Film: A Fistful of Dynamite
aka: Duck You Sucker
Let's blow up some shit.
"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
...but this time, at his most trippy
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.
- All There in the Script: The flashbacks are silent, so the name of John's friend (Sean Nolan) is never known.
- 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.
- Badass: John Mallory
- Bandito: Juan Miranda and his outlaws.
- Bank Robbery: Subverted. Juan relieves the bank of all its valuables but unfortunately for him it's full of political prisoners, not money.
- BFG: The big ass machine guns used at San Hoglay.
- Big Damn Heroes: John saves Juan's life at the last minute from a firing squad, in typical explosive fashion.
- Bigger Bad: The Mexican government, specifically the General Huerta regime.
- Big Bad: The governor, who is directly or indirectly responsible for most of the terrible things that happen in the film.
- Non-Action Big Bad: The governor is completely harmless in person and is easily disposed of.
- The Heavy: Colonel Günther Reza is the only named villain besides the governor, and his actions move the plot of the second half of the film. He's also by far the more dangerous of the two.
- Black and Gray Morality: The protagonists are a greedy bandito and a smug guy obsessed with dynamite. The opponents are an evil army bent on imprisoning and/or killing anyone they meet.
- Blond Guys Are Evil: Colonel Reza.
- 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.
- Cheshire Cat Grin: Mallory has this across his face. A lot.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Compared to the Westerns of the period, there are a lot of F-bombs.
- Colonel Badass: Reza is an evil psycho but goddamn if he isn't a badass.
- Death Glare: Juan gives one to GOD after finding his family dead. Reza has a pretty solid one as well.
- Deconstruction: Leone largely made this film as a response to the so-called "Zapata Westerns" like A Bullet for the General and Companeros that glorified revolutionary politics. Duck, You Sucker! shows revolution as extremely wasteful and neither side innocent in its atrocities.
- Downer Ending: Depending on how you look at it.
- Dramatic Gun Cock: John Mallory issues one of these before blowing away his former friend-turned-informant Sean Nolan with a shotgun.
- Expy: Juan is clearly modelled on Tuco (The Ugly), the Eli Wallach character in The Good The Bad And The Ugly. This isn't particularly surprising, given that Wallach was originally slated to play the role. One could make the case that Colonel Reza is an expy of Lee Van Cleef's Angel Eyes (The Bad) of the same film, being an emotionally dead Mysterious Mercenary Pursuer who doesn't bat an eye at the carnage around him, and is bad enough to force the two heroes to work together against him.
- 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 Günther suggests some German ancestry on Reza's part).
- The Family That Slays Together: Juan's gang includes his elderly father and all of his children.
- Fan Disservice/Naked People Are Funny: A group of rich men are stripped naked by Juan's group.
- Fire-Forged Friends: Juan and Mallory.
- 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.
- Implacable Man: Reza, who simply will not die.
- Infant Immortality: Averted with the death of Juan's children.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Juan Miranda, though it's buried very deep.
- 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.
- Lovable Rogue: John.
- Love Triangle: Implied. In Mallory's flashbacks of Ireland it's hinted he and his best friend Sean loved the same woman, which might have affected their judgement since Sean ended up ratting John to the British and John shot his friend.
- Manly Tears: Juan, discovering his six children executed among the rebels.
- The Mole: Sean Nolan. John's best friend and fellow Irish nationalist is revealed through flashbacks to be the reason he is on the run from the British for murder.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Reza has two scenes—one where he sucks and egg and one where he brushes his teeth—with far more aggression and menace than are even remotely required.
- Mysterious Mercenary Pursuer: He may be a part of the Mexican army, but Reza hits all the other qualifications.
- 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.
- No One Could Survive That: Said a few times in response to Reza. It never takes.
- Not in This for Your Revolution: Juan. At least in the beginning before he's dragged into the revolution anyway. He's only after money initially.
- Odd Couple: Juan and Mallory.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Averted. Despite both James Coburn and Rod Steiger being American, their Irish and Mexican accents hold up well throughout the entire film (the quality of those accents is debatable).
- Playing Against Type: Romolo Valli, most recognizable for comic relief roles in films like The Leopard, playing the tragic revolutionary Villega.
- Psychotic Smirk: Reza sports one during the interrogation scene. It grows larger and more self-satisfied with every person he has shot.
- Putting on the Reich: The Mexican government troops are treated as Nazi stormtroopers.
- Rage Against the Heavens: When he finds his family murdered Juan tears the cross from his neck and obviously sees God as having failed them.
- Redemption Equals Death: Dr. Villega.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: The film acts as a deconstruction of this.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilised: Embodies this trope.
- 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.
- Spaghetti Western
- Stuff Blowing Up
- 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.
"When I go, I'm taking half this country with me"
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Juan not just shooting, but machine-gunning the guy who shot John for like half a minute. Though it's arguably Justified given it's the seemingly deathproof Colonel Reza.
- 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).
- Took a Level in Badass: Juan takes one by the end.
- Torture Always Works: Sean Nolan & Dr. Villega are both tortured into becoming informants on their respective allies.
- Throw Down the Bomblet: John. Aw yeah.
- Tranquil Fury: John Mallory. He's almost serene at San Hoglay and barely flinches as he kills two British officers and his former friend in a bar.
- We Hardly Knew Ye: Don Jaime the governor, and revolutionary General Santerna (who isn't even named)
- Would Hurt a Child: The Mexican army kills all of Juan's children on Reza's orders.
- You Killed My Father: Reza is responsible for the death of Juan's father and his children. Juan doesn't take it well.