Here’s another installment featuring Joe Dante’s reviews from his stint as a critic for Film Bulletin circa 1969-1974. Our thanks to Video Watchdog and Tim Lucas for his editorial embellishments!
Rambling, disjointed Mexican revolutionary comedy by Sergio Leone is something of a disappointment. Coburn, Steiger names will help early going, but that terrible title will hurt it even in action mills. Rating: PG.
Sergio Leone’s latest continental Western, set in Mexico and unappetizingly titled DUCK! YOU SUCKER, is a small scale adventure yam with comic overtones, produced in a big-scale way that dwarfs the plot. It’s been on the United Artists shelf since last summer, during which time its length has been whittled away from nearly three hours to a very disjointed 138 minutes. The pacing is wobbly and uneven; some sequences play nicely while others just sit there, and the continuity suffers from the same confusing gaps that ruined the cut version of Leone’s last (and best) picture, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.
The marquee value of Rod Steiger and James Coburn may lure some opening trade, but what patronage the terrible title doesn’t keep away, word- of-mouth will. Even in the action mills, where Leone’s reputation as maker of the highly successful “Dollars” Westerns might have drummed up business, the title will be a hindrance. SUCKER, which is doing well overseas, has only slight narrative drive and even less of the distinctive Leone fair, at least in this truncated version. The diffuse screenplay by Leone, Sergio Donati and Luciano Vincenzoni is a rambling, episodic affair, with the accent on broad comic playing, which Steiger, unfortunately, is not up to. He plays a Mexican peon-tumed-bandit whose swarm of sons of all ages serve as his gang, and although the character is good for some laughs, Steiger’s hammy portrayal often stops them dead in their tracks. Coburn fares much better, his breezy style perfectly suited to an offbeat and interesting role as an Irish revolutionary and explosives expert (the title derives from his shouted warning whenever he heaves a stick of dynamite).
Coburn and Steiger team up to break into the Mesa Verde bank, which to Steiger’s dismay is filled not with gold but with political prisoners, who happily regard the reluctant Steiger as their liberator and a revolutionary hero. He eventually joins Coburn in battling the Mexican army (and German tanks), but the major turning point in Steiger’s attitude— the government’s massacre of his family—has been deleted, and the second half of the film seems so compressed, it doesn’t make much sense. A subplot concerns a revolutionary doctor (Romolo Valli) who turns out to be a traitor, triggering Coburn flashbacks to his IRA days when he shot his best friend for selling out the cause. The action and fireworks are neatly staged, but the bulk of the film seems not so much spectacular as simply overproduced. While Leone’s earlier films extracted mythic, larger than life drama from opulent, careful production, here the bigness merely gets in the way. The Spanish locations are rather colorless and Giuseppe Ruzzolini’s cinematography never approaches the knockout quality of the previous pictures. Ennio Morricone’s subdued score is quite nice.
Giù la testa. 1971. United Artists (A Rafran Film). Technicolor. Techniscope. 138 minutes. Rod Steiger, James Coburn, Romolo Valli. Produced by Fulvio Morsello. Directed by Sergio Leone.