Christopher Frayling who appears to be the singular academic authority on the cinema of Sergio Leone has been relentless in his quest to promote the film maker to the echelons of great directors. The Dollars trilogy were some of the first films I came across on late night television especially The Good, The Bad and The Ugly which was shown on the now deceased BBC2 Moviedrome show fronted by the legend that is Alex Cox. Thankfully all of Leone’s films have now been restored back to their original length. Whilst the relatively few films he managed to direct are all revered today, the one that seems to stick out and which continues to be overlooked is the 1971 Zapata western Giu La Testa which was released in America under the absurd title of Duck, You Sucker!. Whilst today the film seems to go by the more marketing friendly title of A Fistful of Dynamite (an attempt to cash in on the success of the Dollars films), the film was released in France under the title of Once Upon a Time In The Revolution. Not only does the French title for the film allow us to position the film as part of another trilogy including The West and America, it seems more appropriate given the film’s content is highly politicised as it takes place during the time of the Mexican revolution. Frayling remarks that the French title was coined specifically to cash in on the leftist radical politics of Europe during the late 60s. Giu La Testa is by far Leone’s most political work and really should be viewed as a precursor to many of the themes he would go on to explore in his magnum opus Once Upon a Time in America. Leone’s team of regular collaborators including both scriptwriter Sergio Donati and composer Ennio Morricone contributions should not be overlooked.
Aesthetically and visually Leone seemed to come of age with Once Upon a Time in the West but it was with Giu La Testa he really formulated and offered his strongest ideological point of view to date. Dealing with the politics of revolution, Leone presents us with a political ideal that is both ugly and treacherous whilst the class struggle remains visible as ever. Whilst Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) is somewhat sceptical of revolutionary politics, his interests rest solely in robbing a bank and when he meets a dynamite expert and on the run IRA terrorist John Mallory (James Coburn), Miranda sees an opportunity for easy money that invokes the chaotic spirit of Tuco (Eli Wallach) from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Many have labelled this as a comical western which may in fact be reworded as a political satire on the failed politics of the 68 generation. Miranda’s deliberate distancing from the duplicity and lies of revolution gradually lead to his political reawakening and eventual reconstitution as a nullified yet committed believer in the cause. If Mallory’s death at the end acts as a final statement on the use of violence in extending the political cause and challenging the status quo then the freeze frame on Miranda’s traumatic expression reveals an authorial and very personal rejection of radical revolutionary politics.