"I know what I am talking about when I am talking about the revolutions. The people who read the books go to the people who can't read the books, the poor people, and say, "We have to have a change." So, the poor people make the change, ah? And then, the people who read the books, they all sit around the big polished tables, and they talk and talk and talk and eat and eat and eat, eh? But what has happened to the poor people? They're dead! That's your revolution. Shhh... So, please, don't tell me about revolutions! And what happens afterwards? The same fucking thing starts all over again!"
— Juan Miranda
Directed by Sergio Leone in 1971, the film takes place during the Mexican Revolution in 1913. Juan Miranda, a Mexican bandit, has a chance encounter with early Irish nationalist John Mallory. Mallory also happens to be a demolitions expert with enough explosives to level a mountain.Despite a rather heated, if ultimately non-fatal, first meeting, Miranda seemingly enlists the Irishman's talents in order to fulfill his life's ambition: robbing the Mesa Verde national bank. Unfortunately for Juan, the entire heist is an elaborate ruse and John is simply using him to further the revolution's aims. And so begins Juan's unwillingly entry into the revolution and of course his chaotic friendship with Mallory.Despite the light-hearted moments between Juan and John, the romantic side of revolution is frequently deconstructed throughout the movie as both characters suffer significant losses. It's arguably Sergio Leone's most politically charged movie, although the revolution setting was intended to be symbolic according to Word of God. The whole thing is, as with all Leone's westerns, set to epic Ennio Morricone.The film never had the commercial success of the director's other Spaghetti Western classics, due in part to confusing trailers implying it was an actual comedy and poor marketing. Leone's insistence the movie be called Duck, You Sucker! in its initial U.S release despite being repeatedly told this was not a popular turn of phrase in the states didn't help things either. Critics reviewed it favourably but certainly not to the extent of the director's other work.Sergio Leone's final western epic, it's also undoubtedly his most overlooked film.The movie has been released under many titles; Duck, You Sucker! was derived from the film's Italian name, Giu La Testa (literally meaning "Down with the Head"). During a re-release it was renamed A Fistful Of Dynamite to associate it with The Dollars Trilogy. And finally, in some places, it was originally marketed under its working title of Once Upon A Time... The Revolution (or ''...in the Revolution.)
This film provides examples of:
Accidental Hero: Despite Juan's best efforts to the contrary he is constantly being lauded as a hero of the revolution.
Anachronism Stew: When he is captured by the Governor, Mallory uses a Hi-Power handgun, which was first made around 1935. Later on, Juan uses a Nazi MG-42 (The 42 meaning 1942, when it was made) to blow away a government convoy. Both weapons are used in a film set in 1913
Armies Are Evil: We don't meet a single sympathetic soldier. They're all shown or implied to be like Reza.
Artistic License - History: Sergio Leone took many liberties with regards to the actual Mexican Revolution. This was however for the most part deliberate with the revolution as it was intended to be symbolic, rather than an accurate portrayal.
John being an Irish nationalist in 1913 owns an IRA flag. Problem is the IRA didn't exist until 1919. He would have most likely been an Irish volunteer for the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) if any official organisation at all. This failing is further compounded by countless reviews and summaries of the film labelling John ex-IRA or an IRA terrorist.
Asshole Victim: The rich people Juan robs at the beginning of the film, who discuss, in his presence, how Mexican peasants are just animals. When he kills one of them, rapes the woman, and robs the rest, it's very hard to have any sympathy for them.
Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: Mallory who reads anarchist literature and really loves his dynamite (and liquid nitroglycerine, and so on). Unusually for the trope, he's one of the protagonists.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Mallory, with his obsession with explosives (and apparent belief that they solve all problems) is one. So too is Colonel Reza who starts his mornings by sucking a raw egg dry, brushes his teeth with frankly startling ferocity in front of his men (and rinses his mouth with what appears to be tequilla), and almost never speaks.
Catch Phrase: Mallory's "Duck, You Sucker!" It's usually said right before he blows something to pieces.
Evil Old Folks: Juan's father may in the running for "world's oldest bandito," though he's far less evil than even his son is.
Fake Nationality: Main characters, Juan Miranda (Mexican) and John Mallory (Irish) are both played by Americans Rod Steiger and James Coburn. Mexican Colonel Reza is portrayed by German actor Antoine Saint John (though his first name of GŁnther suggests some German ancestry on Reza's part).
Flashback: John occasionally recalls his younger days back in Ireland with his best friend Sean and an unnamed love interest.
Flashback Echo: Played straight. John witnesses Dr. Villega betraying the resistance and pointing out members for the firing squad. He instantly recalls a similar event involving his friend Sean Nolan betraying him in Dublin.
Full-Circle Revolution: Juan's view of revolution is that the poor die to replace those in power with other selfish rich people. Then the cycle simply repeats itself.
Heroic BSOD: Juan's reaction to his children's and John's deaths.
Heroic Sacrifice: John is fatally wounded during the film's final battle before deciding to go out with a bang. Dr. Villiega also gives one, in order to make up for his betrayal.
Judge, Jury, and Executioner: John Mallory acts as this to Sean Nolan, deciding his fate on the spot when he attempts to have him arrested by British forces. It's heavily implied John feels a great deal of guilt over judging his old friend so harshly.
John: I don't judge , Villiega. I did that...only once in my life
Knight of Cerebus: Col. Reza, whose attack at the bridge and subsequent murder of Juan's children turns the film from a Black Comedy to a serious drama.
A Nazi by Any Other Name: Reza and his men, look and act like the fascist stormtroopers (both German and Italian) that Leone saw when he was growing up in Italy.
Never Trust a Trailer: Apparently originally advertised as more of a comedy, which in turn likely helped undermined its commercial success. The first half of the movie is a Black Comedy, for argument's sake. Still, a movie that opens with a bunch of racists being mugged and raped likely isn't going to have too much sunshine and rainbows.
Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Played straight and averted. John responds to his best friend Sean's treachery with extreme shotgun toting prejudice. However when faced with a very simular situation with Dr. Villega, he shows mercy implying regret over having "judged a man once" in the past.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Subverted. Juan attempts this alone when he finds his family dead. He ends up failing and being arrested.
Silent Antagonist: Reza speaks two lines of dialogue in his first appearance (both of them orders to his men) and then never speaks again.
Sociopathic Soldier: Col. Reza and his men, who seem intent on killing or imprisoning every single person in Mexico. That they're modelled on German and Italian stormtroops doesn't help their image. Reza in particular is a terrifying Type II.
Taking You with Me: During their heated first encounter, an enraged Miranda threatens to shoot Mallory, who responds by opening his coat to reveal enough explosive materials to send them all into the afterlife with him.
Title Drop: The phrase "Duck, you sucker(s)" is used multiple times, typically before John blows something to hell and back. "A fistful of dynamite" is nowhere to be heard (it was probably a reference to Leone's own A Fistful of Dollars).