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Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Sergio Leone’s penultimate film has long played odd-man-out on his short C.V., but the DVD restoration earns it a place alongside the master’s Spaghetti Westerns. (It easily bests the problematic ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA/’84.) Don’t be put off by the dreadful title or by Leone’s apparent disinterest in the pic’s opening reels which detail Rod Steiger’s painfully inauthentic Mexican peasant whose band of family & ‘have-nots’ rob the ‘haves’ while political revolutions roil about them. The film comes together with the appearance of James Coburn’s disillusioned Irish revolutionary. He’s a demolitions expert out to ply the silver mines, but he quickly forms a wary partnership with Steiger’s bandito. Then, when a botched bank heist unexpectedly makes Steiger a reluctant revolutionary hero, the tone of the film darkens and Leone’s theme comes into focus: ‘Revolution? Phooey!’ Leone didn’t plan on directing this one, but he smartly navigates a mix of legend, commerce & political expedience like a third Taviani brother. The scale of the film escalates to epic proportions, with mind-numbing feats of directorial logistics which play in uneasy equilibrium with more intimate scenes. Leone can’t quite parse Coburn’s complicated Irish backstory, part JULES AND JIM and part MICHAEL COLLINS, but it’s a small price to pay for so much magnificence.

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