Duck you Sucker/Fistful of Dynamite/ Once Upon a Time the Revolution (1971) (just pick your favourite title mine is Once upon a time the Revolution) is a War/ Western film directed by Sergio Leone and starring Rod Steiger, James Coburn and Romolo Valli as the main cast, even though other supporting cast remain very important players in this revolutionary piece set in Mexico 1913.
Rod Steiger is the vicious but likeable bandit with the large extended family Juan Miranda. He and his family of bandits rob and sometimes kill in order to survive, especially during the Mexican Revolution where it appears you either fight with the people, against the people or just for yourself. After they rob a few socialites and a priest, strip them of their clothes and steal their stage coach, they come across Sean/ John H. Mallory (James Coburn) an ex I.R.A terrorist and motorcycle riding dynamite expert.Having tested each other’s patience, eventually destroying their respective transportations they eventually meet up again in the once beautiful now war torn and soldier over ran ‘Mesa Verde,’ where Juan plans to raid its famous bank and steal its gold rumoured to be there. As the Mexican Revolution heats up, despite Juan and John’s separate feelings towards revolutions in general, they team up with a group of revolutionaries ran by Dr. Villega ( Romolo Valli), due to certain interests. They ambush soldiers and trains, sweeping through Mexico, while a reptile looking Colonel Gunther Reza ( Antoine Saint-John) is hot on their heels. All parties eventually clash head on in the bloodiest most horrible of circumstances.
Interestingly enough Jason Robards (Once upon a time in the West 1968) was the actor originally wanted to play John H. Mallory but that didn’t work out. The younger Malcolm McDowell (Clockwork Orange 1971) was also suggested since most of the I.R.A members were young impressionable men. However Director Sergio Leone chose James Coburn instead, wanting to work with him for a very long time ever since watching Magnificent Seven (1960). Sergio Leone also wrote the part of Juan Miranda for Eli Wallach ( Tuco from The Good The Bad and The Ugly 1966), but the studio wanted someone more famous, someone with greater international appeal. In steps Rod Steiger who like James Coburn playing his respective character John H. Mallory, it would be impossible to see anyone else playing Juan Miranda except for him. Juan is a fiery, quick talking, quick tempered skilful bandit who looks out only for himself and his family. John H. Mallory is a quieter, more relaxed skilful dynamite expert who like many of Sergio Leone’s main characters, looks out only for himself. As the war rages on and more people are killed and executed , both men get closer and you start seeing different sides to them. An example regarding Juan is shown when he watches in sympathy from a train as men are being executed by soldiers. An example regarding John shows him almost pleading with Juan in the caves not to go after soldiers as they will be waiting for him. Even though both are different characters, it is hard not to sympathize and hope everything turns out fine for them.
Ennio Morricone’s music and sounds are magnificent as usual. Flawless from start to finish, notably introducing certain characters such as Juan in sort of playful, but dark tone, or John in a simple but cynical dark tone to even the sharp horrible tone accompanying the ruthless Colonel Gunther Reza. Also if for some strange reason you get lost in what is going on in the film and you weren’t so sure how the characters and yourself feel, Ennio Morricone would explain it to you in the sweetest, most gentle of manners. Just like Rod Steiger and James Coburn playing their respective characters, it would be impossible to see any other composer’s score being used for this film and be even nearly as effective. I am convinced no one understands films and emotions more than Ennio Morricone does.
Once Upon a Time The Revolution is quite a beautiful dark and sad story. Meaning a really dark sad story told in a beautiful way. The dark part being the Mexican Revolution and the amount of casualties involved, which includes everybody. The beautiful part being how you feel about Juan and John as they journey through it no matter how ugly. Unlike most revolutionary films, Sergio Leone clearly has not picked any sides, instead choosing to focus on individuals who have to go through war or those who put themselves there and do what is necessary. This is definitely one of the most underrated films of all times and I recommend this for anyone tired of watching the same old western/ war stories, wanting to something new and wanting to see how it feels to have your heart strings pulled and pulled at.