Unless you’ve got a weakness for spaghetti Westerns and/or the florid style of Italian director Sergio Leone, the man who more or less invented the genre, you might need NoDoz to make it through all 157 minutes of Duck, You Sucker, the last spaghetti Western that Leone directed. (More specifically, this is the last such picture he completely directed; Leone helmed parts of two subsequent entries in the genre without taking onscreen credit.) Alternately titled A Fistful of Dynamite and available in several different versions, some with running times as short as two hours, Duck, You Sucker features the filmmaker’s signature tropes of an intense friendship/rivalry between violent men; big-canvas battle scenes involving explosions and hordes of bullet-ridden extras; pretentious allusions to political ideals; and a kooky musical score by the great Ennio Morricone.
There’s no question that many of these elements produced timeless cinema in the ’60s, notably The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), and there’s no question that generations of fans consider Leone’s operatic approach to frontier morality intoxicating. For me, alas, Duck, You Sucker is dull and excessive. Beyond the interminable running time, the film is built around a ridiculous performance by Rod Steiger, who is not only absurdly miscast as a Mexican revolutionary/robber but also can’t seem to decide whether he’s in a campy comedy or a dour drama. Flailing his hands like he’s spoofing Latinos, barking dialogue as if he’s playing to the cheap seats, and swaggering like he’s the biggest stud south of the border, Steiger is a cartoon from start to finish. Even though he has a few incisive moments, pantomiming in scenes when his character can’t (or won’t) find the right words, he’s exhausting to watch.
Steiger’s costar, James Coburn, fares somewhat better in the movie’s other leading role. Playing an Irish saboteur hiding out in Mexico, Coburn is smoothly sociopathic, wearing a duster lined with sticks of dynamite as well as a canteen filled with nitro. Since Coburn plays a man haunted by a betrayal that happened back in his homeland (the details of which are revealed in flashbacks), the actor gets to portray a character instead of a caricature. He’s not exactly dimensional, per se, but he’s a hell of a lot easier to take than Steiger.
And what about the story, you might ask? Well, if you’ve been down the spaghetti-Western road before, you already know the story is irrelevant—true to the genre’s norms, the narrative of Duck, You Sucker is alternately bewildering and idiotic. The gist is that after Steiger’s character cajoles Coburn’s character into helping with a robbery, they get enmeshed in a revolution—the familiar reluctant-antiheroes routine. However, the narrative is secondary to the style of the piece, since Leone unleashes all of his razzle-dazzle gimmicks—outlandish plot twists, sweaty close-ups, tricky tracking shots, visual jokes, and so on. Therefore, how much you enjoy this picture depends entirely on your appetite for Leone’s comic-book silliness.
Duck, You Sucker: FUNKY