duel" is a typical example of that.
I felt disappointed with "The Grand Duel", because it could have been a good movie had it only been given more time for post-production and a few minor changes to the script. But most of all I was disappointed because Santi failed to make a grand duel in "The Grand Duel".
As with KEOMA (also just out from Arrow) this is a movie that's made the rounds from various companies. For a while it seemed like anyone who had a company was putting out this movie. It's even been released as a double feature with the afore mentioned KEOMA. So I wasn't sure what to expect in spite of the fact that it starred one of my favorite western actors Lee Van Cleef. I needn't have worried.
Van Cleef stars as Clayton, an ex-sheriff traveling in a stagecoach that shows up at a stop where a group of bounty hunters is determined to capture Phillip Wermeer (Alberto Dentice). Wermeer is wanted in Saxon by the family the town is named after. He's been accused of killing Ebenezer Saxon, the patriarch of the family. Wanted dead or alive with a $3000 price on his head, it's fortunate for him that Clayton has arrived. With no recourse he allows the bounty hunters to take Wermeer. Elisabeth, a female passenger who's taken a shine to Wermeer, talks to Clayton who tells her that Wermeer is innocent.
Clayton catches up to the bounty hunters and finds them questioning Wermeer. It turns out they're more interested in finding out where Wermeer's father hid some silver than the reward. Clayton frees Wermeer and the pair head for Saxon with Wermeer still a free man.
Arriving in Saxon the pair discover that the sons of Ebenezer, David, Eli and Adam, are waiting with the hope of hanging Wermeer. Eli is now the town's sheriff and he and Clayton don't see things eye to eye. Wermeer demands to know who killed his father as he remains accused of killing Ebenezer. But things aren't all what they appear and the only one who seems to know what has really taken place is Clayton. Just who will come out in the end is up for grabs until the final moments of the film.
Unlike many of the spaghetti westerns released during their heyday this one offers a deeper plot than most. I don't recall any having as much as this one does with perhaps the exception of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. It keeps you guessing and trying to decipher just who was responsible for the death of not only Ebenezer but Wermeer's father as well.
There isn't a bad acting job to be seen here. Van Cleef remains one of the coolest of characters here just as he did in so many westerns. Dentice is a match for him as a naïve and strong headed young man trying to seek justice and stay alive at the same time. Klaus Grunberg as the slightly effeminate brother Adam is something different to see decked in white and ready to kill those who oppose the family.
This was only one of three films directed by Giancarlo Santi which is a disappointment. He does a great job here. His time spent as an assistant director on movies like THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, DEATH RIDES A HORSE, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and DUCK YOU SUCKER paid off when it came to directing this film. Why he stopped with three films I couldn't find out.
Arrow has done a fantastic job with this release starting off with a hi def 1080p presentation. But let's face it, when it comes to Arrow you know that the extras are going to equal the film itself and this time around is no exception to that rule. The extras on this release include a new audio commentary track with film critic/historian Stephen Prince, AN UNCONVENTIONAL WESTERN a new interview with director Santi, THE LAST OF THE GREAT WESTERNS a new interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, COWBOY BY CHANCE an interview with actor Dentice aka Peter O'Brien, OUT OF THE BOX a new interview with producer Ettore Rosboch, THE DAY OF THE BIG SHOWDOWN a new interview with assistant director Harald Buggenig, SAXON CITY SHOWDOWN a new filmed video appreciation with academic Austin Fisher, the original Italian and international theatrical trailers, an extensive image gallery, a reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin, TWO DIFFERENT DUELS a comparison between the original cut and the longer German cut of the film, GAME OVER an obscure sci-fi short directed by Bernard Villiot starring Marc Mazza who plays Eli Saxon and MARC MAZZA: WHO WAS THE RIDER ON THE RAIN? a video essay about the elusive actor by tough-guy film expert Mike Malloy.
This is a movie that everyone can enjoy and a western that fans should make a part of their collection. Not just fans of spaghetti westerns but westerns in general. It was a movie that can be watched and enjoyed with repeated viewing and I know it is a welcome addition to my shelf here, one to be revisited time and time again.
The quality of the picture I watched wasn't great, but really wasn't that bad considering it was part of a 44 spaghetti western collection on only 11 discs!
Director Giancarlo Santi was Sergio Leones' assistant director on "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and "Once Upon a Time in the West", and it's obvious that he learned all the right lessons. He gives "The Grand Duel" a very operatic feel, enhanced in no small part by the majestic soundtrack composed by Luis Bacalov and Sergio Bardotti. It's a score good enough to compare favourably to the best work of Morricone. The widescreen photography is simply gorgeous. The story is well paced and entertaining, no matter if the viewer figures things out before the climactic revelation or not. One very nice touch is the way that Santi shoots the flashback sequences (in which Frank also plays the Patriarch), in atmospheric black & white. The stunts are impressively acrobatic and the action is first rate. The final showdown of the title is over fairly quickly but that doesn't make it any less effective.
Van Cleef displays a quiet cool, as he always does, and the rugged Dentice is engaging as the murder suspect. The performances across the board are quite hearty, especially from the likes of Jess Hahn, as Bighorse the stage driver, and Antonio Casale as nefarious bounty hunter Hole. Klaus Grunbergs' effeminate performance as Adam Saxon, a young man clearly not that happy at the thought of marriage to a woman, is amusing.
A solid example of the genre overall, recommended to its devotees.
Eight out of 10.