|Duck, You Sucker!|
|Directed by||Sergio Leone|
|Screenplay by||Luciano Vincenzoni|
|Dialogue by||Roberto de Leonardis|
|Story by||Sergio Leone|
|Produced by||Fulvio Morsella|
|Edited by||Nino Baragli|
|Music by||Ennio Morricone|
Euro International Films
|Distributed by||Euro International Films (Italy)|
United Artists (International)
|Box office||₤1.829 billion (Italy)|
4,731,889 admissions (France)
Duck, You Sucker! (
Set during the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s, the film tells the story of Juan Miranda, an amoral Mexican outlaw, and John Mallory, a former member of the Irish Volunteer Army. After they accidentally meet under less-than-friendly circumstances, Juan and John involuntarily become heroes of the Revolution, despite being forced to make heavy sacrifices.
It is the second film of Leone's unofficial Once Upon a Time Trilogy, which includes the previous Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and the subsequent Once Upon a Time in America (1984). The last western film directed by Leone, it is considered by some to be one of his most overlooked films.
Arriving in the city before Juan, John makes contact with Mexican revolutionaries led by physician Dr. Villega and agrees to use his explosives in their service. When Juan arrives, John inducts him into the revolutionaries' ranks. The bank is hit as part of an orchestrated attack on the Mexican army. Juan, interested only in money, is shocked to find that the bank has no funds and is instead being used by the army as a political prison. After freeing hundreds of prisoners, Juan inadvertently becomes a "glorious hero of the revolution".
The revolutionaries are chased into the hills by an army detachment led by Colonel Günther Reza. John and Juan volunteer to stay behind with two machine guns and dynamite. Much of the detachment is destroyed while crossing a bridge, which is blown up by John. Reza, however, survives. After the battle, John and Juan find most of their comrades, including Juan's father and children, have been killed by the army. Grief-stricken and enraged, Juan goes out to fight the army single-handed and is captured. John sneaks into camp, where many of his fellow revolutionaries are being executed by firing squad. They had been informed on by Dr. Villega, who has been tortured by Reza and his men. This evokes in John memories of a similar betrayal by Nolan, his best friend in Ireland. After Nolan identified John, John killed two British soldiers and then killed Nolan, making him a fugitive and forcing him to flee Ireland. Juan faces a firing squad of his own, but John arrives and saves him using dynamite. They escape on John's motorcycle.
John and Juan hide in the animal coach of a train. It stops to pick up the tyrannical Governor Don Jaime, who is fleeing (with a small fortune) from revolutionary forces. As the train is ambushed, John, as a test of Juan's loyalty, lets him choose between shooting Jaime and accepting a bribe from him. Juan kills Jaime, also stealing the Governor's spoils. As the doors to the coach open, Juan is greeted by a crowd and once again is hailed as a hero of the revolution. The money is taken away by the revolutionaries.
On a train with commanders of the revolution, John and Juan are joined by Dr. Villega, who has escaped. John alone knows of Villega's betrayal. They learn that Pancho Villa's forces will be delayed by 24 hours and that a train carrying 1,000 soldiers and heavy weapons, led by Reza, will arrive that evening, which will surely overpower the rebel position. John suggests they rig a locomotive with dynamite and send it head on. He requires one other man, but instead of picking Juan, who volunteers, he chooses Dr. Villega. Villega realizes that John knows of the betrayal but does not judge him. John pleads with him to jump off the locomotive before it hits the army's train, but Villega feels guilty and stays on board. John jumps in time, and the trains collide, killing Villega and several Mexican soldiers.
The revolutionaries' ambush is successful, but as John approaches to meet Juan, he is shot in the back by Reza. An enraged Juan guns down Reza with a machine gun. As John lies dying, he continues to have memories of Nolan, and of a young woman they both apparently loved. Juan kneels by his side to ask about Dr. Villega. John only tells Juan that Villega died a hero of the revolution. As Juan goes to seek help, John sets off a second charge he secretly laid in case the battle went bad. Horrified, Juan later stares at John's burning remains and forlornly asks, "What about me?"
- Rod Steiger as Juan Miranda, an amoral Mexican peon leading a band of outlaws composed mostly of his own children. He does not care about the revolution at first, but becomes involved after his encounter with John.
- James Coburn as John (Seán) H. Mallory, a Fenian revolutionary and explosives expert. Wanted for killing British forces in Ireland, he flees to Mexico where he ends up getting involved in another revolution.
- Romolo Valli as Dr. Villega, a physician and commander of the revolutionary movement of Mesa Verde.
- Maria Monti as Adelita, a wealthy female passenger on the stagecoach robbed and raped by Juan at the beginning of the film.
- Rik Battaglia as General Santerna, a commander leading the Mexican revolutionary army.
- Franco Graziosi as Governor Don Jaime, the corrupt and tyrannical local governor.
- Antoine Saint-John as Colonel Günther Reza, a ruthless commander leading a detachment of Federales and the main antagonist of the film.
- Vivienne Chandler as Coleen, John's girlfriend; appears only in flashbacks.
- David Warbeck as Nolan, John's best friend, also an Irish nationalist; appears only in flashbacks.
