Written by: Michael Den Boer on June 14th, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, 1971
Director: Sergio Leone
Writers: Sergio Leone, Sergio Donati, Luciano Vincenzoni
Cast: James Coburn, Rod Steiger, Romolo Valli
DVD released: July 21st, 2003
Approximate running time: 147 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English, Dolby Digital Mono French, Dolby Digital Mono German
Subtitles: French, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Danish, Portuguese, Greek
DVD Release: MGM (England)
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: $20.95
“The Revolution is not a social dinner, a literary event, a drawing or embroidery; it cannot be done with…elegance and courtesy. The revolution is an act of violence….” – Mao Tse-Tung
A Fistful of Dynamite opens with the iconic image of Juan Miranda as he pisses on an ant hill. Set during the Mexican revolution of 1913, the film continues with a stagecoach of passengers who racist remarks set the tone for the film. At first, we are lead to believe that Juan Miranda is a harmless bandit, until we are introduced to his family of bandits who steal, kill, and rape whoever gets in their way. When Miranda meets Sean Mallory, he is inspired to rob Banco Nacional De Mesa Verde with the help of Mallory, an Irish terrorist, whose expertise in dynamite sets the plan in motion. The first of a series of flashbacks in the films shows Mallory, his friend and a girl driving through the countryside. At first Miranda has trouble convincing Mallory to help him rob the Banco Nacional De Mesa Verde. Soon after Miranda blackmails Sean they become partners until Sean gives him the slip. The story transforms into a much darker story once Miranda and his family arrive at De Mesa Verde with executions in the street.
The second of Sean’s flashbacks take place in a pub, and Sean’s Friend is handing out flyers to the IRA members. Reunited Miranda and Mallory blast their way into De Mesa Verde only to discover that it isn’t a bank anymore but a prison for political prisoners. Miranda becomes a hero to the people for freeing the prisoners. With nowhere to go Miranda and Mallory repel the enemy as they approach. When they go back to the cave after forcing the enemy to retreat they walk into a mass grave as everyone including Miranda’s whole family had been slaughtered. Leone’s camera examines the carnage as the faces of the victims are shown for the last time. Dr. Villega now in enemy custody is asked to identify his fellow conspirators. Mallory, in the crowd, watches the events unfold. He sees Dr. Villega sitting with Col. Gunther Ruiz. This sets off Mallory’s third flashback in which his friend has turned him in. After Mallory helps Miranda escape they decide that they should send a locomotive loaded with dynamite to crash into the approaching train. In the fourth flashback Mallory is forced to kill his friend. After the trains collide a battle ensues. In the battle, Mallory is shot in the back. Mallory would have the last say as he ignites one final blast.
A Fistful of Dynamite has been released under several alternate titles since its initial theatrical release. The film’s Italian language title is Giù la testa and the English translation of this title is Keep Your Head Down. Other titles that this film has been released under include, Duck You Sucker and Once Upon a Time… the Revolution.
Besides being released under several different titles, this film has also been released in versions which censored Sergio Leone’s original vision. The original U.S. theatrical release removed thirty-seven minutes and it’s running time was two hours.
A Fistful of Dynamite is the odd man out in Sergio Leone’s legacy of films. With his Man with no Name trilogy with a then unknown Clint Eastwood, being the film’s that would launch them both into international fame, followed by his masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West.
Giù la testa or as we now know it, A Fistful of Dynamite began as a film that Sergio Leone originally intended to produce. And as the film evolved, he would be forced to take on a larger creative role once he became the film’s director.
Content wise, this film greatly differs from his previous four films which preceded this film. The film’s narrative has two distinctive halves. With the first half of the film featuring a lighter than the second half of the film which takes on a darker, political tone.
The cast are all exceptional in their respective roles. With the inspired casting of Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night, The Last Days of Mussolini) in the role Juan Miranda being this film’s standout performance. Other notable performances include, Romolo Valli (What?, Conversation Piece) in the role of Dr. Villega, a revolutionary who betrayal plays an integral role in the film’s finale and James Coburn (Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid) in the role of John H. Mallory, an explosives expert who was forced to flee Ireland, after a friend betrays him.
Sergio Leone’s direction is masterful and once again, Ennio Morricone provides an evocative score that perfectly captures the mood. Redemption, play a large role in the story at hand and some of this most powerful moments are related to moments of self-reflection that involves regret. Another strength of this film is Sergio Leone’s use of flashback sequences, most notably the flashback in the film’s finale.
The Anamorphic 2:35:1 widescreen transfer is exceptional. The picture is sharp throughout, and the colors are bold and consistent throughout with no sign of compression artifacts. This DVD looks remarkable.
Three audio options are present on this DVD: English Dolby Digital 2.0, German Dolby Digital 2.0, French Dolby Digital 2.0, I chose to watch the film in English since no English subs are provided, and it is my native language. Subtitles are available for the following languages French, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Danish, Portuguese, and Greek. The English audio track is clear and presented no problems.
Extras is the one department where this DVD is lacking. All you get is the films original trailer. MGM has delivered a good DVD, but there is still room for improvement with the lack of extras. When all is said and done I am just happy to have A Fistful of Dynamite on DVD. It should be noted that this version of A Fistful of Dynamite is the most complete English language version to date. It is just missing the final flashback scene. Overall if you are a fan of Sergio Leone, and epic films I highly recommend this film.