A forgotten movie: The Grand Duel (1972)

grand3Most people I know are not fans of Westerns, but a good majority know that The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) is a good movie, which means they probably know that Lee Van Cleef is a good actor.  The second best thing to a Sergio Leone movie is something like The Grand Duel, directed by Leone’s buddy, Giancarlo Santi. In reading a few things about this movie, I stumbled upon a whole bastion of STUFF dedicated to spaghetti Westerns, Italian Westerns, comedy westerns, black hat Westerns and more.

grand1Did you know there are whole websites dedicated to chronicling information about Westerns, the latest news about Westerns and Westerns DVDs?  There are websites about the Westerns of the 60s, B-Movie Westerns, and even whole websites about Western memorabilia.  Maybe that isn’t so hard to believe, but the diverse resources and the sheer amount of them make the Western a daunting genre.  Cinemacom.com has a big list of the top 500 Westerns ever made.  That’s 500 folks.  As early as movies started, there were Westerns, from the turn of the century on.

The SUBGENRES of Westerns are also very interesting to me.  The characteristics of these types of movies seem like a good way to twist the genre to something new and fun and unique.  Combining different elements of other genres with the Western is common in these subgenres, but all of them have similar characteristics that make the core of the genre popular.  Things are heroes, gun fights, facing danger, masculinity, brawls, and the Frontier are all common things you might find in a Western or Western subgenre like one of these:

  1.  The Epic Western – This subgenre has a grand scale and a large tapestry with which to tell a big story, which is usually related to history.  Epics usually have a very large budget.
  2. Singing Cowboy Westerns – These are the short, Roy Rogers movies of the 1940s characterized by songs and good-natured cowboy characters.
  3. Charro Westerns – Westerns from Mexican film, featuring Mexican rural society.
  4. Euro Westerns – Movies made in Western Europe.
  5. Horror Westerns- Movies with horror elements.
  6. Revisionist Westerns – Movies with a contemporary perspective on Westerns.
  7. Comedy Westerns – Westerns with skits or jokes, like Blazing Saddles.
  8. Sci-Fi Westerns – Westerns with science fiction elements, like lasers and spaceships.
  9. Northwesterns – Movies that take place in Alaska or Western Canada, like North to Alaska.
  10. Spaghetti Westerns – Often these movies have low-budgets and are shot on location, but are usually slanted to depict characters with questionable morals.

grand5Lee Van Cleef is a veteran of the spaghetti Western, and he’s racked up over 90 movie roles in total.  Unlike his movies with Clint Eastwood, Van Cleef stars in The Grand Duel as the main character and the hero.  Of course, this is a spaghetti Western, so he’s not Roy Rogers, he does questionable things and has a fall from grace, but in the end, feels justified.  The movie spends most of its running time exploring this concept.

Another concept common in Westerns is the use of an older veteran guiding or interacting with a younger rebellious gunfighter.  This is how Van Cleef played off of Clint Eastwood, where he was a dark character, most often looking for revenge or profit.  In The Grand Duel, he’s the veteran again, but now he’s heroic and the young guy is the wild one.  Alberto Dentice plays the young Phillip, who’s pretty much a jerk, but wrongly accused of a murder nonetheless, and he’s sorta off the hinge about that, so he’s basically on a quest for the truth.  His take on Phillip reminded me of Paul Newman, because he has those classic good-looks and charming personality, like a con-man with a gun.

The direction is where this movie really excels, because the story is really nothing special.  The director gives us action, great angles, a good pace and the cinematography is great.  The camera moves like in a Sergio Leone movie, zooming in at critical moments, but not too much, so it’s not as dizzying.  This is also Quentin Tarantino’s favorite Western, and he borrowed the title score for Kill Bill.  

grand2Lee Van Cleef plays Clayton, a disgraced Sheriff who was run out-of-town by some corrupt jerks.  He helps out the young Phillip, who is accused of killing The Patriarch, the Big Bad of the town.  The movie involves a lot of travel, which is good because it helps the pace and makes it feel more like an adventure.  Van Cleef and Dentice play off each other well, but Dentice feels stiff and some of the other characters aren’t that special.  This is probably why The Grand Duel has disappeared, because it doesn’t really stick out in the crowd of Westerns.  I think it’s a good movie with its flaws.  The score is amazing and catchy, as I said.

Overall, this is a movie I’d watch again.  A Few Dollars More feels repetitive now that I’ve seen it so many times, but The Grand Duel feels more fresh and new.  Lee Van Cleef is a little older, but still has some good moments.  He also catches a bullet with his teeth, which is pretty funny.  I was blinking at that one.  Is this a B-Movie?  You’d think so with that stunt.  Van Cleef and Dentice soak up the screen as the story slowly reveals who really killed The Patriarch.  In the end, Justice is Served and so I approve of the conclusion.  It works.  The face-off is not exactly to the scale of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but the lead-up is entertaining.