A Fistful of Dynamite: Limited Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (24th November 2019).
The Film

Revolution is the farthest thing on the mind of bandito Juan Miranda (The Amityville Horror's Rod Steiger), his elderly father, and his six sons who are living hand-to-mouth robbing the dispossessed bourgeoisie who are hoping to regain their land and status under General Huerta who has staged a military coup and assassinated social democracy-minded president Madero. Riding into the midst of the Mirandas' latest stagecoach heist is John Mallory (The Great Escape's James Coburn), a demolitions expert who fled Ireland after being betrayed by compromised fellow revolutionaries. After seeing the effects of Mallory's "holy water," Miranda hits upon the idea of a partnership "Juan and John" (or "Johnny and Johnny") to rob the national bank in Mesa Verde. Although Miranda claims that he does not care about the money so much as cracking the heist for which his father was once imprisoned, Mallory refuses the offer of more than half the spoils; whereupon Miranda pursues and persecutes him, making an assassin out of Mallory when he inadvertently blows up silver mine baron Aschenbach and a Mexican general while targeting Miranda and his family. Mallory gives Miranda the slip aboard a train where Miranda finds a surprising assistance from Dr. Villega (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis's Romolo Valli) when he is recognized by the police aboard the train. Arriving in Mesa Verde and tracking down Mallory, he discovers that Mallory and Villega are part of a revolutionary group who are planning to take advantage of the ensuing confusion from simultaneous attacks to the city from Zapata and Pancho Villa; whereupon Mallory partners with Miranda to blow up the bank as part of the distraction. It is only upon infiltrating the bank that Miranda discovers he has been tricked by Mallory and the revolutionaries into freeing political prisoners who have been held in the bank (the money and gold having been moved to the capital weeks before), making out of him a reluctant hero of the Revolution while also putting a target on his back in retaliation for the assassination of Aschenbach (Villega mentioning that assassinating a foreign capitalist seems to be more risky than assassinating a military officer). When troops lead by Colonel Günther Ruiz (The Beyond's Antoine Saint-John) manage to drive the revolutionaries into the hills, Miranda rises to Mallory's bait and remains behind with him and a pair of machine guns while the rest of the revolutionaries and Miranda's family take cover in a secret grotto. Miranda and Mallory massacre most of Ruiz's troops but their triumph is short-lived when they discover that one of their number has betrayed them to the enemy at the cost of numerous lives.

The fifth and final spaghetti western of Sergio Leone (as director as he also produced 's later comic westerns My Name is Nobody and A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe) is his most cynical, peppering a sprawling adventure about the Mexican Revolution with humor both light and crude and then gut-punching the viewer with utter tragedy. Steiger's bandit and Coburn's Irish bomber are outsiders, Miranda's only loyalty to his family and Mallory having already had enough of revolution fleeing Ireland and the memory of his best friend Nolan (Twins of Evil's David Warbeck) – only seen in silent flashbacks with their mutual love interest (A Clockwork Orange's Vivienne Chandler) scored by a cue of Ennio Morricone – Miranda just wants money while Mallory is there to do a job. Miranda voices aloud his opinion on revolution that the intellectuals exploit the poor to do the dirty work, and Mallory's silence speaks volumes even if he appears to disagree; indeed, the revolutionaries are presented as only slightly more sympathetic than the bourgeoisie character types who so repulse Miranda and the viewer in the opening sequence. Unlike Villega in the film's climax, neither man is converted to the cause by their tragedies, just motivated by vengeance in their final standoff against Ruiz; however, they do become buddies in a more moving manner than any of Leone's previous pairings, with Steiger not only seeming less of a ridiculous choice to play a Mexican than Eli Wallach in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but his Method Acting playing surprisingly well of Coburn whose is as much unlike the Clint Eastwoods or Lee Van Cleefs of the Dollars films. Whereas the tragedy of Once Upon a Time in the West was its springboard, the tragedies of A Fistful of Dollars are the consequences of the characters' actions, with a parallel drawn between the men lined up against walls and shot by Huerta's military – and those shot in the makeshift mass graves of railroad station pits – to the soldiers picked off from the hilltop by Miranda and Mallory (and Leone actually forgoes blowing up a massive bridge erected for the film unlike the triumphant moment of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). The growing scale of Leone's productions meant that it would be another thirteen years before Leone would direct his seventh and final film: the equally sprawling Once Upon a Time in America. Genre directors Alberto De Martino (The Antichrist), Camillo Teti (L'assassino è ancora tra noi), and Antonio Margheriti (Castle of Blood) served, respectively, as assistant director, production manager, and special effects supervisor.

