Ranking the Films of Sergio Leone

Sergio Leone is my second favorite director of all-time (following Stanley Kubrick). Like Kubrick , I don’t think that he was capable of a bad film. When watching a Leone film, at least for me, I am not just watching a movie, I am living an experience. Here, I have ranked the motion pictures he directed.

1. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (Dollars Trilogy, Part III)
2. Once Upon A Time In the West
3. Duck, You Sucker! (a.k.a. A Fistful of Dynamite)
4. For A Few Dollars More (Dollars Trilogy, Part II)
5. A Fistful of Dollars (Dollars Trilogy, Part I)
6. My Name Is Nobody
7. Once Upon A Time In America
8. A Genius, Two Partners & A Dupe
9. The Colussus of Rhodes
10. The Last Days of Pompeii

Film Review: Long Live Your Death (1971)

Also known as: ¡Viva la muerte… tua! (Italy/Spain), Don’t Turn the Other Cheek (US),
Release Date: September 22nd, 1971 (Italy)
Directed by: Duccio Tessari
Written by: Massimo De Rita, Gunter Ebert, Dino Maiuri, Juan de Orduna
Music by: Gianni Ferrio, Ennio Morricone
Cast: Franco Nero, Eli Wallach, Lynn Redgrave

Hercules Associated Entertainment, Juan de Orduña, P.C., Terra-Filmkunst, International Amusements Corporation, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Let me sleep. It’s too early for a hanging.” – Max Lozoya

Despite my love of its two big stars, Long Live Your Death flew under my radar until recently. While it isn’t on the same level as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (with Eli Wallach) or Django (with Franco Nero), who wouldn’t want to see these two great spaghetti western icons together on the screen?

The film is a co-production between Italy, Spain and Germany but that wasn’t unusual with these sort of films. It was also a political spaghetti western and fits right in with the Zapata western sub-genre.

In this film, a con-artist (Nero) and a bandit (Wallach) team up in order to find a hidden treasure. Along the way, they keep having run-ins with an Irish journalist (Lynn Redgrave) who has a thirst for sparking revolutions in Central America. As is typical with these films, the heroes reject being heroes and give in to their own selfish greed and only play along where it suits them. It comes down to whether or not they do the right thing in the end.

The story isn’t highly original or anything that the genre hasn’t done a dozen times but the cast is what makes this version of a common story a bit more endearing and entertaining. Wallach essentially plays Tuco from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and really, this could be a sequel or prequel to that where it just catches up to him at some other point in his life. Nero doesn’t channel Django in this but he is a character similar to his more boisterous and charismatic roles from his spaghetti western days.

The film was directed by Duccio Tessari, often considered to be one of the fathers of spaghetti westerns. Like many spaghetti maestros, he started out in the sword and sandal genre until that ran its course and opened up the floodgates to the spaghetti western boom. His biggest films in the genre were the Ringo series: A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo.

Long Live Your Death is far from the best in the spaghetti western genre but it is still an enjoyable experience for fans of these films. Wallach and Nero are two of the most charismatic actors of all-time and at the top of the list in spaghetti fare. This picture showcases their talents and it works. They alone carry this picture and Redgrave is amusing, as well.

Rating: 6/10

Retro Relapse: Top 50 Spaghetti Westerns of All-Time

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Originally written in 2015.

Spaghetti westerns are better than westerns, at least in my opinion. Sure, there are fantastic American-made westerns but as a whole, the Italian-Spanish (sometimes German) films are superior. There is more grit, more bad ass shit and a level of violence that adds realism and authenticity to a genre that has typically been family friendly in the U.S.

The greatest film of all-time is a spaghetti western. And many of the other greatest films ever also fall into this genre.

I have spent the last several months watching a lot of these films. I have always been familiar with the greats but I had to delve deeper into the more obscure reaches of the genre. A special shout out goes to the Spaghetti Western Database for the hours of research I was able to accomplish in mostly one place. Also, thanks to Amazon, Hulu and YouTube for providing several of these films. The rest were an adventure to track down.

This list is the result of my hundreds of hours of film watching.

1. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
2. Once Upon A Time In the West
3. The Great Silence
4. The Big Gundown
5. For A Few Dollars More
6. Django
7. A Fistful of Dollars
8. The Mercenary
9. Face to Face
10. Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!
11. A Bullet For the General
12. Compañeros
13. Duck, You Sucker! (A Fistful of Dynamite)
14. Day of Anger
15. Keoma
16. Sabata
17. Return of Ringo
18. Death Rides A Horse
19. Cemetery Without Crosses
20. My Name Is Nobody
21. The Grand Duel
22. A Genius, Two Partners and A Dupe
23. A Pistol for Ringo
24. If You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death
25. The Dirty Outlaws
26. Django, Prepare a Coffin (Viva Django)
27. Run Man Run
28. Tepepa
29. Navajo Joe
30. Four of the Apocalypse
31. Massacre Time
32. Shoot the Living, Pray for the Dead
33. Mannaja
34. Django Strikes Again
35. The Return of Sabata
36. A Few Dollars For Django
37. Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming
38. Machine Gun Killers
39. Beyond the Law
40. Ace High
41. The Bounty Killer (The Ugly Ones)
42. Trinity Is Still My Name
43. Hellbenders
44. Django the Bastard
45. God Forgives, I Don’t
46. Minnesota Clay
47. God’s Gun
48. They Call Me Trinity
49. Ringo and His Golden Pistol (Johnny Oro)
50. Arizona Colt

Film Review: Duck, You Sucker (1971)

Also known as: Giù la testa, lit. Duck Your Head (Italy), A Fistful of Dynamite, Once Upon A Time… the Revolution
Release Date: October 29th, 1971 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati, Sergio Leone, Roberto De Leonardis, Carlo Tritto
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Rod Steiger, James Coburn, Romolo Valli

Rafran Cinematografica, Euro International Film, San Miura, United Artists, 157 Minutes

duck-you-suckerReview:

Duck, You Sucker is the last spaghetti western film to be directed by Sergio Leone. He was involved in the film My Name Is Nobody, which was a western that came out after this, but it was in a limited and uncredited capacity.

This is one of Leone’s most under-appreciated films. It doesn’t have the popularity of his Dollars Trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly) or the more critically acclaimed Once Upon A Time In the West but it does exist on a filmmaking level similar to those masterpieces.

Duck, You Sucker stars Rod Steiger and James Coburn and it is my favorite role for both actors. Steiger plays the leader of a Mexican bandit family and Coburn plays an ex-IRA explosives expert. The two happen to meet and team-up: building a strong bond.

The greedy bandit wants riches while the Irishman wants something much different. In a comedic turn of events, the bandit becomes a Mexican folk hero due to his unintentional part in the Mexican Revolution.

In scope, this may be Leone’s biggest film. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly had some massive scenes featuring Civil War battles and an enormous graveyard but Duck, You Sucker feels so much larger. Most notably, there is the sequence where our revolutionaries find themselves battling a tank in the desert. The scene obviously inspired the Nazi tank battle from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

I wouldn’t call this Leone’s best film but it is hard not to have it in the conversation, as it takes what he has done previously in the western genre and expands on it artistically and in scope. The visual style and presentation is consistent with his other western films and you can imagine that all of these movies exist in the same world that he carefully crafted for several years, at the height of his career.

It is the lesser known cousin of his other spaghetti westerns but it doesn’t deserve to be. It is solid through and through and a great companion piece to Leone’s other work in the genre.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Run, Man, Run (1968)

Also known as: Corri uomo corri (Italy), Big Gundown 2
Release Date: August 29th, 1968 (Spain)
Directed by: Sergio Sollima
Written by: Sergio Sollima, Pompeo De Angelis
Music by: Bruno Nicolai, Ennio Morricone
Cast: Tomas Milian, Donal O’Brien, Linda Veras, John Ireland, Chelo Alonso

Mancori-Chretien, Ital-Noleggio Cinematografico, 120 Minutes

run_man_runReview:

When I wrote my review for The Big Gundown, I mentioned that it would be cool to see the buddy formula continue between Tomas Milian and Lee Van Cleef. Well, there was officially a sequel and this is it.

The downside is that Lee Van Cleef is not in this movie. But at least we still get to see the continued adventures of Milian’s Cuchillo. Also, it does have a buddy adventure element to it with the addition of Donal O’Brien’s character but it still isn’t Van Cleef.

