Wow, and I thought the "just alright" title of "Once Upon a Time in the West" was enough evidence to support the idea that Sergio Leone was running out of ideas for cool western movie titles, but this is ridiculous. There are three names attached to this puppy, and two of them, "[u]A Fistful of D[/u]ynamite" and "[u]Once Upon a Time[/u]... The Revolution" (Wow, that title in particular was so underthought that they actually put in a ... before they suddenly tacked on something that wasn't even consistent with the sentence structure), are ripped clean from preceding western efforts by Leone, and the only actually original title that they could come up with was "Duck, You Sucker!". I have no idea where that came from, but hey this is still a pretty good movie, so I suppose I don't mind it all that much, yet if these last three films by Leone are really a part of an official anthological trilogy, like some people say it is for some reason, simply based on title association, then I hereby name the saga to which this film, the preceding "Once Upon a Time in the West" and the subsequent "Once Upon a Time in America" belong, the "Lazy Title Trilogy". Shoot, forget the "Title" part in that title and just leave it at the "Lazy Trilogy", because these are some real snoozefests. Granted, this film isn't quite as dull as "In the West", but it is slow, and if you're going to have one of your titles be "Duck, You Sucker!", then I better get some excitement, partially because with a name for a western that ridiculous, it better be cool. Well, sure enough, while this wasn't the manliest western Leone produced, it is still pretty darn cool here and there, and when it's not, it has its charm. Still, it's not like the film's full potential, by its own right, goes fully realized, for although the film does hit more than it limps out, if you're hoping to not get beat over the head with slowness, then you suckers should probably take the film title's advice and duck, because it's not just a fistful of dynamite coming at you.
Something that I feel needs to be emphasized more is the fact that this film is, in a surprisingly considerable way, a bit of a comedy, with pretty prominent humorous aspects, yet as Mel Brooks and, especially, Monty Python taught us around this time of the '70s, comedies don't alway have to be exciting. Now, in all fairness, this is one of Sergio Leone's not so terribly slow films, and was certainly his least slow in years, at the time, yet being that it's an entry in the latter part of Leone's filmography, it only goes so long without kind of dulling out on us, adopting quietness in situation and dryness in tone. Still, what might be a bigger problem in the film is Leone's handling of an episodic story structure, because if you're thinking that Leone had to have come up with a comfortable storytelling formula after "Rhodes" and "The Good, the Bad and Ugly", his other two biggest adventure films, then I hate to tell you this, but think again. Granted, this film isn't quite as glaringly jarring in its episodicity as "Good, Bad and Ugly", nor is it as organic to the point of feeling hurried like "Rhodes", but the film still follows a straight and often bumpy ride of over two-and-a-half hours, a runtime that it most certainly does not deserve, as this film, like other films by Leone that are considered epics, is hardly, if at all an actual epic, yet it still runs the time distance of one, and with all of the slow spots and storytelling trips falling along this overlong runtime, it should go without saying that the film loses steam in quite a couple of spots. This is an oversized, jumpy non-epic of an adventure that can't raise raise past "just fine", and yet, for what it is, I felt that the film hit much more than it missed. On his seven-entry stand-alone director filmography, Leone had five westerns, with this film being one of the two outside of the "Man with No Name" continuity, so many would expect these films to be retreads, when really, these westerns were departures for Leone. Granted, these films are inferior to the "Man with No Name Trilogy", yet where "Once Upon a Time in the West" was Leone's major western drama, this film was his western comedy-adventure with some drama dropped in, and pretty considerably at points, and while this film doesn't quite have as much of the dramatic depth that more than saved its snoozefest of a predecessor, it goes higher in quality by delivering much more on what it sets out to do, and doing so in style.
The production and locations are sweeping and elaborate, setting a sense of diversity in the adventure, while Giuseppe Ruzzolini's handsome cinematography keeps your attention further secured. As for Ennio Morricone's score, this was a distant departure from anything he had ever done when working with, not just Leone, but anyone, doing a surreal composition that could have fallen flat as either annoying or too weird, only to come out charming and nifty with many a cool layer to it, build on the entertainment value that was ignited by the script. Even with Luciano Vincenzoni, a third man at the wheel, Leone's and Sergio Donati's dialogue doesn't pop as sharply as it did in "Once Upon a Time in the West", but it still crackles as lively and charming, while fun concepts of comedy or adventure make the script even sharper. Still, it's Leone's directorial execution of the script that really helps in bringing the film to life, for although he also pulls the film down a bit, in that his touches are, as I said, often slowing ones, Leone delivers more than he doesn't when it comes to setting a genuine sense of adventure within the story and ever-building comradery between our characters, giving the film an ultimately triumphing amount of entertainment value, or at least until the deeper and darkers parts of this tale fall into place, at which point, Leone subtley sets grit, tension and some emotion to spice up some cool action and deliver on a sense of horror during wartime, as well as whatever emotions and struggles must be falling upon our lead characters, whom also have the performers behind them to thank for giving them compellingness. True, Rod Steiger's accent may be weak and racistastic, but as Dick van Dyke taught us, you don't need a good accent to be charismatic, while Jodie Foster in "Silence of the Lambs" went on to teach us that even some of the worst accents can still have good performances behind them, and sure enough Steiger makes up for his faulty method acting with delightfully electric charisma, broken up by not terribly haunting, yet still very unexpected moments of sobering emotional depth. All the while, James Coburn delivers on his own fairly different type of charisma that's just as sharp and, working in graceful contrast to Steiger's type of charm, intensifies the chemistry between him and Steiger, which isn't to say that he shines only when Steiger joins him onscreen, for Coburn's John Mallory character is one of mystery and anguish who has witnessed more than he'd care to discuss or think about, but must after a while, and it's a role that Coburn nails with his own punch of subtle emotional depth. Now, I know that, from the sounds of it, this film doesn't offer that strong of a concept, when really, this is one of the mosty dyanmic and promising concepts Leone had ever come up with, yet in translation, a considerable amound of deliverance goes lost, yet enough makes it through for the film to be enjoyed while it builds on its compellingness during its progression, until it finally comes out as a generally satisfying picture.
In the end, the film makes it only so far before finding itself often submitting to slow spots, while jarring episodicity and a mammothly overlong runtime dilutes steam in this film's ultimate rewarding impact, yet with a sharp script, nifty score and a fine taste in production and location, a sense of adventure is constructed and fully secured by Sergio Leone's mostly impacting setting of general entertainment value and occasional effective depth, as well as sparklingly charismatic and, at times, subtley emotional performances and sharp chemistry between leads Rod Steiger and James Coburn, thus leaving "Duck, You Sucker!"... or "Once Upon a Time... The Revolution" or "A Fistful of Dynamite" or whatever it's called to stand as a generally enjoyable and ultimately quite rewarding second-to-last effort by the legendary Leone.
2.5/5 - Fair