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· Senior Shackster
791 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
What a difference 36 minutes makes! I had seen this film back in the seventies under
it's alternate title, "A Fistful of Dynamite" and thought it was a disappointing Leone film.
A muddled and confusing second rate follow up to his earlier work. The characters and
plot made little sense and most of the time I couldn't figure out what was going on. It
lacked the classic Leone style of extreme close ups and exagerated build ups to a confrontation.

The US release of the film ran 121 minutes. However, half a decade ago MGM, the successor
owner of the domestic rights to this title, decided to restore it to Leone's original vision which
runs 157 mintues and re-mix it to stereo.

The end results was like watching a 'lost' film for the first time. It's a completely different
feature full of Leone's trademark style. The only thing that wasn't restored was the
original title which was "Once Upon a Time in the Revolution". This uncut version fits nicely
into his two trilogies. The first one was the "dollars" series starring Clint Eastwood as the
Man with No Name. They were "A Fistful of Dollars", "For a Few Dollars More" and "The Good,
the Bad and the Ugly". The second series was the "Once Upon a Time" movies. They were
"Once Upon a Time in the West", this movie, "Once Upon a Time in the Revolution" and his
last film, "Once Upon a Time in America". Almost like twisted fairy tales.

The scope of this movie is more elaborate that his previous ones. There are massive battle
scenes, explosions and crowds. Leone even uses squibs for the first time in his Westens.
Not consistantly but in a number of shots. And of course there is Ennio Morricone's outlandish
score. This one is even campier than his theme tune for "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly".
Rather than having a man scream as part of the track, he has a chorus sing, "Shaun, Shaun,
Shaun" which was the Irish translation of the name "John". Certainly unique.

The basic plot is a Mexican bandit named Juan (played by Rod Steiger) accidently teaming up
with an IRA terrorist named John (played by James Coburn) and they stumble around the
Pancho Villa revolution while looking for gold and cash. Like his other films, the story is very
episodic although this one is more politically charged than the others. The movie starts with
a quote from Chairman Mao. That wasn't on the print I saw back in the seventies and it made
me apprehensive about watching the rest of the film. However, it turned out to be an ironic
reference since Leone shows that all peasant revolutions merely substitute one tyrant for another.
As Steiger says, people who read certain books talk others who can't read into following them.
They take over, start killing the people who supported them and the same thing happens all
over again. The movie is anti-Marxist/anti-Revolutionary which was controversial in the
sixties/early seventies when communism was part of 'radical chic' posturing.

Even though Coburn and Steiger double cross each other throughout the long narrative, it ultimately
turns out to be a buddy movie with a most unlikely pair of criminals as friends.

This version of the film would certainly be classified as "R" rather than PG had they bothered to
re-submit it to the MPAA. It has the most profanity, sadism, gore and rapes of any
Leone film up to that time. None of this was contained in the 1971 US theatrical print. All those
scenes were cut out undermining it's impact.

Rather than give too many of the plot twists away or describe the bizarre visuals, it's probably
best to see the film fresh if you're a Leone fan. If you're not, I suggest seeing some of his earlier
films to put this one into context of his off kilter worldview and style. Start with "Once Upon a
Time in the West" then see "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" before tackling this picture.

The standard DVD looks very good with saturated fleshtones, razor sharp focus and dramatic
widescreen compositions. As always with this director, the sound effects and music are very
exagerated giving it an other worldly appearance. And like all Leone epics, you will be completely
exhausted after watching it. He does put the viewer through the ringer with his method of filmmaking.

You would think that UA would've learned it's lesson and released the movie intact instead of
heavy censored and chopped up back in 1972. The dollars trilogy were shown pretty complete
in the US and were smash hits. But Paramount butchered "Once Upon a Time in the West"
and it bombed although it became a cult film when the complete cut was finally re-issued to
revival theaters. Had UA released Leone's cut with the original title, it probably would've been
very popular with his extensive fan base back then. At least we're able to see it now many
decades after the fact.

I hope this will be released on blu ray in the future. Thus far only "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"
has been distributed in that format.
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