This film is the third and final spaghetti western from director Sergio Sollima. It is also his worst of the three. It is still a pretty fun and entertaining movie but it is mostly a rehash of the far superior The Big Gundown and a lot less thought provoking and impressive than Face to Face.

Tomas Milian is always great on-screen and he always killed it in spaghetti westerns. His performance here is no different but unlike most of his other films where he is surrounded by other great legends of the genre, he truly has to carry this film on his own. While he is perfectly capable of that, it just feels like something is missing when you’re used to seeing him have someone as equally as talented to bounce lines off of.

The movie also features a nice score from Ennio Morricone. He isn’t credited with the music due to some legal issues.

Run, Man, Run is fun and certainly worth a watch, especially for fans of The Big Gundown but don’t expect anything exceptional like Sollima’s previous western work. However, at the end of the day, this picture still sits well above the combined average of quality for the genre.

Plus, Cuchillo is a really fun character.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: The Mercenary (1968)

Also known as: Il mercenario (Italy)
Release Date: August 29th, 1968 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Spina, Adriano Bolzoni, Segio Corbucci, Franco Solinas, Giorgio Arlorio
Music by: Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Franco Nero, Tony Musante, Jack Palance, Giovanna Ralli

Produzioni Europee Associati (P.E.A.), Produzioni Associate Delphos S.p.A., Profilms 21, United Artists, 107 Minutes

themercenaryReview:

Sergio Corbucci’s The Mercenary is a very refined and well-executed spaghetti western affair. Then again, I have yet to see a Corbucci film that didn’t cut the mustard.

Corbucci once again uses his go-to guy, Franco Nero. Nero plays Sergei “Polack” Kowalski, a finely dressed mercenary who fights in the Mexican Revolution alongside Paco Ramon (played by Tony Musante).

Both of them make an enemy out of the villainous Curly – played by Jack Palance, who once played a more famous character also named “Curly”. It’s probably worth noting that Palance wears one of the greatest wigs I have ever seen in a film. Plus, Palance is perfectly evil and dastardly in this movie.

Giovanna Ralli plays the female lead in this film and she is otherworldly gorgeous.

The Mercenary is high energy through and through. It is a pretty straight forward Zapata western in style and tone. It isn’t as dark as Corbucci’s The Great Silence and it is more fleshed out than Django.

It is well-balanced between the action and the story. The action sequences also get really insane. The big shootout with the big guns towards the end is spectacular. The battle against the Mexican Army and the biplane is also great. There are a lot of stellar action sequences to behold in this picture.

The Mercenary has a lot of layers, which shows a maturing filmmaker in Corbucci. It also widened his already proud stance in the western genre. The Mercenary is anything but basic or generic. It has heart, spirit and a lot of testosterone.

Rating: 8/10

Book Review: ‘Sergio Leone: Something To Do With Death’ by Christopher Frayling

sergio-leone-bookChristopher Frayling is one of the best writers on movies that I have ever encountered. So reading his very lengthy book about the director of my favorite film of all-time was something I was eager to do.

Something To Do With Death is fairly massive. But the amount of details within the book are extraordinary. While I thought I knew as much as there was to know about The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Frayling went into such detail that I realized I didn’t know a fraction of what happened during the production of that film.

The book chronicles all of Leone’s major films. Each chapter is quite beefy but every page is necessary and engaging. It gives insight from Leone himself, as well as his stars: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda and everyone else, really.

It also explores how Leone changed the course of filmmaking and it delves into a thorough explanation of the growth and expansion of spaghetti westerns, as a response to Leone’s films’ popularity – not just in Italy but around the globe.

Something To Do With Death is an epic book in regards to its subject matter. Frayling is a spectacular writer and this book makes me want to pick up all of his other stuff out there.

