‘A Fistful of Dynamite’ – Sergio Leone’s revolution on Prime Video

Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dynamite (1971), also known as Duck, You Sucker, drops the spaghetti western in the midst of the Mexican revolution. James Coburn stars as John, an IRA revolutionary with a penchant for dynamite who has fled Ireland for Mexico, and Rod Steiger is Juan, a Mexican bandit who targets the rich and pompous.

In the face of the decadence and hypocrisy of the rich and the holy, the peasant Juan is honest about who he is and he doesn’t kill, which makes him someone that Leone can respect. When Juan crosses paths with John, who he sees is tossing explosives from his motorcycle in the desert, the two men start off as adversaries trading tit-for-tat in a game of one-upmanship and become partners and, finally, friends.

Juan has no illusions about for the Mexican revolution. He’s simply out for gold with a gang formed by his sons (“Each from a different mother”) and his father (“I think”) and his grail is the bank at Mesa Verdi. John, driven by betrayal that has snuffed his idealism and now only believes in dynamite, or so he says. In fact, he’s committed to the revolution and he drags Juan into his mission.

Coburn plays the role as a tormented hero under the mask of a smile. Rod Steiger is infamous for his big, often hammy performances and his overworked accent here is practically a cartoon stereotype of a Mexican peasant accent, but his physical performance is far more expressive as he transforms from shuffling peasant (a performance for the stage drivers and passengers) to bandito patriarch to bank robber to unlikely hero of the revolution.

Ultimately Leone’s epic of the Mexican revolution is a portrait in disillusion grounded in ambiguity and contradictions and the most eccentric and touching friendships in Leone’s cinema. It was, however, a financial flop and Leone didn’t direct another film (at least officially) until Once Upon a Time in America over a decade later. But while it is not as well known or regarded as his most famous movies, it is interesting and engaging and, most importantly, heartfelt. And it features a beautiful score by Ennio Morricone.

Sergio Leone won the best director award at the David di Donatello Awards, Italy’s answer to the Academy Awards.

Rated PG

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
A Fistful of Dynamite [Blu-ray]
A Fistful of Dynamite: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition [DVD]

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There have been numerous Blu-ray and DVD releases over the years, many of them stuffed with supplements. The most recent releases include two commentary tracks (one by filmmaker Alex Cox and the other by spaghetti western historian Sir Christopher Frayling) and six featurettes, among its supplements.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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