Spaghetti Westerns, Part 4

A Fistful Of Dynamite (Giù la Testa) (1971)

Companeros and A Bullet For The General provide a good introduction for Sergio Leone’s flawed masterpiece, A Fistful Of Dynamite (sometimes also referred to as Duck, You Sucker! in the United States). As with the two previous films, Leone’s contribution to the Zapata western also features an unlikely partnership between Mexican bandit and gringo, reluctantly drawn into revolution together.

James Coburn stars as John Mallory, an ex-IRA explosives expert, pressganged into helping Rod Steiger’s Juan rob the bank of Mesa Verde. Though initially motivated solely by greed, Juan’s actions become an operation for a revolutionary cause and the pair quickly become mixed up in a fight with the Mexican army. As the conflict escalates, Mallory’s struggle with his troubled and violent past provides a warning that the struggle may carry a heavy price.

As its directed by the undisputed master of the spaghetti western genre, Sergio Leone, you would be forgiven for expecting great things of A Fistful Of Dynamite. The film features all the usual motifs associated with Leone’s films, including the obligatory Ennio Morricone soundtrack. As the film came immediately after the successful “Dollar Trilogy”, Leone was able to attract A-list stars and the production values for A Fistful Of Dynamite are as high as you’ll find in a spaghetti western.

Why then do I describe the film as flawed? Well, although there are some fantastic scenes and it is full of style, A Fistful Of Dynamite is overlong. The plot is meandering and lacks cohesion, which means at times the film seems to drag. It is also significantly let down by the performances of Coburn and Steiger, who are miscast in their roles. Any sensible person will lose patience with Steiger’s Speedy Gonzales impersonation within the first half hour, which means his screen presence diminishes some of the best scenes. I encourage you to watch the film and draw your own conclusions, but for me the film was slightly frustrating in addition to being beautifully made.


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