Rating: 8.75/10

Film Review: Compañeros (1970)

Also known as: Vamos a matar, compañeros, lit. Let’s Go and Kill, Companions (Spain)
Release Date: December 18th, 1970 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Written by: Dino Maiuri, Massimo De Rita, Fritz Ebert, Sergio Corbucci
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Franco Nero, Tomas Milian, Jack Palance, Fernando Rey, Iris Berben, Francisco Bodalo, Edoardo Fajardo

Tritone Filmindustria Roma S.r.l., Atlantida Film S.A., Terra-Filmkunst, Titanus Distribuzione, GSF Productions , 119 Minutes (Italy), 115 Minutes (US)

companerosReview:

Sergio Corbucci made a spiritual successor to The Mercenary with Compañeros. And like that film, it is a Zapata western starring Franco Nero and Jack Palance. The one main difference is that this film adds in Tomas Milian. It is also the only time that spaghetti western greats Nero and Milian acted together.

It follows Nero, a Swedish arms dealer into Mexico. He develops a rivalry quickly with Milian, a peasant rebel. Both are then forced together for political means and sent to capture a professor from the enemy. They then cross paths with Jack Palance, who is a sinister character with a wooden hand and a pet hawk he uses to track people in the wilderness. They capture the professor and get caught up with the true revolutionaries, which alters the course of the main characters’ lives.

The film is one of the best spaghetti westerns out there but Corbucci was a master only surpassed by Sergio Leone. Now this isn’t Corbucci’s best but it is great, nonetheless.

The only issue I have with the film, is that it is too similar to The Mercenary, which Corbucci did two years prior. It looks the same, features almost the same cast in almost the same roles and treads the same political territory. It is a very romanticized tale about revolution, influenced by the story of Che Guevara, who Corbucci was greatly affected by.

But in regards to Jack Palance’s character John, it is one of my absolute favorite Palance roles of all-time. Between the wooden hand, the weirdly dubbed voice and his relationship with his bird, it was a performance for the ages.

Additionally, this film features one of my favorite theme songs ever, which was done by Ennio Morricone.

And a Corbucci-Nero team up isn’t complete without Franco Nero blasting dozens of enemies with a giant machine gun. Luckily for us, that happens twice in this movie.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: A Bullet For the General (1966)

Also known as: El Chuncho Quién Sabe? (Italy)
Release Date: December 7th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Damiano Damiani
Written by: Salvatore Laurani, Franco Solinas
Music by: Luis Bacalov, Ennio Morricone
Cast: Gian Maria Volontè, Klaus Kinski, Martine Beswick, Lou Castel, Jaime Fernández

M.C.M., Indipendenti Regionali, AVCO Embassy Pictures,Warner-Pathé, 118 Minutes (Italy), 115 Minutes (USA)

a-bullet-for-the-generalReview:

I’ve been watching through a lot of spaghetti westerns that I haven’t seen before, mostly stuff that was critically acclaimed or touted a lot by film historians of the genre. I’ve especially been trying to see more Zapata westerns (films that focus on events surrounding the Mexican Revolution). I had heard people talk about A Bullet For the General but never saw it until recently.

Directed by Damiano Damiani, who would later go on to work with spaghetti western maestro Sergio Leone, this film is one of the very best in the genre. It has epic landscapes, geographical desolation, intense action, political and social commentary, a good amount of violence, a lot of humor, an intense musical score and colorful characters – all likable in their own way.

The film is heavily accented by the great acting talents of Gian Maria Volontè and Klaus Kinski.

Volontè, who played the villain in A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More, plays a character who is just as ruthless but is totally different in tone. It is exciting to see if you are a fan of his work with Leone, because Volontè isn’t cold and impersonal in this film, he is the polar opposite – warm, exciting, over the top and hilarious.

Kinski plays the brother of Volontè’s character and he has a very religious nature even though he is a cold-blooded bandit full of political idealism. This is one of my favorite roles that I’ve seen Kinski play (next to Count Orlock in the beautiful Nosferatu remake of 1979).

Lou Castel rounds out the cast as the American who gets mixed up with the two bandit brothers and their involvement in the Mexican Revolution. He is mostly a despicable character but the performance by Castel is top notch. And he is a character that is full of surprises: adding some good twists to the plot.

A Bullet For the General is one of the top five spaghetti westerns I have seen that wasn’t directed by Sergio Leone. It has a big budget feel for a time when there were dozens upon dozens of lesser spaghetti westerns that reeked of cheapness.

If you are a fan of the genre and you haven’t seen A Bullet For the General, you are missing out. And if you want to experience a Zapata western, this is a good starting point.

Rating: 9/10