Duck, You Sucker!

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Duck, You Sucker!
(Giù la testa)
American theatrical poster
with the original title.
Directed by Sergio Leone
Produced by Fulvio Morsella
Claudio Mancini
Ugo Tucci
Screenplay by Luciano Vincenzoni
Sergio Donati
Sergio Leone
Roberto De Leonardis
Carlo Tritto
Story by Sergio Donati
Sergio Leone
Starring Rod Steiger
James Coburn
Romolo Valli
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Giuseppe Ruzzolini
Edited by Nino Baragli
Euro International Film
Rafran Cinematografica
San Miura
Distributed by Euro International Film (Italy)
United Artists (United States)
Release dates 29 October 1971 (1971-10-29) (Italy)
Running time 157 minutes
Country Italy
Language Italian

Duck, You Sucker! (Italian: Giù la testa, lit. "Duck Your Head"), also known as A Fistful of Dynamite and Once Upon a Time… the Revolution, is a 1971 Italian epic Zapata Western film directed by Sergio Leone. The film stars Rod Steiger and James Coburn.

It is the second part of a trilogy of epic Leone films including the previous Once Upon a Time in the West and the subsequent Once Upon a Time in America, released thirteen years later. The last western film directed by Leone, it is considered by some to be one of his most overlooked films.[1]


In Revolution-torn 1913 Mexico, Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger), a Mexican outlaw leading a bandit family, robs a coach of wealthy men and rapes a female passenger (Maria Monti) who insulted him. Passing by on a motorcycle is Seán (John) Mallory (James Coburn), an early Irish Republican explosives expert on the run from the British. Discovering his skill with dynamite and nitroglycerine, Juan relentlessly tries to force John to join him on a raid on the Mesa Verde national bank.

John in the meantime has made contact with the revolutionaries and intends to use his explosives in their service. The bank is hit as part of an orchestrated revolutionary attack on the army organized by Doctor Villega (Romolo Valli). Juan, interested only in the money, is shocked to find that the bank has no funds and instead is used by the army as a political prison. John, Juan and his family end up freeing hundreds of prisoners, causing Juan to become a "great, grand, glorious hero of the revolution."

The revolutionaries are chased into the hills by an army detachment led by Colonel Günther Reza (Antoine Saint-John). John and Juan volunteer to stay behind with two machine guns and dynamite. Much of the army's detachment is destroyed while crossing a bridge which is blown to bits by John. Col. Reza, who commands an armoured car, survives. After the battle, John and Juan find most of their comrades, including Juan's father and children, have been killed by the army in a cave. Engulfed with grief and rage, Juan goes out to fight the army singlehanded and is captured. John sneaks into camp, where he witnesses executions of many of his fellow revolutionaries by firing squad. They had been informed on by Dr. Villega, who has been tortured by Col. Reza and his men. This evokes in John memories of a similar betrayal by Nolan (David Warbeck), his best friend in Ireland. Juan faces a firing squad of his own, but John arrives and blows up the wall with dynamite just in time. They escape on John's motorcycle.

John and Juan hide in the animal coach of a train. It stops to pick up the tyrannical Governor Don Jaime (Franco Graziosi), who is fleeing (with a small fortune) from the revolutionary forces belonging to Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. As the train is ambushed, John, as a test of Juan's loyalty, lets him choose between shooting the Governor and accepting a bribe from him. Juan kills Jaime, also stealing the Governor's spoils. As the doors to the coach open, Juan is greeted by a large crowd and again unexpectedly hailed as a great hero of the revolution, the money taken away by revolutionary General Santerna (Rik Battaglia).

On a train with commanders of the revolution, John and Juan are joined by Dr. Villega, who has escaped. John alone knows of Villega's betrayal. They learn that Pancho Villa's forces will be delayed by 24 hours and that an army train carrying 1,000 soldiers and heavy weapons, led by Col. Reza, will be arriving in a few hours, which will surely overpower the rebel position. John suggests they rig a locomotive with dynamite and send it head on. He requires one other man, but instead of picking Juan, who volunteers, he chooses Dr. Villega. It becomes clear to Villega that John knows of the betrayal. John nonetheless pleads with him to jump off the locomotive before it hits the army's train, but Villega feels guilty and stays on board. John jumps in time and the two trains collide, killing Villega and a number of soldiers.

