Fistful of Dynamite
This Sergio Leone film is definately the least seen of all his westerns.
For some reason, this film is largely forgotten. It is never shown
on cable, and the video was out of print for many years but has recently
been re-released on both laserdisc and video. Hopefully now that it
has been re-released, it will start getting the attention it deserves.
This movie is
the exception to the rule that Leone gets better with time, but
it is only a slight exception. After all, it's hard to beat Once
Upon a Time in the West. Perhaps the slight imperfections comes
because it was not originally a Leone project, and so he did not
have quite as much control as usual.
This film, despite
its name, is not a spaghetti western. It is what is called a "Zapata
Western", after the famous Mexican revolutionary. These films
are characterized by the simultaneously friendly and antagonistic
relationship between a local bandit , and a foreigner who is an
expert at revolution. In A Fistful of Dynamite , Juan Miranda (Ron
Steiger) is a Mexican bandit who runs across Sean Mallory (James
Coburn), who is an IRA terrorist on the run. After some initial
hostility and a few explosions, Juan convinces Sean to rob the Bank
of Mesa Verde. Sean, however, arranges things so that Juan frees
hundreds of political prisoners while looking for the safe in the
bank. After that, Juan slowly turns into a full- fledged revolutionary,
while Sean loses his revolutionary fervor.
this plot with a few other Zapata Westerns, in The Mercenary, a
Mexican who starts to get involved in the revolution is helped by
a clever mercenary who treats himself to the Mexican's water, women,
and gold. Quemada! ( also known as Burn! which stars Marlon Brando)
is the story of a British officer (Brando) who helps start a revolution
in the Antilles sugar farms by duping the soon-to-be leader of the
slaves to rob a bank, then defend himself, and then defend his people.
One of the interesting
things about A Fistful of Dynamite is the weird, offbeat, yet beautful
Ennio Morricone score. From the Main Title's refrain of "Sean.
Sean Sean Sean. Sean Sean.", to the March of the Beggars (Juan's
Theme) croaking "wop. Wop. wop.", Morricone created something
different than the usual spaghetti western, yet just as fun, and
certainly just as moving.
The music is
well suited to the equally quirky direction by Leone. This movie
is full of fast zooms, extreme closeups, exaggerated, cartoonish
visuals and sounds. A good example is the scene in which Juan is
travelling with the upper-class snobs, who proceed to stuff their
faces with all sorts of food (which Leone shows in extreme close-ups),
and make fun of Juan and the poor Mexicans like him. The same phrases
are repeated over and over, faster and faster, until the train is
finally stopped by Juan's men. And one of my favorite scenes in
the movie is when Sean first reveals his incredible array of explosives,
and the camera zooms to Juan's amazed eyes.. the organ music swells,
and we see Sean standing there with a banner floating above him
which reads "Banco National de Mesa Verde". It's one of
those things that Leone does that reveals exactly what a character
is feeling, even though nothing has been said. And, of course, a
banner floating in midair above someone is just never done in movies.
When Leone does it, it is suprising and hilarious.
A Fistful of
Dynamite is a film unique in the Leone body of work. It is a comic
film, yet serious at the same time. Even though Juan is the comic
character, in this film the comic character is every bit as important
as the serious one (John) (as opposed to The Good, the Bad, and
the Ugly or Once Upon a Time in the West ). It is Juan that we see
develop ideals, while at the same time Sean loses his ("When
I started using dyanmite, I used to believe in a lot of things.
All of it! Now I believe only in dynamite"). In elevating the
comic character to the equal of the serious one, Leone creates a
film that is sensitive as it is cartoonish . "What about me?"
we hear Juan ask at the end of the film. After these sad parting
words, that Juan realizes that now he must fight by himself, thus
losing his comic, sidekick quality, and becoming a serious John-type
character. This is the only time that such a switch happens in Leone's
oevre, and I'm glad it does. (Here)
In its uncut
version, Sergio Leone's final foray into Western territory opens
with a quote from Mao -- flashed a few
words at a time, à la Godard -- establishing its political
nature immediately. Though not the first to see the spaghetti Western's
potential for political commentary, Leone predictably claims the
burgeoning (since the 1968 uprisings) genre variation as his own.
A fantastic opening pitting Rod Steiger's earthy bandito against
a stagecoach filled with rich bigots begins the film on a fantastic
note that Leone has difficulty sustaining. But what the film loses
in momentum, it gains in complexity. Pairing Steiger's character
with James Coburn's nearly disillusioned Irish revolutionary expands
the scope of the film in ways other than the geographical. While
other political spaghetti Westerns simply pitted the haves against
the have-nots, Duck, You Sucker! (named after a "popular"
American catchphrase known only to Leone), attempts to portray the
full scope of revolution. That the director includes chilling scenes
of wholesale massacre on the part of the ruling class would seem
to betray his sympathies, but he also portrays the impact of revolutionary
activity on those who rebel. Mao's words
about revolution being an act of violence take on new meaning in
light of the losses incurred by the two heroes over the course of
the film. Does Leone endorse the statement, reject it,
or simply view it as an inevitability? Whatever the case, the debate
is housed in a film unmistakable for the work of any other director
-- one that's larger than life but still quite affecting and contains
inimitable suspense sequences. Though it includes too many awkwardly
paced passages to qualify as anyone's favorite Leone film, the film's
disastrous financial performance in America granted it an undeserved
obscurity. The strange (even by his own standards) score by Ennio
Morricone alone makes it worth seeking out. ~ Keith Phipps, All
Movie Guide (See