The development of Duck, You Sucker! began during the production of
Leone, Donati and Luciano Vincenzoni worked together on the film's screenplay for three to four weeks, discussing characters and scenes for the film. Donati, who had previously acted as an uncredited script doctor for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, conceived Juan Miranda's character as an extension of Tuco from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Meanwhile, Leone was largely responsible for the character of John Mallory, and the film's focus on the development of John and Juan's friendship. At times, however, Leone, Donati, and Vincenzoni found that they had highly differing opinions about how the film should be made, with Leone wanting to have the film produced on a large scale with an epic quality, while Donati and Vincenzoni perceived the film as a low-budget thriller.
Leone never intended to direct Duck, You Sucker!, and wanted the film to be directed by someone who could replicate his visual style. Peter Bogdanovich, his original choice for director, soon abandoned the film due to perceived lack of control. Sam Peckinpah then agreed to direct the film after Bogdanovich's departure, only to be turned down for financial reasons by United Artists. Donati and Vincenzoni, noting the director's frequent embellishment of the facts concerning his films, claim that Peckinpah did not even consider it - Donati stated that Peckinpah was "too shrewd to be produced by a fellow director". Leone then recruited his regular assistant director, Giancarlo Santi, to direct, with Leone supervising proceedings, and Santi was in charge for the first ten days of shooting. However, Rod Steiger refused to play his role as Juan unless Leone himself directed, and the producers pressured him into directing the film. Leone reluctantly agreed, and Santi was relegated to second unit work.
The inspiration for the firing squad scene came from
Casting the lead roles of Duck, You Sucker! proved to be a difficult process. The role of John Mallory was written for
The role of Juan Miranda was written for Eli Wallach, based on his performance of Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but Wallach had already committed to another project with Jean-Paul Belmondo. After Leone begged Wallach to play the part, he dropped out of the other project to play Juan. However, Rod Steiger owed the studio another film and they refused to back the picture unless Steiger was used. Leone offered no compensation to Wallach, and Wallach subsequently sued.
Leone was initially dissatisfied with Steiger's performance in that he played his character as a serious, Zapata-like figure. As a result, tensions rose between Steiger and Leone numerous times, including an incident that ended with Steiger walking off during the filming of the scene when John destroys Juan's stagecoach. After the film's completion, Leone and Steiger were content with the final result, and Steiger was known to praise Leone for his skills as a director.
Exterior filming mostly took place in
Despite the politically charged setting, Duck, You Sucker! was not intended as a political film: Leone himself said that the Mexican Revolution in the film is meant only as a symbol, not as a representation of the real one, and that it was chosen because of its fame and its relationship with cinema, and he contends that the real theme of the film is friendship:
I chose to oppose an intellectual, who has experienced a revolution in Ireland, with a naïve Mexican... you have two men: one naïve and one intellectual (self-centred as intellectuals too often are in the face of the naïve). From there, the film becomes the story of Pygmalion reversed. The simple one teaches the intellectual a lesson. Nature gains an upper hand and finally the intellectual throws away his book of Bakunin's writings. You suspect damn well that this gesture is a symbolic reference to everything my generation has been told in the way of promises. We have waited, but we still are waiting! I have the film say, in effect "Revolution means confusion".
Another theme is amoral non-engagement: Juan is very loyal to his family (consisting of his six children, each from a different mother), but he cannot be trusted by anyone else. He is also very cynical about priests, and he doesn't care about codified law. This relates most closely to those aspects of Southern Italian life observed by Edward Banfield and others.
The film also explores the relationship between Mexican bandits and peasant communities at the time of the revolution, idealized by figures like Juan José Herrera and Elfego Baca, which Leone may have had in mind in his creation of the character of Juan.
Release and reaction
The film was moderately successful in Italy, where it grossed 1,829,402,000
Duck, You Sucker! failed to gain any substantial recognition from the critics at the time of debut, especially compared to Leone's other films, though he did win the
The film was originally released in the United States in 1972 as Duck, You Sucker!, and ran for 121 minutes. Many scenes were cut because they were deemed too violent, profane or politically sensitive, including a quote from Mao Zedong about the nature of revolutions and class struggle. Theatrical prints were generally of poor quality, and the film was marketed as a light-hearted spiritual successor to the Dollars Trilogy, not at all as Leone intended, and it did not succeed in gaining press notice. In part because of this, United Artists reissued the film under the new name of A Fistful of Dynamite, meant to recall the notoriety of A Fistful of Dollars. According to Peter Bogdanovich, the original title Duck, You Sucker! was meant by Leone as a close translation of the Italian title Giù la testa, coglione! (translated: "Duck your head, dumbass!"), which he contended to be a common American colloquialism. The expletive coglione (a vulgar way to say "testicle") was later removed to avoid censorship issues. One of the working titles, Once Upon a Time... the Revolution, was also used for some European releases.
Subsequent re-releases have largely used the title A Fistful of Dynamite, although the DVD appearing in The Sergio Leone Anthology box set, released by MGM in 2007, used the original English language title of Duck, You Sucker!.
The film's first English language DVD was released by MGM in the UK in 2003. This version of the film runs 154 minutes and is almost complete, but it uses a truncated version of the film's final four-minute-long flashback. In 2005, following the restoration of Leone's
Duck, You Sucker! was shown in 2009 as part of the Cannes Classics series of the 62nd Cannes Film Festival. The print used for the festival was restored by the Cineteca di Bologna and the film laboratory Immagine Ritrovata.
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