The revolutionaries' ambush is successful, but as John approaches to meet Juan, he is shot in the back by Col. Reza. An enraged Juan riddles the Colonel's body with a machine gun. As John lies dying, he continues to have memories of his best friend, Nolan, and a young woman (Vivienne Chandler) both apparently loved. Nolan's betrayal caused John to kill him. Juan kneels by his side to ask about Dr. Villega. John keeps the doctor's secret and tells Juan that he died a hero of the revolution. As Juan goes to seek help, John, knowing his end is near, sets off a second charge he secretly laid in case the battle went bad. Horrified by his friend's sudden death, Juan stares at John's burning remains, before turning to the camera and asking forlornly, "What about me?"


  • Rod Steiger as Juan Miranda, an amoral Mexican peon leading a band of outlaws mostly composed of his own children. He does not care about the revolution at first, but he's deceived by John into joining it.
  • James Coburn as John H. Mallory, a Fenian revolutionary and explosives expert. Wanted for killing British forces in occupied Ireland, he flees to Mexico where he ends up getting involved in another revolution.
  • Romolo Valli as Dr. Villega, a physician and commander of the revolutionary movement of Mesa Verde.
  • Franco Graziosi as Governor Don Jaime, the corrupt and tyrannical local governor.
  • Antoine Saint-John as Colonel Günther "Gutierez" Reza, a ruthless commander leading a detachment of Federales; the main antagonist of the film.
  • Rik Battaglia as General Santerna, a commander leading the Mexican revolutionary army.
  • Maria Monti as Adelita, a wealthy female passenger on the stagecoach robbed by Juan at the beginning of the film.
  • David Warbeck as Nolan, John's best friend, also an Irish nationalist; appears only in flashbacks.
  • Vivienne Chandler as John's girlfriend; appears only in flashbacks.



Goya's work inspired Giuseppe Ruzzolini's photography for the execution scene.

When Once Upon a Time in the West was released, Leone had said he would not have made another western for some time, because he had grown tired of all the things associated with the genre, such as horses and firearms.[2] In fact, when the project first began Leone didn't intend to direct the picture himself. Peter Bogdanovich, his original choice for director, soon abandoned the film due to perceived lack of control.[3] According to Leone, Sam Peckinpah agreed to direct the film after Bogdanovich's departure, only to be turned down for financial reasons by United Artists. Leone's collaborators Donati and Vincenzoni, noting the director's frequent embellishment of the facts concerning his films, claim that Peckinpah did not even consider it - Donati claimed Peckinpah was "too shrewd to be produced by a fellow director".[3] Leone then recruited his regular assistant director Giancarlo Santi to direct, with Leone supervising proceedings, and Santi was in charge for the first ten days of shooting. However, Coburn and Steiger refused to play their roles unless Leone himself directed, and the producers pressured him into directing the film. He agreed, and Santi was relegated to second unit work.[2]

The inspiration for the firing squad scene came from Francisco Goya, and in particular from his set of prints The Disasters of War. Leone showed the prints to director of photography Giuseppe Ruzzolini in order to get the lighting and colour effects he wanted.[2] The film is believed to have been influenced by Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, and it shares some plot elements with Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, a western also starring Coburn and released a year later.[4]


The role of John Mallory was to be played by Jason Robards, but the studio wanted a bigger name for the lead, so James Coburn was recruited.[3] Clint Eastwood was also approached by Leone for the role, but he saw it as just a different take of the same character he had already played in the Dollars Trilogy, and he also wanted to part with the Italian film industry, so he declined the offer and starred in Hang 'Em High.[5] George Lazenby was then approached to play the role, but he declined. The role of Juan Miranda was written for Eli Wallach, but Wallach had already committed to another project with Jean-Paul Belmondo. After Leone begged Wallach to play the part, he dropped out of the other project and told Leone he would do his film. However, the studio never wanted Wallach; they wanted an actor who had more international appeal, and they already had Rod Steiger signed on by that point. Leone offered no compensation to Wallach, and Wallach subsequently sued.[6] A young Malcolm McDowell, then mostly known for the film if...., was considered for the part of Nolan.[3]


