A Fistful of Dynamite

Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Mar 23, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

For a director who looms as large in the history of cinema as Sergio Leone, the man had a surprisingly small filmography. Over the three decades he spent working in the Italian film business, he only directed seven features. It’s a solid argument for quality over quantity as five of those films - The Dollars Trilogy, Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America - are remembered as classics. His debut - the sword and sandals film The Colossus of Rhodes - has been dismissed as an early outlier. Stuck somewhere in the middle is A Fistful of Dynamite, Leone’s 1971 political western that’s as much a challenge to its audiences as it was for Leone behind the scenes.  

The film’s scattered legacy is tied into its troubled release, which saw the original Italian title Duck, You Sucker - a phrase Leone thought was popular in America - changed to A Fistful of Dynamite in the United States in order to capitalize on the success of A Fistful of Dollars. The most accurate title was the French one, Once Upon a Time…the Revolution, which hinted at both the epic scope of the film, as well as its political content. Major cuts were made to the film for its various releases, and even the new Kino Lorber Blu-ray restoration is missing scenes that were shot but never made it into any version of the film.

The film opens with a quote from Chairman Mao - and yes, that was cut for the 1971 American release, go figure - which warns the viewer that revolution is not a romantic ideal, but a bloody struggle. The plot follows the exploits of a Mexican bandit named Juan - played by an energetic but unfortunately brown-faced Rod Steiger - and an exiled Irish revolutionary - played by a bizarrely accented James Coburn - who find themselves caught up in the Mexican Revolution circa 1913. Fans of Leone’s earlier westerns will find many similar elements in A Fistful of Dynamite; extravagant, explosive shootouts and battles, wide dusty vistas and  alliances between hard-bitten, untrustworthy men. Although his earlier westerns were rightly credited with shifting the landscape of the genre toward something grittier and more amoral than classic Hollywood entries, it’s not hard to see the influence that changing American cinema had on A Fistful of Dynamite, particularly by way of Sam Peckinpah’s bloody landmark, The Wild Bunch. On a macro level - the late-period setting - and a micro - Fistful opens with a shot of Rod Steiger pissing on ants, The Wild Bunch opens on a group of children feeding a scorpion to an ant colony - the connection between to two is clear, intentionally or otherwise.  

Made by Leone as both a critique of Italy’s Mussolini-era fascism as well as the then current far-left movements sweeping through Europe, A Fistful of Dynamite feels distinctly more mature than Leone’s earlier westerns. There’s no lack of the playful goofiness and swaggering machismo that defined Leone’s style, but it’s leavened with a sense of tragedy and social awareness that’s sobering to say the least. The opening sequence of the film sees Juan posing as a down-on-his-luck peasant that manages to hitch a ride on a stagecoach full of rich white people. Assuming he can’t speak English, the other passengers denigrate him as a filthy, ignorant Mexican, all while Leone frames them in grotesque close-ups, focusing on their mouths as they spew bigotry and stuff their faces with food. The film features multiple scenes of firing squad executions and large scale massacres of civilians, one of whom is captured in a sweeping single take that recalls the shock-and-awe horror of the field hospital crane shot in Gone With the Wind. Not every aspect of the film works - Coburn’s lengthy, wordless, softfocus flashbacks to a doomed love triangle back in Ireland tend to grind the film to a halt - but A Fistful of Dynamite gives the viewer a lot to chew on while also succeeding in all the ways one expects from a spaghetti western. 



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Outrageous Medical Records Storage
March 23rd 2018

I got this movie for my dad for his birthday as he has always wanted it. He said its by far one of the best things he has gotten this year! He says the movie is one of those were you just gotta sit down and get ready for a good time.