Directed by: Giancarlo Santi
Starring: Lee Van Cleef, Peter O’Brien, Jess Hahn, Horst Frank
When I think Spaghetti Western I think The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood and music by Ennio Morricone. There’s more to the genre of course, according to Wikipedia there were six hundred westerns made in Europe between 1960 and 1980. Like anything else there are outstanding examples like the aforementioned The Good the Bad and the Ugly and not so outstanding examples the names of which I have mercifully forgotten. Near the top of the pile is Grand Duel.
The titles for Grand Duel open on a baked rocky landscape with Luis Bacalov’s swelling score rising in the background. Then out from behind a rocky outcrop comes a stage coach. A shot rings out holing the drivers floppy hat. The driver, no dummy stops the coach. The man with the rifle is a trigger happy deputy. It seems the two lawmen in this hard scrabble desert outpost are on edge. The town, if you can call it that, is infested with a bunch of bounty hunters on the hunt for a fugitive. As the town isn’t safe the deputies instruct the passengers to stay on the coach. One of the passengers is thirsty and a couple of frightened deputies are not going to stop him from taking a little stroll to the saloon. The passenger’s name is Clayton which isn’t really all that important. The important thing is Clayton is played by Lee Van Cleef. A man who could stare eagles out of the sky.
After staring down the deputies, they never had a chance, Clayton strolls to the town and subtly exposes the location of every bounty hunter in the little town. This allows the fugitive a chance to fight himself out of the room that he’s holed up in. Which is exactly what Clayton had expected. Seems Clayton has some plans of his own for the fugitive. The fugitive, one Phillip Wermeer who is played by Peter O’Brien, is wanted for the murder of The Patriarch. The Patriarch is, or was, the head of the Saxon family which runs Saxon city, which kind of makes sense if you think about it. Now that the old man is dead the three sons are running the city and want to see the man who killed their father dead. Of course it’s not all that simple the plot is actually rather convoluted. Thrown in the mix are silver mines, patricide, genocide, cross dressing saloon keepers, shoe clapping, white glove wearing killers, black and white flashbacks and of course gun play, lots and lots of gun play.
The director, Giancarlo Santi, worked as an assistant to Sergio Leone on The Good the Bad and the Ugly and he learned his lessons. The look and feel are familiar but distinct. Santi, like Leone has an eye for landscape and close ups and while he may not be the master that Leone is, Grand Duel is very easy to watch. Lee Van Cleef steals the show. It’s interesting how the good guy can be so down right menacing. The rest of the cast isn’t horrible but the sometimes not exactly synced dialog doesn’t help their performances.
The video is presented in the original 16:9 aspect ratio. This is a new transfer from the original negative and it looks fantastic. I’ve seen this movie included in some of those cheap bundles of Western movies and it’s never come close to looking this great. The colors are a little washed out but this just helps make everything feel hot and dusty. The video is crisp and sharp for the most part, there are a few scenes with some atrocious bokeh but I’m sure that has more to do with the lenses used and not with the transfer that Blue Underground has done here. I never noticed any aliasing, moire, blooming or other digital artifacts.
The audio is only presented in the original mono. It may be mono but it sounds great There are some syncing problems with the dialog but again I would imagine this is a reflection of the original material and not a problem with the transfer. It’s really not an issue it’s just a reminder that you’re watching a Spaghetti Western. The score by Luis Bacalov is obviously influenced heavily by Morricone and Bacalov actually manages to out Morricone. The main theme may be the most beautiful piece of music from a genre that is known for it’s great music. If you are a Tarantino fan the main theme will sound very familiar. The mix is great and I never noticed any distortion or any serious problems with the audio.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The DVD comes in a standard clear DVD case. The artwork and copy is simple but attractive and effective. The inside of the case has a chapter list and a great still from the movie. Included is an original trailer for the film and a Spaghetti Western trailer reel. Blue Underground even includes a commentary by journalists C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke. I’m not sure who they are but they are obviously fans of the film and share a lot of information about the movie. For what is essentially a forty year old B movie this is an outstanding effort.
Spaghetti Westerns can be a bit of an acquired taste. If it’s a taste you have acquired I really think your going to like Grand Duel. This is certainly the best quality you will ever see this movie in. Blue Underground really deserves some kudos for this edition.
The Movie 7/10
The Video 8/10
The Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/0
Overall (not an average) 8/10