Exterior filming mostly took place in Andalucía, Spain. Some of the locations used previously featured in Leone's Dollar Trilogy films; for example, the Almería Railway Station, used for the train sequence in For a Few Dollars More, returns in this film as Mesa Verde's station.[7] The flashback scenes with Sean and friends were shot at Howth Castle in Co. Dublin, and Toner's Pub on Baggot Street, Dublin.[7]

At first, Leone was dissatisfied with Steiger's performance in that he played his character as a serious, Zapata-like figure, but once Leone explained his mistake they were both content with the result.[2] As filming progressed, Leone modified the script: as he did not originally plan on directing Duck, You Sucker, he thought the script was "conceived for an American filmmaker".[2] Duck, You Sucker! was one of the last mainstream films shot in Techniscope.[8]


Despite the politically charged setting, Duck, You Sucker! was not intended as a political film: Leone himself said that the Mexican Revolution in the film is meant only as a symbol, not as a representation of the real one, and that it was chosen because of its fame and its relationship with cinema, and he contends that the real theme of the film is friendship:[2]

I chose to oppose an intellectual, who has experienced a revolution in Ireland, with a naïve Mexican… you have two men: one naïve and one intellectual (self-centred as intellectuals too often are in the face of the naïve). From there, the film becomes the story of Pygmalion reversed. The simple one teaches the intellectual a lesson. Nature gains an upper hand and finally the intellectual throws away his book of Bakunin's writings. You suspect damn well that this gesture is a symbolic reference to everything my generation has been told in the way of promises. We have waited, but we still are waiting! I have the film say, in effect "Revolution means confusion".

Another theme is amoral non-engagement: Juan is very loyal to his family (consisting of his six children, each from a different mother), but he cannot be trusted by anyone else. He is also very cynical about priests, and he doesn't care about codified law. This relates most closely to those aspects of Southern Italian life observed by Edward Banfield and others.[2]

The film also explores the relationship between Mexican bandits and peasant communities at the time of the revolution, idealised by figures like Juan José Herrera and Elfego Baca, which Leone may have had in mind in his creation of the character of Juan.[2]


The soundtrack of Duck, You Sucker! was composed by Ennio Morricone, who collaborated with Leone in all his previous projects. Elvis Mitchell, former film critic for the New York Times, considered it as one of Morricone's "most glorious and unforgettable scores".[4] He also sees "Invention for John", which plays over the opening credits and is essentially the film's theme, "as epic and truly wondrous as anything Morricone ever did".[4] A CD version was never released in the United States,[4] though many tracks can be found in Morricone's compilation albums. Music was recorded in April 1971 and second recording sessions in August/September 1971. A 35th anniversary OST was issued in 2006 with previously never released recording session and alternate takes.

Release and reaction[edit]


The film was moderately successful in Italy, where it grossed 2 billion lire on its first run.[9]


Duck, You Sucker! failed to gain any substantial recognition from the critics at the time of debut, especially compared to Leone's other films, winning him only a David di Donatello for Best Director. Since then, however, it has received a more favorable reception: On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 90% rating.[10] The Chicago Reader praised it for its "marvellous sense of detail and spectacular effects".[11] The New York Observer argues that Leone's direction, Morricone's score and the leads' performance "ignite an emotional explosion comparable to that of Once Upon a Time in the West". In Mexico, where the film is known as Los Héroes de Mesa Verde, it was refused classification and effectively banned until 1979 because it was considered offensive to the Mexican people and the Revolution.[12]

Release history[edit]

