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Duck, You Sucker

#412 - Duck, You Sucker!
Sergio Leone, 1971

During the Mexican Revolution, the leader of a gang of Mexican bandits forcibly recruits an Irish demolitions expert to help him carry out a bank robbery.

Out of all of Sergio Leone's six main films, this is definitely the one that gets the least appreciation, though that isn't to say it gets none whatsoever. At first, it's a little hard to see why - it's certainly got plenty of action thanks to the frequently-explosive nature of its premise involving Rod Steiger's trigger-happy bandit and James Coburn's mischievious terrorist, plus its position in Leone's loosely thematic trilogy about American history suggests it's got a depth on par with Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America. In that company, it's not hard to see how it might be overlooked - even in the relatively simplistic context of the Dollars trilogy, one can see how it's perhaps a little too complicated or even derivative compared to those films.

It's not hard to think of the belligerence that Steiger and Coburn share with one another during their journey together is like any of the uneasy alliances that form between characters in any of Leone's previous films, most obviously that which formed between Eli Wallach and Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly because of how much Steiger and Coburn resemble those particular characters. At least they are good enough actors to compensate for the repetition; I can almost buy Steiger playing a Mexican, while Coburn's charm manages to survive his mangled Irish accent (between this and his playing an Australian in The Great Escape, who told this guy he could do foreign accents?). That being said, it's more than a little difficult to sympathise with Steiger's character and his many plights throughout the film when one of the first things he does to establish himself as a fiendish fellow is to not only rob a stagecoach full of wealthy white racists, but also to rape the sole woman amongst them. At least Coburn's character's back-story, which is slowly revealed through flashbacks, makes him a much more likeable and tragic figure.

The film's setting in Revolution-era Mexico (with the occasional reference to Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata plus the inclusion of modern aspects like machine-guns and the German military) does make for good action sequences, as does Coburn's frequent use of dynamite in combination with an utterance of the film's title. The odd-couple chemistry between him and Steiger and the occasional comic moment counterbalance the instances where Leone attempts to deconstruct the concept of revolution by showing us that, while the regime is definitely a reprehensible one that will imprison people in bank vaults and carry out mass executions, the fact that Steiger's amoral-at-best outlaw constantly lucks into being hailed as a revolutionary hero shows just how hollow the heroism behind it can be. Meanwhile, Coburn's background as an IRA member in exile from his homeland demonstrates the toll it can take on a person no matter how much of a success or failure the revolution ends up being. Though I was stuck with a pan-and-scan version of the film (easily the worst possibly way to watch Leone), I could still pick out some well-made visuals. Meanwhile, Morricone provides what's easily his worst collaboration with Leone - even now, the only piece that sticks with me is the lilting leitmotif that plays during Coburn's flashbacks, which is accompanied by an irritating high-pitched voice singing "John, John" over and over again. It's easy to say that Duck, You Sucker! is my least favourite Leone film after only a single viewing, especially since it doesn't quite manage to justify its 150-minute running time no matter how many gunfights and explosions it sets off. Time will tell if it grows on me, though, and being the worst Leone film still puts it far ahead of many other directors' worst films.