Imagination

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“I don’t know why I named you Napoleon when you have no imagination!” Rod Steiger tells his idiot son in A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE aka GIU LA TESTA aka DUCK YOU SUCKER aka ONCE UPON A TIME THE REVOLUTION (although that last title never seems to have been used).

Rod himself, as Juan, DOES have imagination, as we see above — James Coburn demonstrates the power of nitroglycerin, and Steiger immediately sees a possible application for such a chemical. The cartoon-like effect (might as well have shown dollar signs in Steiger’s eyes) isn’t quite like anything else in Leone’s oeuvre, but looking at John Ford’s THE INFORMER, I suddenly got a sense of what might have inspired it.

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Victor McLaglan stares at Wallace “It’s me, Phroso!” Ford, and suddenly sees a price tag appended.

Leone, we know, was a great admirer of Ford (alas, I have never heard that the feeling was mutual), and would have been looking at or thinking about Ford’s Irish films since FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE features a fugitive IRA man as one of the two main characters. Leone had filmed wanted posters before — FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE is full of them — but despite some crazy cutting patterns, he’d never been tempted to superimpose them. So I’m quietly confident that I’ve accurately traced the pattern of his thinking.

Film history repeats itself, first as John Ford tragedy, then as Sergio Leone farce.

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11 Responses to “Imagination”

  1. Duck You Sucker (my preferred title) is a live action version of a road-runner cartoon with a soupcon of Marxism.

  2. And great accents! And a Laurel & Hardy tit-for-tat routine played with high explosives!

  3. Paul Duane emails this: “…with Ford, at the end of his career. Ford seemed nervous throughout & kept asking his assistant if “that call from the gentleman from Italy” had come through. Many years later McBride’s research disclosed that Ford was waiting on a call from Leone, who was trying to put together an Italian western for the great man to direct…”

  4. Christopher Says:

    Duck is more about Family(Steiger and his sons)and friends(sean and john and juan and john)and how friends can destroy your family and ultimately leave you alone with only the reluctant responsibility of grand glorious leader of the revolution-no thanks…This film was right down Fords alley..

  5. “Leone was shallow as hell,” said Mickey Knox, “but he understood cinema.” And the film’s take on armed rebellion does strike me as somewhat valid: “When I first started using dynamite, I believe many things — all of it! In the end, I believed only in dynamite.”

  6. Christopher Says:

    Hes a master story teller,Leone..the past grudges or events that drive men on in his films,are often much ado about nothing,but he can sure make you feel the pain.

  7. GIU LA TESTA is all about regret, which is strange for such a knockabout farce. John’s flashbacks of Sean back in Ieland seem a conscious extension of THE INFORMER. The martyrdom of the leader is the same, but this time around we don’t know who betrayed whom. I think Coburn’s character did the informing, over the girl. Otherwise why would he feel so guilty and regretful — and so strongly identify with the (cowardly) guilt of the doctor? Christopher is correct, but in this case i think Leone decided to leave everything a mystery. It’s the only Leone movie that makes an emotional impact on me…

  8. Paul Duane Says:

    David: is that the email you got from me? Its missing the beginning and end!

  9. It’s all that arrived, yes. But I thought it was worth including anyway.

    Glenn, interesting theory. So Coburn informs on Warbeck, who informs on all the others (after torture). The less involved, more banal theory would be that Warbeck is caught and forced to inform, Coburn kills him, but it’s an act of love because Warbeck obviously wants it. Coburn’s regret can simply be that he killed his best friend. In favour of this, I don’t recall any hint of jealousy in the Jules et Jim menage a trois scenes.

    The enotional impact of the film for me is Steiger and the family massacre, and his need for Coburn’s friendship, plus Coburn’s reaction to the mass executions: the ultimate face of horror.

  10. Finally back at my computer. Here’s the unexpurgated version of the story I tried to cut&paste from my original unposted (due to WordPress being useless on phones) message:

    I was talking to Joe McBride last week about the one and only meeting he had with Ford, at the end of his (Ford’s) career. Ford seemed nervous throughout & kept asking his assistant if “that call from the gentleman from Italy” had come through. Many years later McBride’s research disclosed that Ford was waiting on a call from Leone, who was trying to put together an Italian western for the great man to direct…”

    History could have been quite different.

  11. One hopes Leone could have collaborated well with Ford, and given him his freedom — his attempts to direct by proxy usually resulted in him nudging the original director aside for part or all of the film…

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