The Grand Duel
|Il Grande Duello|
Theatrical Movie Poster
|Directed by||Giancarlo Santi|
|Written by||Ernesto Gastaldi|
|Starring||Lee Van Cleef as Sheriff Clayton|
|Music by||Luis Bacalov|
|Running time||98 min.|
The Grand Duel (Il Grande duello, 1972), aka Storm Rider and The Big Showdown is a Spaghetti Western directed by Giancarlo Santi, who had previously worked as Sergio Leone's assistant director on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. The film stars Lee Van Cleef as a sheriff who seeks justice for a man accused of murder.
Phillip Wermeer has escaped from prison where he serves a sentence for the murder of Saxon, the patriarch of Saxon city, who in his turn is believed to be behind the murder of Wermeer’s father. Wermeer is holed up in Gila Bend by a swarm of bounty killers, who want his $3.000 reward, posted by Saxon's three sons David, Eli and Adam.
A sheriff named Clayton arrives on a stagecoach and bosses his way through the cordon set up by the local lawmen. While walking to the saloon, he performs actions that tip off Wermeer as to where some of the besiegers are hidden (like throwing a lit match so a man hidden in hay has to put it out). Wermeer makes it to the saloon, where Clayton, who has counted Wermeer's shots and knows that he is out of bullets, arrests him.
Hole, a spokesman for the bounty killers, calls on Wermeer to surrender. A shot rings out and Clayton emerges dragging the "dead" convict. They argue that Clayton -– who if he is a sheriff cannot collect bounty -– should give up the body. The disagreement develops into a gunfight. Wermeer jumps up on a horse and escapes, pursued by the pack (though not Clayton). Wermeer makes the bounty killers follow his horse, then hitches a ride with the stagecoach, where he finds Clayton among the passengers.
When they stay the night at Silver Bells, Wermeer goes for a shotgun hanging on the wall, but Clayton stops him. A drunken stationmaster assures the gun is empty, but Clayton retorts: "Never consider a gun empty.” Then he and Wermeer play cards, Wermeer betting his $3.000 bounty. Wermeer wins and Clayton promises to take him to Saxon city as he wants. Wermeer steals a revolver from Clayton’s bag, but is told that it is empty. Wermeer repeats Clayton’s earlier saying and pulls the trigger, but Clayton shows him the bullet, taking it out of his mouth. Wermeer tries to leave, but Clayton shoots the door, this time with bullets.
Bounty killers led by Hole surround the house. They give Wermeer thirty seconds. He and Clayton are inside with Elisabeth, a female passenger who has earlier shown interest in Wermeer. Clayton tells her that Wermeer is innocent and that he saw who did it, but if Wermeer walks out the door he will never know. Wermeer gives himself up. Hole and two of the bounty killers now kill the others in their pack, then ride off with Wermeer.
Clayton finds them beating and questioning Wermeer in a waterfall, asking where the silver of his father is and offering to let him go if he tells. Clayton shoots off the rope and liberates him. Wermeer asks if he is still a prisoner. When Clayton says no, he holds a gun against Clayton and rides off to Saxon city on the latter’s horse.
Wermeer confronts the Saxon sons, Adam and Eli. He accuses Eli (who is sheriff) and asks who killed his father. We also learn that Hole was sent by Eli to find out who really killed the old man Saxon.
Clayton arrives and demands that the Saxons reopen Wermeer's case. Wermeer sends word to his own friends to gather at the silver mine A duel between Hole and Wermeer is supervised by Clayton after he reveals that it was Hole who killed Wermeer’s father. An ambusher is there helping Hole, but Wermeer shoots him without Clayton interfering. (In a German-language version, the dying Hole says he killed Wermeer because the latter refused to share the silver.)
Adam Saxon massacres Wermeer's followers with hidden explosives and a machine gun. He also kills his own men, not to leave any witnesses. David Saxon, the oldest of the brothers, meets with Clayton, who says that they both know who killed the old man Saxon. David offers $25.000 if he and Wermeer leave town.
Clayton relays the offer that the charge will be dropped. Wermeer replies that the Saxons made the offer because "dead people don't need a leader.” Adam shoots him from a window, though Elisabeth, who arrived in town to marry Adam, cries out a warning. Clayton escapes during the gunfight.
In the morning, Wermeer is to be hanged. Clayton says he knows who is the real killer. David wants the hanging to continue but Eli says that he must know. Clayton confesses that he himself did it, saying that the judge was bought by Saxon, so justice could only be done this way. The Saxons agree to meet him at the cattle pens.
At the confrontation, when Clayton approaches, David says that the three must draw first to overcome Clayton’s expert gunplay. Wermeer, from a distance, shoots off Clayton’s hat so that he draws first and kills both men. Wermeer picks up his hat and gun and says that Clayton now can go back to being a sheriff. Wermeer leaves for Mexico with Elisabeth, not caring about the silver. The old man from the stagecoach drives them.
- Lee Van Cleef as Sheriff Clayton
- Alberto Dentice as Philipp Wermeer (credited as Peter O'Brien)
- Jess Hahn as Bighorse the Stage Driver
- Horst Frank as David Saxon / Samuel Saxon
- Klaus Grünberg as Adam Saxon
- Antonio Casale as Hole the Bounty Hunter (credited as Antony Vernon)
- Marc Mazza as Sheriff Eli Saxon
- Dominique Darel as Elisabeth
- Memè Perlini
In his investigation of narrative structures in Spaghetti Western films, Fridlund writes that the relationship between Wermeer and Clayton before their arrival to Saxon City follows the stories of the (commercially more successful) Spaghetti Western films Death Rides a Horse and Day of Anger, about the relationship between an older gunfighter and a younger protagonist, and he further traces the root of this type of plot to the play between the younger and the older bounty killer in For a Few Dollars More. In all four films the older party is played by Lee Van Cleef. Subsequently, Wermeer's return to his home town and quest for the truth about the death of his father, and the massacre of innocents are closer to what happens in films like Massacre Time and Texas, Adios that are more influenced by another genre highlight, Django.
Wild East released this alongside Beyond the Law under its American title, The Grand Duel, on an out-of-print limited edition R0 NTSC DVD in 2005. In 2013 Blue Underground re-released the film, again under its American title, in a newly transferred and fully restored R0 NTSC DVD.
- Fridlund, Bert: The Spaghetti Western. A Thematic Analysis. Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company Inc., 2006 pp. 168-9.