Tag Archives: james coburn

Duck, You Sucker! – Review

3 Oct

Sergio Leone had a really incredible film making career, even if he didn’t create as much as some other very fine film makers. It’s impossible to ignore how A Fistful of DollarsFor a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly made a huge impact on the aesthetics of a movie, the western genre, and pop culture as a whole. Leone’s next foray into film happened in 1968 with another classic, Once Upon a Time in the West. Finally, his last piece of work, and arguably his most ambitious, was the gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America. Aren’t these all unmistakable classics? But wait. What’s that movie hiding in between West and America? Why, it’s a pretty unknown movie that has one of the most incredible titles ever. This is, of course, his 1972 film Duck, You Sucker!. Upon its release, this movie got very little attention and bombed in the United States. It hasn’t really fared much better, and is still Leone’s most unknown film, besides maybe The Colossus at Rhodes. Does this movie deserve to be overlooked? Not at all, but it is Leone’s weakest work in the western genre.

In the midst of the Mexican Revolution, people have to do whatever they can to survive. Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) is a bandit who, along with his family, robs from the wealthy who are making their living off the violence of the revolution. After a successful robbery of a stagecoach, Juan runs into John Mallory (James Coburn), and IRA explosives specialist exiled overseas after a heavy betrayal. Despite being at odds with one another, John is wooed by Juan’s idea to rob the Mesa Verde National Bank. The job seems to go off without a hitch, but things at the bank are not what they seem and the actions of Juan and John plunge them deeper into the world of the revolution. Now on the run from the sadistic Col. Reza (Antoine Saint-John), Juan and John are forced to join up with revolutionaries and help them fight while also reevaluating their own beliefs and moral code.

Sergio Leone is a classic example of an epic film maker. He never shied away from making a movie as grand as he possibly could. Duck, You Sucker! is no exception. This is huge movie with great set pieces and over the top action sequences that seem to span an entire country. It has the look I’ve come to expect from a Leone movie, which is surprising as to why this one gets so overlooked. There’s a really exciting scene at a bridge where the Mexican army is trying to cross, but John and Juan pick them off using machine guns and dynamite. It was explosive and exciting, and those are the reasons to watch this movie. The idea of having this story set within the Mexican Revolution is also interesting and makes for more epic scenes. Leone stated that he was not trying to offer any political statement, and I agree. It clearly is just showing the horrors of conflict and the effects it can have on the people of that country, especially in a more lower class environment. This makes for an interesting bridge between his more classic Once Upon a Time in the West and his more thoughtful effort with Once Upon a Time in America.

There is something that is severely lacking in this movie that is always ever present in Sergio Leone’s best movies. That is the dynamic between good and evil. We see an interesting arc with Juan where his character completely changes his ways, and that’s one of the better parts of Duck, You Sucker!. Unfortunately, Juan and John just aren’t the most exciting heroes, and don’t even come close to matching the Man With No Name. Col. Reza is also a sorry excuse for a villain. He’s in the movie for a matter of minutes and has no real impact until the very end. Remember the showdowns in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West? Those were outstanding climaxes that featured larger than life representations of good versus evil. Duck, You Sucker! certainly tries to keep that level of energy, but it just doesn’t quite make it. The arcs of the characters are much better than the characters themselves.

Something you can always count on with these movies however is that they are going to look superb. Duck, You Sucker! has sweeping cinematography of the landscapes that is juxtaposed with the traditional Leone close ups and zooms. Leone knew how to capitalize on the actors’ faces and expressions over dialogue, which is why some of his best scenes just feature the actors using their faces to speak. All of this works in tandem with Ennio Morricone’s always excellent score. Comparing this score to some of his others he did for Leone probably isn’t the best way to go about it, but I’m going to do it anyway. This isn’t one of his strongest and it doesn’t really stay in my head like the others. That being said, while the movies on it heightens the drama and the action considerably which is just what these musical pieces are supposed to do.

