Cult Movie: Explosive Sergio Leone 'second tier' favourite A Fistful of Dynamite

Rod Steiger and James Coburn in a Fistful of Dynamite
Ralph McLean

A Fistful Of Dynamite

IF WE'RE talking about the greatest films of Sergio Leone, it's hard to get past The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, A Fistful Of Dollars and the dynamic duo of Once Upon A Time In The West and Once Upon A Time In America.

That work was revolutionary and it rightly lifted the Italian director to the very top table of cinematic auteurs. Even the greatest can't strike gold every time though and Leone's CV is also peppered with films that made considerably less impact but remain well worth seeking out. One of the finest examples of the great man's second tier work is A Fistful Of Dynamite.

Freshly released by Eureka on DVD and Bluray this 1971 madhouse of a movie is a wild and wooly tale of the mayhem unleashed in 1913 Mexico when a bandit called Juan (Rod Steiger) and his family team up with an IRA bomb expert Sean (James Coburn) to rob a bank full of gold in a nearby town. Once they get there they swiftly realise that the town is in the midst of a full blown revolution and, before they know it, both men are dragged into the fighting and become the most unlikely of revolutionary heroes.

Few would argue Dynamite is anywhere near Leone at his dynamic best. As the film's alternative title Duck, You Sucker suggests, this is a much lighter and more flippant take on the Western rebel story – but there's still lots to savour here.

There's the mighty double act of Steiger and Coburn to enjoy for a start and, as always with Leone films, it's absolutely beautiful to look at, with exteriors shot in Andalucía and even Dublin. It's also more politically aware than most of the director's work and there's the usual eye for the wildly violent set piece that still impresses.

It does feel like a film the studios did their best to sabotage though. By all accounts Leone wasn't going to direct, with those duties originally handed over to Peter Bogdanovich. However, when the latter claimed that the powers that be were trying to wrestle too much control away from him, he bailed out, leaving Leone with little option other than to get behind the camera.

Universal's demands for big names on the cast list saw the great Eli Wallach dropped from the role of bandit Juan and Steiger drafted in – and rumour has it Coburn only got the part of the IRA bomber when both one-time Bond George Lazenby and Leone favourite Clint Eastwood both turned it down.

Whatever the issues behind the camera, what Leone captured on it remains hugely entertaining. It's perhaps overly long at a huge 157 minutes in the director's preferred cut (although several shorter versions did emerge in different markets) and the mood does lurch from fairly comic at the start to almost melancholic as time passes, but it remains a big bold and brazenly political statement.

A Fistful Of Dynamite may not be Leone's greatest film but it's certainly one of his most explosive.

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