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Once Upon a Time -- the Revolution 
A Fistful of Dynamite
(Duck, You Sucker)

directed by Sergio Leone
with Rod Steiger, James Coburn

Once upon a simpler time, Sergio Leone set out to make a trilogy of films that would be thematically related -- the "Once Upon a Time" films; many people aren't aware of this, even if they know Leone's work.

This film (according to usually-reliable sources), shot under the working title "Once Upon a Time -- The Revolution", was the second of the three (between "...in the West" and "...in America".

While it mostly eschews the heavier-handed Messages of the other two, still not everything in this film is surface -- there is subtext in the relationship between the Mexican peasant bankrobber and the fugitive Irish explosives expert.

Leone sets the theme early, opening the film with a quote from Mao:

The revolution is not a social dinner, a literary event, a drawing or an embroidery; it cannot be done with elegance and courtesy.
The revolution is an act of violence.

Rod Steiger (in my second-favourite of his roles) as Juan, the apolitical bank robber drawn into the Mexican Revolution very much against his better judgement and James Coburn, travelling through Mexico by motorcycle carrying enough dynamite and nitro under his long duster to redraw the maps if he's shot, both appear to have had a ball making this film.

In the elliptical way that Leone often approaches things, this film is the story of the redemption of a man who has given up on himself -- the cynical Irish fugitive begins to realise that, despite his claim that "...in the end, all I believe in is dynamite", he DOES care what happens to "the little people" and that he is willing to fight and die for them. And it is the story of the radicalisation of a non-political non-intellectual as he is forced to see, first-hand, the abuses of the system and the casual mistreatment of the common man that he has managed to avoid looking at so far.

And it ends with the question that anyyone who actually thinks must ask, if only rhetorically, when others can no longer guide and protect us and we must fly or fall, sink or swim on our own merits.. -- "But what about me?"

And, as always, Leone's masterful portrayal of conflict, confrontation and violence, physical and moral, is evident -- particularly the scene in which the bandit and the Irishman set out on their own to stop an armoured cavalry column that is pursuing the fleeing revolutionaries, or the confrontation on a locomotive loaded with explosives between the Irishman and a leader of the Revolution who (known only to the Irishman) has cracked under pressure and caused the deaths of men from his cadre...

The Morricone score, of course, is wonderful -- particularly the sly little quotes from "A Little Night Music" in the middle of something else entirely.

(I have read that the bridge sequence was the single largest full-scale demolitions sequence ever staged for a film; i can believe it.)

The two-DVD set is excellent, with a lot of special features.