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August 31, 2013

Movie Review: Grand Duel (1972, DVD)

Review By: Rob Sibley

How does this sound? Directed by Giancarlo Santi who was Sergio Leone's second unit director on Good, The Bad & The Ugly and Once upon a time in the west. Written by one of the most talented and prolific Italian writers Ernesto Gastaldi. Who brought us many wrote many fine Westerns such as Day of Anger and My Name is Nobody. What might interest you is Gastaldi was more well known for writing Giallo's.

Such classics as Torso, The Case Of The Scorpions Tail, All the colors of the dark and The Case of the Bloody Iris to name a few. He also wrote the hard boiled crime classic "Kidnap Syndicate" for Fernando Di Leo. Then add in the always impressive Lee Van Cleef and you have one of the best and maybe one of the most single handily underrated spaghetti Westerns of all time! Even Quentin Tarantino used Luis EnrĂ­quez Bacalov theme for the film very effectively in Kill Bill Vol 1.

At times the film feels like a Western Giallo, at the films core it is a murder mystery of sorts. One of the things that's usually lacking from Spaghetti westerns are plots. A lot of the times they focus on more outlandish elements and characters and violence to tell a story. I love films like Django Kill... if you live shoot and Manja. But Grand Duel is a near classic, it's not your typical Spaghetti Western by any means. It's a beautifully constructed film, the shot composition is nothing short of outstanding and the direction rivals that of Leone's and Castelari Westerns.

After their powerful father is brutally murdered, the Saxon Brother's hire a group of bounty hunters to bring the suspected killer Philipp Wermeer to justice. But when grizzled Sherrif Clayton (Lee Van Cleef) saves the fugitive life, the two set out to confront the Saxons and reveal the shocking truth about who really killed The Patriarch.

That's just the tip of the ice berg as plenty happens throughout the breezy 94 minute running time. The film took me by surprise because... let's be honest Lee Van Cleef was a tremendous actor but he did a lot of of Westerns. Some were stellar, specially the Leone Westerns, Death Rides A Horse and the two Sabata Westerns. Some were downright boring and inept, Bad Man's River & Bullet From God come to mind. Luckily Grand Duel is one of the better Van Cleef Westerns.

The film works on two fronts, one as you're straight forward violent spaghetti western and second as a murder mystery. From the get go they make it obvious that the suspected culprit didn't do it. So Van Cleef spends the running time protecting him from a cast of very violent characters. It's interesting to note that Alberto Dentice (Credited as Peter O'Brien) only acting credit is this picture. His performance was very impressive as he starts out as your typical unlikeable outlaw and becomes a rather sympathetic character. My guess is he was a man who came from money who just wanted to try acting out. You'll notice in Italian cinema in general throughout the 70's and 80's a lot of actors and actresses who would only do a couple of pictures and then retire. Usually that was because the actors came from money and were just giving acting a go and a lot of the actresses would make a picture and be swooped up by some wealthy kat. So you have a lot of people who tend to drop off the map rather quickly.

Italian film politics aside, The Grand Duel features a few sequences of rousing action and bloodshed. Not to mention one helluva twist ending which makes the entire viewing experience that much more pleasurable. It's not the greatest Spaghetti Western ever made but it's certainly a damn good one.The flash backs are maybe the highlight of the show. Other reviewers have pointed out that a certain shot of a train arriving, leaving characters siloutted in smoke and steam probably inspired Andrew Dominik for "Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford" and I couldn't agree more. It's one of the more skillfully shot westerns, partially because the film had a bigger budget to work with then most.

 We all know our hero is only as good as their villains they have to deal with. Boy o boy The Grand Duel feature some truly vile baddies, even for Spaghetti Western.  These are truly despicable white collar criminals who love abusing their power.

A compelling Giallo style murder mystery jammed into the center of a Spaghetti Western makes this a must see. 

The Grand Duel has seen countless releases on DVD over the years. It's gotten sup-bar releases from company's like Pop Flix & East West Entertainment which presented the film pan & scan. It was released on DVD in the UK by Elstree Hill in one of the worst transfers I've ever seen. Then in 2005 it was given a nice double bill release with Beyond The Law courtesy of Wild East Productions. Grand Duel even received a Blu-ray release from Mill Creek as part of a double bill with the Enzo/Nero classic “Keoma”. Now the film receives it's latest release via Blue Underground.

At first I was highly disappointed that BU didn't give the film a Blu-ray release (They don't own the rights to release it on Blu). But once watching the transfer I can easily say they used the same transfer for both their releases so you can't go wrong either way. Audio is equally impressive but Blue Underground does come out the victor by including some excellent special features.

We start off with a highly informative and jovial commentary courtesy of Journalists C. Courtney Joyner (Who funny enough wrote Renny Harlin's Prison) & Henry Parke. Both Joyner and Parke know their stuff when it comes to Italian filmmaker and westerns in general. The two have a good report with each other and the information flies fast and furious. The commentary is a keeper and warrants repeated listens to fully digest the sheer volume of information.

You get the films theatrical trailer and last but certainly not least is the fun “Spaghetti Western Trailer Reel”. Which is 29 minutes of worth of trailers for previous BU Western releases cobbled together. If your a fan of those great trailer compilation DVD s like 42nd street forever you'll dig this extra.

All and all The Grand Duel is a must for Spaghetti Western and Van Cleef fans. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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