Duck You, Sucker! (Or A Fistful of Dynamite) means get your head down, a stick of dynamite is about to explode in Sergio Leone’s not as famous spaghetti western classic. In a more traditionally structured and serious narrative, John H. Mallory (James Coburn) plays the Irish foreigner, an explosive expert who becomes a “grand, glorious hero of the revolution,” a familiar trope shared in several other Italian-made westerns. In this film, he teams up with the irredeemable criminal, Juan (Rod Steiger), and attempts to save the soul of Mexico during a difficult period of revolt. The rash and amoral Juan, a genuine madman, is given a redemption arc, as his role in the script starts to take on the voice of the Mexican people, rather than just representing himself. It’s a grand journey through the Sonoran, captured in all its glory.
Not only does Leone captures the scope of the desert, but the scope of revolutionary violence with awe-inspiring shots of chaos and the bizarre, backstabbing dynamic between Juan and John (the two share a name, a fact Juan finds hilarious and John annoying). It’s quite literally a fistful of dynamite and Leone holds no expense in achieving his vision. The production design, uses of horses and extras, and blowing up the production design – make this feel like a revolution and not a B-Movie production of a goofy western.
In many ways, Duck You, Sucker surpasses the Dollars trilogy, but also comes up short in other areas. One element that shockingly outshines the Dollars trilogy is Ennio Morricone arguably crafting his best career score – a piece of music that has the trademark eccentricities with the vocal section of the main theme singing “SEAN SEAN SEAN” (Sean being the late brother of Coburn’s character) and a more delicate soprano in the midsection. It’s a beautiful momento to take from Duck You, Sucker and of course, Leone incorporates it flawlessly into the film.
Unfortunately, the character moments don’t always live up to the standards of Morricone, but the improbable partnership at the center drives the story to interesting places. The music helps them get to the more explosive moments, always building in both the music and visuals. It’s filled with plenty of visual motifs from the Dollars trilogy, mainly extreme close-ups of eyebrows reacting, but there’s a larger world-building side to the visuals as well. The crane shots of the death pits where Mexican soldiers coldly and methodically put down revolutionaries is a harrowing view of war. The explosions are a great time too and there’s a shit load of them throughout. Leone demolished an entire bridge.
It’s stylish from a narrative, visual, and audio perspective. It’s real damn entertaining and I will be listening to the score for the rest of my life. It’s not Leone’s best, but any self-respecting human being will watch this film – and that’s with some of the pacing issues and elongated run time.