Duck, You Sucker! is far from being Sergio Leone’s best film, but it’s still a testament to his larger than life and highly artistic film making. It’s story shows an evolution from his simple drifter swoops in to save the day kind of stories and more to an internationally aware tale that showcases morality and change. The characters aren’t as exciting as I would have liked them to be, and a lot of this has to do with a lackluster villain. Still, Sergio Leone’s film making and Ennio Morricone’s music is more than enough for any fan of movies to check out this little known entry in Leone’s filmography.

Final Grade: B+

Advertisements

The Great Escape – Review

18 Sep

At this point in time, I can honestly say that most people have heard of or can identify The Great Escape in some way. This 1963 World War II epic adventure film wasn’t received by critics well at all. They all said that the film lacked any kinds of artistic credit or skill, but what they failed to realize is that The Great Escape is just pure entertainment. In the 52 years since its release, the film has garnered classic status, and rightfully so. This film is an American achievement of pure fun and entertainment, while also offering plenty of suspense, character, and story telling.

MV5BMjI2MTQwNDI3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDk4MTkzNA@@._V1_SX640_SY720_

In 1943, after repeated escape attempts from British and American POWs, Nazi Germany decides to build a new camp, Stalag Luft III, which is designed to keep the most disruptive and tricky prisoners in one spot. This might’ve seemed like a good idea on paper, but it also brings all of the brilliant minds together. Some of these minds include Americans Robert Hendley (James Garner) and Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen). When British Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenborough) is admitted into the camp, a brilliant and complicated plan to escape involving multiple systems of tunnels is devised. It’s all a difficult procedure, especially keeping it hidden from the guards, but the plan soon becomes deadly when the escapees have to travel through Germany and Paris to get home.

The first time I saw this movie I was probably 11 or 12, so the grandiosity of the whole production wasn’t fully appreciated. I enjoyed the movie, but now I can truly understand it as something special. What happens when a real life story as incredible as this is turned into a movie with one of the greatest casts ever assembled to act in a story that is impeccably written? Well, you get a movie that has earned its firm and well respected spot in film history. There’s a lot of movies that kind of baffle me why they are loved so much by so many, but The Great Escape is not one of those movies. Throughout the entirety of its nearly 3 hour run time, I was completely involved and entertained.

121654135

As I said earlier, the cast of The Great Escape is one of the best casts you or me or anyone is ever going to see. Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough are always the first mentioned, but the list doesn’t stop there. There’s also James Coburn, James Donald, Donald Pleasence, David McCallum, and Charles Bronson in one of his more under appreciated roles. My personal favorite performances are McQueen’s (because of his boyish excitement towards everything happening), Donald Pleasence’s quiet and ultimately tragic role, and Charles Bronson for showing some weakness even though he’s best known for playing tough guys. While the cast is fantastic, none of this would matter if it didn’t have a screenplay to back it up.

James Clavell and W.R. Burnett took Paul Brickhill’s book of the same name and did something truly remarkable with it. This is a story of American and British POWs breaking out of a Nazi prison camp where the outcome is grim for a lot of them. Even with this heavy subject matter, this is a very light hearted adventure. There’s plenty of moments of humor and a lot of the banter between characters is very funny. Even Elmer Bernstein’s main theme for the film isn’t all that intense. This isn’t to say that there aren’t any scenes that really hits where it hurts. In fact, much of the second half of the movie loses the sense of humor for a more suspenseful and intense tone. This might have made the movie feel uneven in any other circumstances, but it works just fine here.

Simply put, The Great Escape is an achievement of American film making, and proof that an epic war film can still be a lot of fun. Even though the film boasts a three hour run time, I dare anyone to get bored watching this movie. There’s a lot of action, adventure, suspense, and humor mixed in a screenplay filled with memorable scenes played by great actors. I don’t have much more to say about this movie other than this is one of the most fun and well constructed movie you may ever see, and it would be a crime to miss out.