#39 - Duck, You Sucker (Sergio Leone)



Out of the six films that Sergio Leone directed it seems to me that “Duck, You Sucker”* gets by far the least attention. I am guilty of this as well as it is the Leone film that I have seen by far the least times, actually last night was only my second viewing. And although it is not quite on the level of his three masterpieces (“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, “Once Upon a Time in the West” and “Once Upon a Time in America”) it is still a great film that has that magic Leone touch.

The film tells the story of two very different men and their involvement in the 1910 revolution in Mexico. And for me this revolutionary backdrop presents the only potentially faulty element of the film, because it’s commentary on that revolution and revolutions in general left me a bit confused. The film shows great atrocities performed against the revolutionaries but the two main characters also seem very disillusioned by the very concept of a revolution. But then again maybe that is the exact sentiment the film is trying to evoke, since revolutions tend to be very messy and confusing affairs.

But Leone never tries to say that a revolution is pointless, in fact he has great sympathy for the suffering lower classes. This is nowhere more apparent than in the very opening scenes of the film, where one of our main characters takes a coach ride with various representatives of the upper class who are very dismissive of not only his haggard appearance, but his very humanity.

What works amazingly well in “Duck, You Sucker” is the relationship between the two main characters, the Irish revolutionary John (James Coburn) and the Mexican bandito Juan (Rod Steiger). Male friendships are a consistent element in Leone’s cinema, but they usually seem to be temporary associations as his male characters tend to be loners. But in this film the central theme is the friendship between these two characters, from its rough inception to its tragic ending. This theme is further enhanced by one of Leone’s signature storytelling elements, the evolving flashback, and the very last incarnation of the flashback just underlines this theme and juxtaposes it with the destructive effect a revolution can have on great friendships.

But despite that revolutionary backdrop the film does have a great sense of adventure, as all Leone films do, and the politics do seem to be secondary. This is further enhanced by Leone’s style which is not as overt as in his spaghetti westerns, but it is unmistakably Leone’s. Actually I’d even say that in this purely visual sense it presents a great lead up** to “Once Upon a Time in America” which for me was always the visually most sophisticated film of Leone’s.

“Duck, You Sucker” may not be my favorite Leone film, but that does not mean that I did not enjoy it. Far from it, “Duck, You Sucker” is a thoroughly fun film with a great dynamic between the two main characters and some exceptional special effects even by today’s standards. Some of the best explosions I’ve seen in movies are actually found in this very film. And even though the film has many merits beyond the pure visual thrill of things going boom in a spectacular fashion, sometimes you don’t need much more than that.


* ”Duck, You Sucker” is also known as “A Fistful of Dynamite” and “Once Upon a Time… the Revolution”

** “Duck, You Sucker” is the second part of Leone’s other unofficial trilogy, the “Once Upon a Time…” trilogy. The other two films in the trilogy are “Once Upon a Time in the West” and “Once Upon a Time in America”. Duh!

Original title: Giù la testa


Rod Steiger - Juan Miranda
James Coburn - John H. Mallory
Romolo Vallai - Dr. Villega
Antoine Saint-John -  Gutierez / Col. Gunther Reza

Original language: Italian

Duck, You Sucker on IMDb

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