Video

Released theatrically in Italy in 1971 with a stereophonic soundtrack and in the U.S. first as Duck, You Sucker (then quickly withdrawn and replaced with the U.K. title A Fistful of Dynamite), the film has had a rather messy history on home video in all territories with multiple different cuts from the 156-minute Italian original to the 138-minute PG-rated American and U.K. AA-rated versions. The PG-rated cut persisted on VHS in the United States and the U.K., and even debuted the film's first widescreen laserdisc release from Image Entertainment in 1990 (albeit with the Duck You Sucker title card), with an English-language approximation of the longer Italian version coming to letterboxed laserdisc in 1996 from MGM but not on DVD until 2007 when MGM finally got around to doing newer transfers of the Dollars trilogy as well – with A Fistful of Dynamite first available in the 2007 Sergio Leone Anthology with the Dollars films (occupying two-discs like each of the Dollars films) and then separately as Duck, You Sucker in a two-disc version and then a single-disc version. In the U.K. the film actually appeared on DVD earlier in 2003 in a cut that was longer than the theatrical version but lacked the climactic extended flashback from the Italian version that was also integrated into MGM's restoration (this version was replaced by the MGM restoration in 2005 minus some horse trips as mandated by the BBFC).

The film first appeared on Blu-ray from MGM in 2014 duplicating the two-disc DVD followed in 2015 by its inclusion in the The Ultimate Western Collection with five other MGM westerns. A different restoration was created by the Cineteca di Bologna in 2009 and has been available on Blu-ray in Italy. MGM licensed the film to Kino Lorber for a new U.S. special edition that did some cleanup on the master but drew criticisms for the audio (see below). Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray features both the MGM and Cineteca di Bologna restorations on two separate discs. The MGM restoration can be watched with either the A Fistful of Dynamite or Duck, You Sucker title cards and end credits in different fonts while the Cineteca di Bologna version features Italian opening and closing credits. The MGM restoration is darker with richer browns and blacks while skin tones also look warmer while the Italian version is minutely brighter and less contrasty than the former with a faint yellow-green tint. While neither is a new transfer – it was extremely unlikely MGM would do a new scan or the Leone Group with the last Italian Blu-ray release last year utilizing the Cineteca di Bologna master – but neither is as problematic as the Dollars HD transfers (in the remarks from MGM archivist John Kirk on the DVD editions, he notes that elements for the film were in better condition than the earlier films). Both have lost approximately six seconds to the BBFC for horse-tripping in accordance with the 15 certificate awarded in 2005 to the MGM DVD.

Audio

MGM's 5.1 tracks have been criticized for including incorrect music cues and deleting expletives, and the original mono track on the Kino edition turned out to be a downmix of the 5.1 audio. Eureka purports to restore the original English mono track in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 to both transfers – including both of Steiger's "fucks" – although "What about me?" seems mixed a little low to the point that I had to rewind when the subtitle appeared and turn up the volume (although I was watching the film in the early hours). The Italian version also has the restored Italian stereo soundtrack in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 with Morricone's music given the most spread. Optional English HoH subtitles are available for the English tracks on both transfers while the Italian version also includes an English subtitle track for the Italian audio.

Extras

On disc one, the MGM restoration is accompanied by a pair of audio commentary tracks. The audio commentary by film historian Sir Christopher Frayling is comprehensive about the film and all things Leone. He reveals that the Miranda role was originally written for Eli Wallach but United Artists wanted a bigger star, and that Coburn's role had originally been intended for Jason Robards, and that Malcolm McDowell was also offered the role. Production anecdotes include Steiger insisting that his dialogue be recorded on-set and that he did not intend to loop his performance in post – although he had previously appeared in Francesco Rosi's Hands Over the City so must have known about dialogue recording in Italian films – that Leone had intended to produce the film and Peter Bogdanovich (Targets) had been offered the directing job but they quarreled over his hatred of zooms, and that Leone's regular assistant director Giancarlo Santi had directed the first few days before Steiger and Coburn pressured the producers to insist that Leone direct (Santi would make his own directing debut with the western The Grand Duel), as well as production designer Andrea Cristiani's massive stagecoach set which was so authentically heavy that it could not be pulled by the horses (Frayling notes that a lighter-weight version was constructed on location in response, but it seems more likely that the second version was intended for the explosion scene). He also provides background on the Mexican Revolution and the significance of naming the landowner's repressed wife (Night of the Devils' Maria Monte) Adelita after the heroines of Zapata soladeras. The audio commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox, recorded for the Kino Lorber Blu-ray, in which the filmmaker notes the presence of the Frayling commentary and the latter's expertise in Leone, as well as his own attempts not to overlap with that track unless necessary. He notes Once Upon a Time in the West as the film where Leone started to take himself seriously (maybe too much) as a director, and his proposals of a remake of Gone With the Wind and an adaptation of Louis-Ferdinand Céline's "Journey to the End of the Night," as well as turning down Paramount's offer for him to direct The Godfather, but United Artists wanted a Western. He notes the release history of the film and how he had to go see it in Paris to see it uncut since the UK version was cut and it took so long to reach American screens. He also defines the film not as a "spaghetti western" but as a "tortilla western," and his noting that the film is part of a subset of Italian westerns dealing with the Mexican Revolution is a running theme throughout the rest of the extras.

