I‘m not exactly sure how this one ended up on my watch list. Maybe it was the absurd title or maybe it was Sergio Leone directing. So far, I’ve only watched his epic Once Upon a Time in the West. I do have his Dollars trilogy on Blu-ray but have yet to watch any of them. So it’s probable that I saw his name on this and tossed it on my list. No matter how it got there, I’m glad I took the time to check this one out, and time is definitely needed because this clocks in at nearly three hours. From what I’ve seen of Leone so far, this definitely has his signature. The extreme close ups on eyes, slow pace, long takes of someone, and the theme songs for the main characters. He’s got an unmistakable style that you know when you see.
So how is this overall? That’s a bit of a tough answer. Visually and stylistically it’s high tier Leone, but there are aspects that are strange here. The bulk of the film takes place in the last days of the Old West. So you get the usual items you’d expect from that like horses and buggies but then there is a motorcycle, MG42 machine gun from World War II, and some sort of heavily armored tank car thing. I think this borders a bit on fantasy because of the guns and vehicles. Maybe not quite Steampunk but in the neighborhood for sure. Ultimately, the weird elements make this feel a bit unfocused in my opinion, but let’s start at the beginning.
First thing we see is Rod Steiger pissing on ants. Yes, that is the way this film opens. The tone is pretty much a bit of vulgarity which is held for a good while. Steiger’s character Juan is a bit of a bandit who goes on to rob a stagecoach full of snobs. Juan appears to be a lowly peasant beggar with no shoes and a garish look. For whatever reason, the coach drivers pick him up and toss him in the coach with the snobby folk who commence to talking down their noses at him. Some really harsh words are spoken. A certain derogatory word for black folk gets tossed out at one point. There’s even a clergyman who can’t seem to hold back his disdain for what the peasants say in the confessional. Juan sits there watching these snobs scarf down their food as if he wasn’t even there, not even bothering to offer him any.
This all comes to an immediate halt when Juan’s family attacks the coach by putting rocks under the wagon wheels to stop it and killing all the coachmen. Juan and his crew proceed to strip and steal everything from the passengers and send them on their way into a pig pen. As they are enjoying the spoils of their victory, some explosions go off in the nearby hills and James Coburn’s character John rides out on a motorcycle. Juan shoots a hole in his tire to rob him and a new friendship begins. John is actually a member of the Irish Republican Army and good with explosives, which gives Juan the idea of a bank robbery. Thing is, John isn’t interested.
Eventually, Juan and John do go to rob that bank, but the big surprise on Juan is that the money was moved out of the bank months ago. It’s now a garrison for soldiers and political prisoners. So Juan ends up becoming a hero to the people for rescuing them. You’d think that would be the end of the movie, but I think it’s only like halfway through. See, this whole film is probably best described as a bunch of smaller stories pieced together into one whole. There are many and varied chapters to this. It doesn’t really feel stitched together though, but the parts just have a distinct start and finish. The movie could probably end at each junction which also contributes to the odd overall feel.
The really strange bits revolve around technology. First, there is this armored car the bad guys have that looks more like something from Indiana Jones than the Old West. Sadly, the thing is only for looks. We don’t get any kind of shootout with it. The vehicle is in some shootouts, but a bullet never gets shot out of it. Then there is the MG42 machine gun. This film takes place during the Mexican Revolution and in the year 1913, but the MG42 was actually a weapon from World War II some years later. There were more appropriately timed weapons used, so I’m not sure why this one was figured so prominently. There was also a mortar used in the last battle which is another WW II item. I guess someone who has no concept of what guns came out when might not have an issue, but if you have any inkling of it, the placement within seems jarring. As if things sped forward thirty years.
I would be remiss in not mentioning the relationship between Juan and John. Both Steiger and Coburn were fantastic, and I really look forward to digging up more films from both of them. Coburn was in The Magnificent Seven, but I really did not recognize his much more youthful face there. In this film, he has a bit more of his age worn face that I’m used to and was easy to pick out. Both men have a swagger to them that was very fitting for the setting.
In closing, this was a very good film to watch. Aside from the nuances with newer weaponry that kind of takes you out of the setting, the film has that classic Leone feel. Like I said, this is only my second Leone film, but his style is unmistakable. My only real complaint is that certain elements take you out of the vibe he lays down. If he had done certain aspects a bit more traditionally, I think this might rate a bit higher, but as it is, I’m giving this 4/5 stars. Very entertaining and very captivating throughout.