<< back to archives

Shock Corridor Cinema Presents: Sergio Leone's A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE (1972)

Tue. August 10th 2004 9pm
(1972; english language version; 130 min).

For Sergio Leone, making films wasn't a job � it was a god-like calling to which he was enslaved. And once you appreciate A Fistful of Dynamite from this perspective, it should be promoted into the pantheon of great cinema, for despite its roughness, it is without question, �the best, and the most comic, of Leone's journeys about the American west, it deserves serious consideration�
--Tom Ryan Lumiere, 1973

"Number Two on my greatest films of all time list"
--John Zorn

While the Western genre has witnessed many transformations over its extensive run in American cinema, Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone's contributions may be the sole reason it survived throughout the 1960s, and discovered a more progressive place within the violent (cinematically speaking) decade of the 1970s. His 'Dollar' Trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good The Bad and The Ugly; 1964-1966) are viewed today as the consummate films of the genre, highlighted by an outsiders vision of the unlawful American West that both, made Clint Eastwood a star and injected camp into a genre that had previously been coded by the conservative stoicism of such filmmakers as John Ford. What separates Leone's films from his predecessors is while traditional Westerns coded outsiders as Others to be feared (often Natives and Mexicans were viewed as upsetting the "puritan" position of American identity) Leone's films illustrate a great deal of sympathy for both the outsider and the law's treatment of those who do not conform. It was Leone's penchant for violent payback that would spawn the more graphic films of the genre, mainly those produced by Sam Peckinpah's (The Wild Bunch (1969) and Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid (1973)).

Screened in tonite's program is Leone's most underappreciated film A Fistful of Dynamite. This film is Leone's follow up to his infamous Dollar Trilogy, and would stand as the second film in his second trilogy comprised of Once Upon A Time in the West and Once Upon A Time in America - a cycle that would take 10+ years to complete. While Once Upon a Time in the West is considered his opus, a grandiose epic reflecting the tradition of John Ford more than the spaghetti Western genre Leone single handedly exported to American theaters, A Fistful of Dynamite is perhaps Leone's most enjoyable film, blending the humour and camp elements of his 1960s Dollar Trilogy with a brash subversive bent not yet seen in any of his films. Rod Steiger plays a former IRA member (and explosives expert) who, in a role that would have previously been reserved for Clint Eastwood, is enlisted by a feisty Mexican (played by James Coburn) for a cash raid. Through primitive buddy-flic charm they inadvertently get involved in the Mexican Revolution, Steiger's dynamite becoming the leverage they need to help the Mexicans overcome their oppression. The charm of this film is not located in its simple plot line but the signature stylistic features of Leone's representations. Quirky close-ups, wide angle landscapes and the use of setting as a character constantly amplify the action sequences, prompting the hook of the film - Steiger's creative use of dynamite - to become one of the most memorable gimmicks of 1970s cinema (it may be up there with Leatherface's Chainsaw). Ennio Morricone (Leone's mainstay composer) provides what is no doubt his greatest score for a Western film, perhaps beyond, as he beautifully employs orchestration, pop and campy 60s style vocals to penetrate as well as comment on the action.