Duck, You Sucker!
Of the six films Leone had made from 1964-1984, this I feel is his most underrated when it is shown in its complete, 158-minute running time. It's a film set during the Mexican Revolution as it begins with a Chairman Mao quote about revolutions that was not shown in some versions of the film along with the opening shot of Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) pissing on some ants. Juan is first seen as this meek man desperate to ride in this rich, huge stagecoach with all of these people eating and talking about the poor and how awful they are. The close-ups of those people eating is actually quite disgusting to watch. Then, surprise! Miranda and his family robs the stagecoach.
Then we meet James Coburn as John H. Mallory, a former IRA terrorist (though the IRA wouldn't exsist after the Mexican Revolution) who is a work for hire in blowing up places for a German miner owner and this is where the film is different form Leone's other films. Prior to this film, there's never an interaction with 2 leading character that has lots of character development. In For a Few Dollars More
, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef play off of each other. In this film, Steiger and Coburn are really the heart and soul of the film as they go through some their own changes with each other. Steiger is a man who just wants money and wants no part of the revolution as he's manipulated by Coburn into becoming a hero of the Mexican Revolution. Coburn is a man that's disillusioned with revolutions as he's trying to find some importance in the Mexican revolution.
Yet, through both character, Leone reveals what Mao has been saying about revolutions. There's a great scene where Miranda tells Mallory that revolutions don't do anything for the poor. It does things for those who read books. Steiger's huge performance coupled with the quiet tone of Coburn works really well. There's also a standout role from Romolo Valli as Dr. Villega, a revolutionary organizer.
There's a lot of great scenes in the film but the shot I love in that film is this one...
It's done in a crane shot that is just remarkable as it's clear that Leone is in the top of his game. Yet, the film serves as a metaphor for his own response towards Italian politics, May '68, and the revolutions that were going on at the time. He was often accused of not speaking about contemporary Italy but he does so in his own style. A post-western/political film that turns its nose against the Italian political films of the time and everything else. It's a brilliant film that really serves more of a stepping stone for what is to come next. I widely suggest to get the 2-disc DVD with the completed version that includes the always informative, insightful commentary by Sir Christopher Frayling.