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DUCK, YOU SUCKER
Leone... Morricone... say no more
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2001 Bixio CEMSA; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
Sergio Leone's Duck, You Sucker seems to have been virtually forgotten, which is extraordinary given the high esteem all his other films from A Fistful of Dollars onwards are held. For sure, it's not quite up to the masterpiece level of those others, but it still features all the classic Leone ingredients and is a highly-entertaining film. I guess the title doesn't help, nor does the fact that for many years the only way many people around the world were able to see it was in a butchered, abbreviated version cut up by MGM for American audiences (when it was renamed A Fistful of Dynamite), but it's a very enjoyable film about a Mexican outlaw (played by Rod Steiger, who looks like a cross between Brando and Pavarotti) who forms a somewhat improbable partnership with an Irish terrorist (James Coburn) to seek revenge on the army for killing his sons.
Of course - of course - a vital part of the film is its music score by the great Ennio Morricone. While his scores for the other Leone westerns he did are brilliantly quirky, at times Duck, You Sucker's music is downright strange, particularly in Morricone's use of a voice singing "Sean Sean Sean" over the main theme (Sean being the late brother of Coburn's character - and the driving-force behind his actions in the film). That main theme is quite brilliant - the combination of the playful element and the exceptional wordless soprano midsection (Edda dell'Orso, of course) is a fine one, and it is very hard to get out of your head afterwards.
The other highlight - a truly stunning piece of film scoring - is "Marcia degli Accattoni", in which a bank robbery turns into a jailbreak. A funny little march builds and builds, occasionally interpolating Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", and various bells and whistles - and it's just as brilliant on the album as it is in the film. The amount of creative thinking required to create a piece of music like that - which isn't just quirky and fun, but makes its scene so cinematically potent - is almost impossible to comprehend, but of course Morricone has done that several times in his great career. Almost as good is "I Figli Morti", which combines plenty of "Sean Sean Sean", that wonderful main theme, and the more laid-back, whistled secondary theme.
That secondary theme gets a heartmelting oboe arrangement in the brief "Addio Messico", one of the most wonderful pieces of film music you're ever likely to hear which lasts less than a minute. The film has its share of high comedy, and the film has some lighthearted highlights too - "Scherzi a Parte" is essentially a duet between a flute and a presumably electronic instrument, playing around with variations on the "Sean Sean Sean" motif. A splendid nostalgic theme opens "Messico e Irlanda", perhaps slightly lost in the brilliance that surrounds it, but a really fantastic piece. "Rivoluzione Contro" is the inevitable dissonant action track - these things are an acquired taste, but an essential part of a score like this.
That the score isn't as good as Morricone's four other westerms for Leone is a reflection of their sheer brilliance more than any sign of deficiency here - this is still simply wonderful. Of course, the score has been released several thousand times - this version of the album features one bonus track, a delightful reprise of the main theme, compared with the original vinyl release, but the Cinevox label has since released a double-CD edition (though literally all of the extra cues seem to be rearrangements of ones which are already here). Whichever version you pick, this is surely an essential Morricone album - great stuff.