Written by: Michael Den Boer on May 24th, 2012
Theatrical Release Dates: Italy, 1972 (The Grand Duel), Italy, 1976 (Keoma)
Directors: Giancarlo Santi (The Grand Duel), Enzo G. Castellari (Kemoa)
Writers: Ernesto Gastaldi (The Grand Duel), Enzo G. Castellari, Nico Ducci, George Eastman, Mino Roli, Joshua Sinclair (Keoma)
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Alberto Dentice, Jess Hahn, Horst Frank, Klaus Grünberg, Antonio Casale, Marc Mazza, Dominique Darel, Alessandra Cardini, Gastone Pescucci, Elvira Cortese, Anna Maria Gherardi (The Grand Duel), Franco Nero, William Berger, Olga Karlatos, Orso Maria Guerrini, Gabriella Giacobbe, Antonio Marsina, Joshua Sinclair, Donald O’Brien, Leonardo Scavino, Wolfango Soldati, Victoria Zinny, Alfio Caltabiano, Woody Strode (Keoma)
BluRay released: May 15th, 2012
Approximate running times: 94 minutes (The Grand Duel), 101 minutes (Keoma)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive (Both Films)
Sound: DTS-HD Mono English (Both Films)
BluRay Release: Mill Creek Entertainment
Region Coding: A
Retail Price: $9.98
The Grand Duel: Philipp Wermeer is man who has been wrongly accused of killing old man Saxon. Now he is on the urn from the law and Saxon family who are hell bent on seeing him hang. Clayton (Lee Van Cleef) is a former sheriff who was there the evening old man Saxon died and he knows the real identity of the killer. Reluctant at first Philipp Wermeer joins forces with Clayton in quest to clear his name and find the truth behind his own fathers’ murder.
The Grand Duel has been release under various names and with different time lengths (the title card used for this release is ‘The Big Showdown’). And though this release is four minutes shorter than the 98 minute length listed on the IMDB. It is still a longer cut of the film then what was used for the Wild East DVD release. Also this release contains the scene where one of the Saxon’s, who is dressed in a white suit shoots a defenseless old man in the street. The old man then rubs his bloody hand on the white suit. This scene ends rather abruptly on the Wild East DVD.
Lee Van Cleef often played heavies and this time around he is given the chance to play a more straight forward character that is all about justice. From the opening moments of the film Lee Van Cleef owns this character as he was calm, cool and collected through out a town filled with bounty hunters. Outside of one of Lee Van Cleef’s finest performances the rest of the acting is average at best. The action sequences are violent and bloody something that had all but disappeared from spaghetti westerns being made around the same time as this film.
For a first time director Giancarlo Santi masterfully handles the spaghetti western genre. Ernesto Gastaldi’s screenplay manages to balance all the spaghetti western genre clichés while adding a few new into the mix. The story is meticulously plotted and we are given an ample amount of time to get to know the lead characters. Luis Enríquez Bacalov score is nothing short of brilliant and the films main theme is one of the most memorable pieces ever used in any spaghetti western. It is so mesmerizing and haunting that Quentin Tarantino used it in his film Kill Bill volume 1. Overall The Grand Duel is one the last great spaghetti westerns to emerge before the genre finally called it a day.
Keoma was co-written and directed by Enzo G. Castellari, who’s other notable films include Street Law, High Crime and The Inglorious Bastards. Key collaborators on Keoma include cinematographer Aiace Parolin (Seduced and Abandoned, Baba Yaga), composers Guido De Angelis and Maurizio De Angelis (Torso, Alien 2: On Earth) and screenwriter George Eastman (Rabid Dogs, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead).
Like most of his contemporaries Enzo G. Castellari ‘cut his teeth’ as a director working in the Spaghetti western genre. With the first five films that he directed being within this genre, the most notable of these films being, Any Gun Can Play. Years later he would return to the genre three more times, Father Jackleg, Cipolla Colt and Keoma. The latter two were in line with the Spaghetti western / Comedy hybrids that rose to prominence in the early 1970’s, while Keoma is unlike any other Spaghetti western that had come before or since its release.
If just viewed for what is on the surface, Keoma’s plot is fairly routine. And yet the end result is something that greatly transcends its anemic plot and one dimensional characters. Fortunately all the short comings of the plot are quickly forgotten due to the film’s tremendous amount of atmosphere and the way in which it puts a existential take on this genres familiar themes.
From a action stand point this films does not miss a beat and when compared to other Spaghetti westerns this film is easily near the top when it comes to violent set pieces. As mentioned before there is never a shortage of atmosphere in this film. Whether it be this film’s use of flashback’s and juxtaposition of images, this film’s visuals are pitch perfect throughout. If any area of this film is lacking, that honor would go to this film most unusual score.
Reportedly the screenplay for this film was made up as they went and while that could have spelled disaster for most films. That is unless those hypothetical films did not have a leading man like ever reliable and charismatic Franco Nero (Django, The Mercenary) in the role of this film’s ‘Jesus Christ’ like protagonist Keoma. Other notable performances include William Berger (Face to Face, 5 Dolls for an August Moon) in the role of the man who raised Keoma after his family had been slaughtered and Olga Karlatos (Zombie, Murder Rock) in the role of Lisa, a woman that is befriended by Keoma, after she is accused of having the plague.
The Grand Duel and Keoma come on a 50 GB (40.4 GB) dual layer BluRay. Both films is presented in a 1080 progressive anamorphic widescreen. Of the two transfers, The Grand Duel is the biggest leap in quality, when compared to its previous home video incarnations. Colors look nicely saturated, black and contrast levels look consistently good throughout and details look crisp. Also there is a thick layer of grain that is present throughout the transfer.
Though the transfer for Keoma is not far behind The Grand Duel quality wise. It should be noted that this transfer has a grain structure that has been cropping up in numerous Italian films that have been getting BluRay releases over the last few years.
Each film comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD Mono mix English. The audio sounds clean, clear and balanced throughout. Range wise both audio mixes are rather limited and this is to be expected considering the limitations of their mono sources.
Extras for this release are limited to English language trailers for each film. Overall despite the short comings of these transfers, it is hard to pass up this release when you factor in its more than reasonable suggested retail price.
Note: Screenshots 1,2,3 and 6 are taken from The Grand Duel, while screenshots 4,5 and 7 are taken from Keoma.