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SPAGHETTI WITH A MEXICAN TWIST
Fistful of Dynamite, A (DVD)
Member Name: Mauri
Fistful of Dynamite, A (DVD)
Date: 13/03/06, updated on 13/03/06 (332 review reads)
Advantages: Good acting and cinematography
Disadvantages: Some versions are badly edited
Leone’s previous western had always tried to be more than simply violent entertainment and his third film with Eastwood the magnificent ‘The Good The Bad And The Ugly’ had a very strong anti war message at a time of increasing anti Viet Nam protests. ‘A Fistful Of Dynamite’ originally titled ‘Duck You Sucker!’ also carried a thinly disguised political undertone whilst still retaining the trademark violent action and comedic interactions of many of Leone’s movies.
‘A Fistful Of Dynamite’ also represents a interesting sub-genre of the Spaghetti Westerns often called the ‘Zapata Western’ after the Mexican revolutionary Zapata. Leone was so keen to make this point that he starts the film with a quotation by Mao Tse-Tung on the nature of revolutions. The Zapata westerns whilst recognisably in the Spaghetti western tradition dealt with more political themes based around revolution and mercenaries. A fistful of dynamite is not the first of these but certainly one of the best and better known and it highlighted a whole run of more politically engaged western in the 70’s.
An IRA explosives expert John Mallory played by James Coburn is hiding out in Mexico there he meets Juan Miranda played by the great Rod Steiger a Mexican bandit who immediately sees a way of using Mallory’s knowledge of blowing things up in order to rob a large bank that has become an obsession for him. The problem for Juan is that Mallory has no interest in robbing the bank or attracting attention to himself, it’s only after Juan fits him up for the killing of some local soldiers John has little choice but to help out. However in the background a revolution is raging in Mexico and it is not long before the simple plan to rob the bank becomes complicated by loftier political matters. Gradually the committed revolutionary Mallory and the more self-serving Miranda find themselves in the middle of the revolutionary struggle.
CAST, PERFORMANCES AND MY OPINION
James Coburn .... John H. Mallory
Rod Steiger .... Juan Miranda
Antoine Saint-John .... Col. Günther Reza
Directed by Sergio Leone, written by Sergio Leone, Sergio Donati and Luciano Vincenzoni.
The key to the success of the film is the contrast between the two main characters played by Coburn and Steiger. The laconic Coburn sporting a very dodgy Irish accent is as cool as always and has his hands full keeping one step ahead of the devious machinations of the more genial Miranda. Coburn always expresses an economy of effort in his cat like movement and exudes a laid back ultra cool persona, which was his trademark in whatever role he played on screen. This film is no exception and he breezes through the role as the charming Irishman on the run. Steiger is truly one of the Hollywood greats and time and time again he has proved himself to be a excellent character actor from his early role in ‘On the Waterfront’ where he just about matches the great Brando with his performance to his Oscar winning part of the southern Sheriff in ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ Steiger is has always excellent. It is also a mark of his acting ability that he can adapt to a variety of different roles and this includes playing comedic roles as well as dramatic ones. Steiger portrays the bandit as a loveable rogue but with great deal of charm that you cannot fail but warm to him, much in the same way that Anthony Quinn would have done in some of his best roles.
Coburn’s character also has shades of the earlier ‘Man With No Name’ once again we are presented with a loner embroiled in matters that spiral outside of his control and Steiger plays the bandit Juan with a nod to an earlier Spaghetti bandit Tuco (the ugly) from Leone’s previous film and you feel that Leone’s is consciously playing with and subverting the iconic characters that he had created a few years before.
Of course the political message of the film is ever-present but not intrusive, initially this is like any other Spaghetti western although the setting of revolutionary Mexico is a little different from the others previously made but as the characters start to become more aware of the revolutionary struggle that is going on in the background of the story then Leone also starts to express his own left wing sensibilities. Knowing the commitment that Leone had to his political beliefs it is no surprise that the most effective parts of the film are those later in the story where the action takes a more serious turn and we are presented with a great deal of emotional upheaval.
The simple message seems to be that revolutionary struggle is often bloody, violent and everyone in the end suffers but that it is still justified. The parallel is made between the turn of the century revolution in Mexico, which the government tried to oppress with extreme measures and the then current (at the time the film was made) troubles in Northern Ireland, the presence of a IRA characters emphasises this point.
Leone makes more general political points by highlighting the class differences that under lies the revolutionary struggle in Mexico. The main villain of the film is Col. Günther Reza (brilliantly played by the French actor Antoine Saint-John) a sadistic Nazi like commander who goes around in an armoured car. The Colonel in good fascistic tradition goes around ruthlessly executing the poor hapless Mexican revolutionaries and we are left in no doubt where our sympathies should reside.
Leone fans won’t be disappointed, the overall spectacle is epic in its scale and we have the trademark imaginative use of camera and music provided once again by Leone's long time collaborator Ennio Morricone.
There are some spectacular uses of scenery, sprawling panoramic views across desert landscapes and as usual Leone challenges us stylistically by incorporating various cinematic devices flashback, close-ups etc to tell the tale. A point needs to be made here that the original version has been edited in different ways through the years and the running times of the film varies from 121minutes to a more recent (1994) edit of a basically uncut 162 minutes. I would advise seeing the longer version to get the full impact Leone intended from the film.
The mix of comedy action and political message is managed with great skill by Leone and the film ends up being an enjoyable action romp.
Inevitably this film will be compared to Leone’s other works, the dollar trilogy that made his name and the later masterpieces Once Upon A Time In The West. It does share the panoramic view and theatrical almost operatic exuberance of Leone’s other big budget films and the distinctive Leone style is in clear evidence. The acting performances from the two lead actors especially Steiger are top draw. The message of the film is a serious one but overall maybe due to the plotting of the story it probably isn’t quite up there with Leone’s very best work but having said that it certainly is up near the very top of the Spaghetti genre. Certainly this is a film that fans of Leone and spaghetti westerns in general will love.
The film does have a few violent bits and one particularly bloody scene that although might be considered a little milder by today’s standard still warrants a 15 certificate.
© Mauri 2006
Summary: A classic Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western set in revolutionary Mexico