Lee Van Cleef, the most magnificent bastard of all time, plays against type as a hero in this western directed by Sergio Leone protege Giancarlo Santi. Even though Cleef is the good guy, he still wears a black hat, so you know he’s just as crafty as ever. Playing as Sheriff Clayton, Van Cleef is out for justice against the Saxton family — the corrupt brothers who run the town after their pwn name sake.. The Saxton family are after a young man named Phillip, who they believe killed their patriarch (who killed Phillips father). The film starts off with Clayton saving Phillip from a group of bounty hunters who are after the $3,000 price on his head. At first it seems Clayton is after the money as well, but like he says “I never kill for money”, a far cry from his character Angel Eyes in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. From here on out, it’s typical spaghetti western fare with double-crosses, grand set pieces, amazing cinematography, a sweeping musical score, and lots of people getting shot.
Speaking of the music, its one of the biggest parts of the film. The main theme is done by Luis Bacalov, who also did the seminal soundtrack for Django. Quentin Tarantino seemingly stuffed his magnum opus Kill Bill with every piece of music he could from Bacalov’s catalog, including the theme for this film (he saved the Django theme for his own Django Unchained. The Grand Duel theme plays over pretty much every scene in the film, so if you don’t like it, you’re probably going to hate this movie.
As far as the film goes, it’s standard fare for the genre, and above average over all. It’s obvious Santi learned a lot from his time working with Leone, but not enough to actually stand toe-to-toe with the maestro. Leone had a way of playing the characters like chess pieces against each other before the eventually shoot-outs. Santi does his best to do this, but doesn’t have the same quality actors Leone did as well as seemingly lacking the patience to put the pieces in place for the set-pieces as the film goes on. Alberto Dentice is the second lead in the film as the bandit son Phillip, whose out to avenge his father. He looks the part and has great hair but the films more emotional scenes will bring out laughter in the viewer instead of empathy. And the ending of the film changes from the somber score of the film and switches to some kind of clown shoe music that completely ruins the mood of all that came before.
I’m a big fan of spaghetti westerns and I have to say this one kind of let me down. All the tropes were perfectly in place but it felt like something was missing. Also, when the flashbacks start happening to the murder of Saxton, anyone with a brain in their head will know who the real killer is, and you have to spend the next forty minutes waiting for the film to catch up with you. Clocking in at just over ninety minutes, The Grand Duel never really lives up to its title and left me feeling like this film is the Diet Coke of spaghetti westerns.
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