Quentin Tarantino’s is an admitted huge fan of the late Italian director Sergio Leone and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was a title that paid a nod to the his Once Upon trilogy….at least it would have been a trilogy if A Fistful of Dynamite had gone be its French title, ‘Once Upon a time…….The Revolution!’ In fact this was one of several titles that the film had with its intended title being ,‘Duck, You Sucker’ being one that Leone for some reason thought was a commonly used phrase but in the end A Fistful of Dynamite was used to cash in on the directors huge success of his spaghetti westerns that started with A Fistful of Dollars that made Clint Eastwood a star.
Starring acting giants Rod Steiger as an amoral peasant turned outlaw and James Coburn as a dynamite tossing Irish revolutionary who has fled to Mexico after becoming a fugitive in his own country. Together they’re a devilishly volatile mix of anti-establishment philosophies and violent tendencies as they attempt to liberate political prisoners, defend their compatriots against a well equipped militia and risk their lives on a train filled with explosives.
Leone was only 60 when he died having made only a handful of films and A Fistful of Dynamite in 1971 would be his penultimate film with his last film, ‘ Once Upon a time in America’ appearing 13 years later in 1984. His films became increasingly longer and epic in proportions and A Fistful of Dynamite was no different and featured all his usual trademarks – lengthy, speechless set pieces, stunningly complicated tracking shots and a score by Ennio Morricone and continued his fascination with mythic and cynical stories about bad guys made good. More commonly known for his spaghetti westerns this was what would become part of what were coined as Zapata westerns set as it was in Mexico. But it had a whole lot more that that with Leone opening the film in one similar to The Wild Bunch but as a riposte had Steiger literally urinating over it. The director, himself a socialist, had been in Italy when politically things were growing increasingly violent with protests and bombs going off in Rome and A Fistful of Dynamite could be seen as a rage against Imperialism in a time when Vietnam was fresh in everyone’s minds.
Steiger and Leone’s relationship on set was a prickly one. Unable to speak English Leone would convey his direction by third parties and Steiger grew increasingly irritated and one day just stormed off set and drove back to his hotel. He was hardly a fan of the ‘Duck you Sucker’ title either and campaigned to have it changed but when A Fistful of Dynamite was released to acclaim he was vocal in his praise of Leone.
It’s a stunning and spectacular film often overlooked and in the shade of Leone’s masterpiece ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ and this was almost as good having got bigger in scale again with Leone’s script ultimately containing more stage direction than scripted lines and with the film’s storyboard all in his mind when he came to location as he staged his set pieces and orchestrated complex camera shots and it’s little surprise that so many Hollywood directors revered his films.
A Fistful of Dynamite makes its UK Blu ray debut and is an essential addition to any Sergio Leone collection. A transfer from the 2009 2K restoration this has a load of decent bonus features some of which go into great depth and perhaps over analyse Leone’s possible subtext but there are two great commentary’s by film maker Alex Cox and film historian Sir Christopher Fraying both of which are really insightful. Perhaps unfairly forgotten in light of his other films but A Fistful of Dynamite is well worth a revisit.
Here’s the trailer for A Fistful of Dynamite…….
A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE IS AVAILABLE ON BLU RAY ON 9th DECEMBER 2019