The film was originally released in the United States in 1972 as Duck, You Sucker!, and ran for 121 minutes. Many scenes were cut because they were deemed too violent, profane or politically sensitive, including a quote from Mao Zedong about the nature of revolutions and class struggle.[13] Theatrical prints were generally of poor quality, and the film was marketed as a light-hearted western,[14] not at all as Leone intended it, and it did not succeed in gaining press notice. In part because of this, United Artists reissued the film under the new name of A Fistful of Dynamite, meant to recall the notoriety of A Fistful of Dollars.[14] According to Peter Bogdanovich, the original title Duck, You Sucker! was meant by Leone as a close translation of the Italian title Giù la testa, coglione! (translated: "Duck Your Head, Asshole!"), which he contended to be a common American colloquialism. (The expletive coglione (a vulgar way to say "testicle") was later removed to avoid censorship issues.)[15] One of the working titles, Once Upon a Time… the Revolution,[4] was also used for some European releases.[14]

In 1989, Image Entertainment released the film on laserdisc, including some material cut from the original US version and lasting 138 minutes. This version was released in Europe as Once Upon a Time… the Revolution, again intended to evoke an earlier Leone film, Once Upon a Time in the West.[14]

Subsequent re-releases have largely used the title A Fistful of Dynamite,[16][17] although the DVD appearing in The Sergio Leone Anthology box set, released by MGM in 2007, used the original English language title of Duck, You Sucker!.[18][19]

The film's first English language DVD was released by MGM in the UK in 2003. This version of the film runs 153 minutes and is almost complete although it is unfortunately missing the four-minute long flashback scene at the end. In 2005, following the restoration of Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, MGM re-released the film in the UK with more supplemental material, the aforementioned flashback scene reinstated and with a newly created 5.1 surround soundtrack. The restored version had a brief art house theatrical run in the U.S. and was subsequently released there in a "Collector's Edition" in 2007.[19] The remastered surround tracks have attracted criticism online for the replacement of certain music cues throughout the film (most prominently during the last two flashback scenes and the end credits) and for censoring at least two expletives from the film's soundtrack. Furthermore it's been reported that the mono soundtrack included on the 2007 Collector's Edition is not the original mix, but simply a fold-down of the surround remaster.[20]

On October 7, 2014, MGM released the film on Blu-ray disc, akin to their Blu-ray releases of the Dollars Trilogy.[21]


  1. ^ "Duck, You Sucker". Premiére. Hachette Filipacchi Media. 2003-02-12. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Christopher Frayling (1981). Spaghetti Westerns. pp. 61, 96, 127, 137, 145, 183–185, 215, 225. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Giù la testa (1971) - Trivia". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Mitchell, Elvis (2003-11-21). "Leone Classic, Liberated at Last from Television". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-25. [dead link]
  5. ^ Clint Eastwood (1999). Clint Eastwood. p. 92. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  6. ^ Eli Wallach (2006). The Good, the Bad, and Me. p. 261. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  7. ^ a b "Giù la testa (1971) - Filming locations". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  8. ^ Richard W. Haines (2003). Technicolor movies. p. 127. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  9. ^ "Giù la testa (1971)" (in Italian). TrovaCinema. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  10. ^ "A Fistful of Dynamite". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-04-26. 
  11. ^ "Duck, You Sucker!". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2009-04-27. 
  12. ^ Emilio Garcia Riera (1990). México visto por el cine extranjero (in Spanish). pp. 43–44. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  13. ^ Mao Tse-Tung (March 1927). "Report on an investigation of the peasant movement in Hunan". "…a revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture […] a revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence…" 
  14. ^ a b c d "A Fistful of Dynamite - another Leone restoration". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  15. ^ Peter Bogdanovich (1973-11-23). Two Beeg Green Eyes. pp. 76–77. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  16. ^ "Fistful of Dynamite". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2009-09-01. 
  17. ^ A Fistful of Dynamite at MGM's online DVD catalog.
  18. ^ The Sergio Leone Anthology at MGM's online DVD catalog.
  19. ^ a b "The Sergio Leone Anthology". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  20. ^ "Fistful of Dynamite - Duck, You Sucker - James Coburn Rod Steiger". DVDBeaver. Retrieved 2012-01-25. 
  21. ^ "Duck, You Sucker Blu-ray". Retrieved 2012-01-25. 

External links[edit]