Also on disc one are a pair of new featurettes. In Kim Newman on A Fistful of Dynamite (21:11), the writer and critic reflects on reasons why the film might be the most "overlooked" of Leone's masterpieces, suggests that it might better form a trilogy with the last of the Dollars trilogy and Once Upon a Time in the West or a trilogy with the former film and Once Upon a Time in America (noting the French title of the film Once Upon a Time… The Revolution), while also establishing another of the running themes of the extras in Leone's growing cynicism about myths of the American West and more so those about the Mexican Revolution in the post-1968 Italian westerns that used it to make statements about Vietnam, The Cold War, and fascism like Damiano Damiani's A Bullet for the General and Giulio Petroni's Tepepa. Indeed, in Austin Fisher on A Fistful of Dynamite (12:26), the academic notes that Leone was targeting the screenwriter of those two films Franco Solinas (The Battle of Algiers) in A Fistful of Dollars as a rebuke against "irresponsible adherence to revolutionary theory" – noting that even the Mao quote at the start of the film is an ironic touch – and discussing examples of the scenes in the film paralleling Tepepa but twisting the meaning. The disc also includes the MGM DVD featurettes The Myth of Revolution (22:11) in which Frayling discusses the ways in which Leone was both rejecting his own socialist background and the events of 1968. In Restoration Italian Style (5:57), MGM head archivist John Kirk discusses the task of restoring the film and integrating material from the Italian version (he notes that it was impossible to do a stereo remix using the Italian materials). The disc also includes radio spots (3:45) and the film's flat 1.85:1 theatrical trailer (3:34).

Disc two includes the rest of the MGM featurettes including the Sergio Donati Remembers interview (7:20) in which he notes that he felt more freedom in writing the film because Leone was not intended to direct it, but that Leone was definitely in control (wanting Bogdanovich to adapt to his style and then "supervising" Santi as producer), and the process of writing with Leone. In “Sorting Out the Versions (11:36), an analysis of the American theatrical cut and restored version, noting the absences in the original 1972 release including the Mao quote and the rape scene, the presence of a different version of the Mao quote on a videotape release (which included "A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another," the class part left off of the current quote in both English and Italian), and makes a case for the extended flashback during the climax that some consider ruinous, and the twist it puts on Mallory's backstory. In Once Upon a Time in Italy (6:01), Frayling takes the viewer on a tour of the Autry National Center Museum of the American West Sergio Leone Exhibit, and location comparisons (9:31) in which Leone fan Donald S. Bruce compares locations in the film to contemporary video. The disc closes out with a quartet of still galleries: Filming Giù la testa (6:08), Giù la testa Colour Stills (4:13), Giù la testa in Pictures (6:55), and Promoting Giù la testa (13:11).

Packaging

Not provided for review were the hardbound slipcase or the 60-page perfect bound collector’s book featuring:
- “What About Me?: Romance in the Films of Sergio Leone" by Simon Ward
- Inteview with Robert McGinnis by Simon Ward
- "Exploding the Myth: A Fistful of Dynamite" by Howard Hughes
- "Echoes from the Past: The Music of A Fistful of Dynamite by Howard Hughes
- Artwork Gallery
- Viewing Notes
- Production Credits & Special Thanks

Overall

The fifth and final spaghetti western of Sergio Leone, A Fistful of Dynamite is his most cynical, peppering a sprawling adventure about the Mexican Revolution with humor both light and crude and then gut-punching the viewer with utter tragedy.

 


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