Cousin Franz: For over 15 years Italy (and often Spain, France, and even Germany) released Spaghetti Westerns into the wilderness; these rarely dominated the market, but rather snuck around in the margins, as deadly and vital as desert snakes. They came out from under Clint Eastwood’s poncho, they side-winded like a Sergio Leone plot, they hissed and rattled like an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. Giancarlo Santi had assisted Leone in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” and “Once Upon a Time in the West,” so it made sense that when he directed his own solo movie, the result would be Leonine in nature. 1972’s “The Grand Duel” does not wander far from the shadow of “The Man with No Name” trilogy. To some, that will be cause enough for satisfaction; to others, that will mark the movie as derivative. Being derivative IS one of the unaddressed prerogatives, and pleasures, of proud genre products. We want to experience variations on a powerful motif, and are sometimes satisfied with a faithful, well played cover.
In “The Grand Duel,” Peter O’Brien plays Philip Vermeer, a wanted man who has been falsely accused of murdering the “Patriarch” of Fort Saxon, Arizona. Top-billed Lee Van Cleef plays Clayton, a righteous Sheriff who believes that Vermeer is innocent, and that the culprit hides elsewhere. Perhaps among the villainous Saxon siblings? Is it Eli, the corrupt, duplicitous Marshal; David, the smooth-talking, ambitious politician; or Adam, the cruel, effete, pox-marked fop?
We’ll find out, but only after many phenomenal shoot-outs mingled with sly humor. It may not be remembered as anything more than “the last good movie Lee Van Cleef did before turning into a static cardboard cut-out of himself,” but “The Grand Duel” surpasses more “classic” films like Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo”/ “Lobo”/ “El Dorado” In everything (suspense, excitement, comedy)– everything, that is, except star-wattage and critical reputation. (Even the score, by Academy Award winner Luis Bacalov, is of note – Quentin Tarantino would make witty use of it in “Kill Bill.”)
Beatricia: Hardly authentic. “Fort Saxon, Arizona” will not fool anyone who’s ever been to the United States, and neither will the distinctly Mediterranean faces that populate the one-cavallo town. But who’s this olive-skinned, green-eyed hunk called Peter O’ Brien? (Or rather the Italian actor here billed as “Peter O’Brien”; he was probably called something like Mario Luigioni in real life.) Look at him jump out of saloon windows without even scratching his pretty face!
Cousin Franz: Yeah, O’Brien seemed poised for Mediterranean stardom, based, if nothing else, on his passing resemblance to Terence Hill, (he of the “Trinity” comedies, and eventually of “Lucky Luke” and “Father Matteo.”) But O’Brien sort of disappeared after “The Grand Duel,” far as I know.
Grandpa Felicius: He was probably overcome by shame! And shame to those who promised me spaghetti! Instead, I got stuck watching sweaty degenerates lusting after horses in an orange moonscape that tries to pass for Arizona. After Clint Eastwood wised up and bid “arrivederci” to Sergio Leone, the whole parasitic “Western a l’Italianna” sub-genre should have been buried in a sandy grave.
Tracey: That’s what I say! Spaghetti Westerns like this one are a monstrous example of CULTURAL APPROPRIATION! Once more, Europeans see something they like in America, and they seize it without consulting or crediting anyone!
Hank: We need more of these! “The Grand Duel” makes John Wayne look about as tough as Wayne Newton. Not that there’s anything wrong with Wayne Newton, other than the fact that babe once made me drive out to Nevada and bleed $170 bucks (per person!) just so we could see Mr. Las Vegas at the Stardust.
Beatricia: “Made you”? The way I remember, it wasn’t me who sobbed all the way through “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast”!
Hank: I was looking at the ticket price!
Trent: These cowboys must have been spliced with ninja genes because they fly around whenever they please; some legit “Crouching Bison, Hidden Jackalope” moves here. This movie also gave me an idea for the best game ever: “Shooting Checkers.” Get a checker board, and fill it up a bunch of shot glasses; gin for white, whiskey for black. Every time you take an enemy piece, you also take the shot. Maybe you think checkers is a game for kids? Wait until you see how adult the final rounds of Shooting Checkers can get.
Blurbarella: “Shooting Checkers:– Richard Nixon’s– Deepest Secret.”
4 out of 6 Cherries