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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Spaghetti Western > Politics > Italy > The Sergio Leone Anthology (A Fistful Of Dollars/For A Few Dollars More/The Good, The Bad And The Ugly/Duck, You Sucker aka A Fistful Of Dynamite aka Once Upon A Time… The Revolution – MGM DVD Set)

The Sergio Leone Anthology (A Fistful Of Dollars/For A Few Dollars More/The Good, The Bad And The Ugly/Duck, You Sucker aka A Fistful Of Dynamite aka Once Upon A Time… The Revolution – MGM)


Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Films:



A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) B


For A Few Dollars More (1965) B


The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966) B+


Duck, You Sucker aka A Fistful Of Dynamite aka Once Upon A Time… Revolution (1972) A



Sergio Leone only made nine films in his lifetime, but six of them are classics and five of them established the cycle known as Spaghetti Westerns.  His first five films between 1964 through 1972 changed The Western with its ironic & comical cynicism, innovations in scoring with music & sound effects and started the now-long tradition of filmmakers referencing many previous films expecting the audience rot know at least some of the moments as everything from in-jokes to weighty referential intertextual points.


Making a mint on the James Bond films, United Artists was very interested in finding another series that would go over well with audiences, possibly an import with something exciting to offer that was not art cinema.  The result was the purchasing of the rights to the now-famous Man With No Name trilogy.  They turned longtime character actor Clint Eastwood into an international star and made Leone one of the most influential filmmakers of all time.


Already in the throws of its last great era, The Hollywood Western and Western genre had entered the epic Professional stage where all the characters (alone or more often in groups of some kind) were all in it for the money.  This resonated highly with the counterculture and these films started to become hits just as that broke out.  The instincts of the studio’s creative people had been correct yet again.


A Fistful Of Dollars could not have a more honest title, introducing the mysterious dirty cowboy figure Eastwood would make iconic (called “Joe” here).  A remake of sorts of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, Leone and company took the fun, excitement and love of Hollywood Westerns and remade/reworked them into this story which in many ways recreates the whole world history of the genre in order to open it up, deconstruct the conventions and reopen it up in a more honest, self-reflective, gritty and amusing way.  The predictable (dialogue, meetings, gunfights) suddenly offer new twists or raise expectations for more brutal, rawer versions of scenes we have seen in the genre before like gun and bar fights.


At the time, Westerns were so saturated in films and TV, plus much more popular at the time, that many were stunned by the way Leone had trumped the whole genre in one film.  A huge international hit was the result.  Rough for its time, Eastwood’s gun for hire character finds himself in the middle of a land/family feud and will help the one who pays him the most to annihilate the other.  Of course, nothing is going to be that simple and he knows it.  With music by Ennio Morricone, a legendary collaboration was also established and the rest is history.


For A Few Dollars More soon followed, pitting The Man With No Name against two more formidable opponents in lawman Colonel Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) and thief extraordinaire El Indio (Gian Maria Volonte) who are in a cat and mouse situation.  That is until our anti-hero sees an opportunity to make even more money.  These two films so explicitly and coldly dealt with the ideas of life and death greed that they instantly aged most Westerns that came before them.  Leone also understood that The Western began as B-movie material before evolving into a full-fledged genre and knew how to run with that.


Both are included here in DVD double sets that had been released in the U.K. for a few years now.  When MGM was sold to a consortium, the release of those sets was delayed for quite a while in the U.S., but The Good, The Bad And The Ugly did get a fancy release on its own on bo0ht sides of the Atlantic and here is our coverage of that set:





After the success of that trilogy, Leone made what he thought would be his final Western, inspired in part by Nicholas Ray’s Western masterwork Johnny Guitar.  Once Upon A Time In The West (1968) broke away form much of the explicit humor to tell a darker, more serious tale of The West on an epic scale that raised (along with Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch in 1969) The Western to a new epic high that few film since have matched.  We have previously reviewed that classic on DVD too.




Once Upon A Time In The West: Special Edition




That was the best film yet and Leone was so satisfied that he intended to conclude his Westerns there, only producing the next one.  Eventually, however, he would direct the film that became known under several titles:  Duck, You Sucker aka A Fistful Of Dynamite aka Once Upon A Time… The Revolution.  Suddenly, he had big name stars like Rod Steiger and James Coburn as his co-stars.  Steiger is a poor peasant guy with little to lose who takes advantage of any opportunity he can and is in the middle of some peculiar changes when explosions suddenly go off.


Instead of just military bombs of some kind, it turns out to be Coburn as an explosives expert an Irish revolutionary hell bent on swinging the Mexican Revolution his way.  More than just another Professional Western, it deconstructs that cycle of Westerns and is Leone’s bold anti-Socialist epic.  That makes it a far more complex film that the predecessors, though it also brings back the humor of the earlier Eastwood films.  This time, that humor is tainted with the deepest of irony, especially when the ugliest possible things happen in the film.


With the decline of The Western soon ahead, John Wayne’s career in the twilight and both Eastwood & Walter Hill the last key filmmakers of Westerns of any consequence, it was all downhill for the genre from here.  Though Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves is an epic, calling it a Western is a bit of a stretch.  The one film that did attempt to be a massive epic Western and possibly a rebuttal to Leone’s work (at least to some extent) is Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, finally released in 1980 after many delays to disastrous business and confused critical response.  That was the original UA’s last film, ironically, before going bankrupt and MGM is due to reissue that restored soon as well on DVD and Blu-ray.  More on that classic then.


All four of these films were shot in 2-perf Techniscope, an inexpensive, effective Italian imitator of CinemaScope/Panavision that offered less distortion at the cost of some definition.  Previous versions looked terrible and very grainy in all previous video formats and on the early DVDs MGM issued, but the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on these four films is colorful, exemplary, clean, clear and even rich.  Technicolor in Italy invented Techniscope and all the films here were originally issued in remarkable 3-strip Technicolor prints.  The color in all four films has its moments of looking that good, even down to the 20 minutes added to Duck, You Sucker.


All originally monophonic films, MGM has upgraded the films to Dolby Digital 5.1 and though you can hear how thin the original recordings (almost all totally featuring looped dialogue throughout as was the case with most post-WWII Italian productions), the remixes are good if not great.  The Morricone scores are enduring and where recorded in stereo, have been added that way.  The combination is impressive no all four films, which I can say even after seeing The Good, The Bad And The Ugly in a restored print.  The sound was upgraded a while ago with older Dolby Digital standards.  When the high definition Blu-ray versions arrive, they will have DTS HD 5.1 mixes and hopefully, MGM will have spent some more time and money to upgrade those mixes for the format to go with the beautiful transfers.  DTS was on all three DVD sets of The Man With No Name sets in their U.K. release, but there is no DTS in any case here.


Extras are massive here.  They are as follows for each set:


A Fistful Of Dollars: Collector's Edition offers feature commentary by Film Historian Sir Christopher Frayling, A New Kind Of Hero featurette, A Few Weeks In Spain with Clint Eastwood On The Experience Of Making The Film, Tre Voci: Three Friends Remember Sergio Leone, Not Ready For Primetime: renowned and groundbreaking Western filmmaker Monte Hellman discusses the television broadcast of A Fistful Of Dollars & The Network Prologue With Harry Dean Stanton, Location Comparisons Then To Now: Film Clips With Current Footage Of The Locations Used, 10 Radio Spots and a Double-Bill Trailer for the first two films in reissue.


For A Few Dollars More: Collector's Edition offers another excellent, thoroughly researched audio commentary by Noted Film Historian Sir Christopher Frayling, A New Standard: Sir Christopher Frayling On For A Few Dollars More, Back For More: Clint Eastwood Remembers For A Few Dollars More, For A Few Dollars More: The Original American Release Version Comparison featurette, Location Comparisons Then To Now: film clips intercut with current footage of the locations used, 12 Radio Spots and the original theatrical trailer.


The Good, The Bad And The Ugly repeats the previously reviewed DVD set including audio commentary by film historian Richard Schickel, deleted scenes, Leone's West Making-Of Documentary, The Leone Style Documentary on Sergio Leone, The Man Who Lost The Civil War Civil War Documentary, Reconstructing The Good, The Bad And The Ugly featurette On Composer Ennio Morricone, poster gallery and original theatrical trailer


Duck, You Sucker offers another amazing audio commentary by Sir Christopher Frayling, Sergio Donate Remembers Duck, You Sucker featurette, The Myth Of Revolution: Sir Christopher Frayling Discusses Leone's Political Leanings, His Method And His Style, Once Upon A Time In Italy (AKA: The Autry Exhibition): A Behind-The-Scenes Look At Putting Together An Exhibit On Leone, Sorting Out The Versions featurette, Restoration Italian Style: John Kirk Discusses Restoring The Original Italian Version For The First DVD Release, Location Comparisons Then To Now: Film Clips Intercut with Current Footage Of The Locations Used, 6 Radio Spots and the original theatrical trailer.


This is a key must-have DVD collection all serious collectors should own.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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