From the innovative "James Bond Western" style of A Fistful of Dollars
(1964) to the complete restoration of Duck You Sucker
(1971), The Sergio Leone Anthology
pays lavish tribute to one of the greatest of all Italian directors. A lifelong film buff deeply influenced by the movies he enjoyed as an uneducated youth in southern Italy, Leone (1929-1989) had officially directed only one previous film (1961's The Colossus of Rhodes
) when he recruited a relatively unknown American TV star named Clint Eastwood (on a modest salary of $15,000) and made cinema history with A Fistful of Dollars
, not the first Western made by an Italian but certainly the first truly Italian
entry in the "Spaghetti Western" genre that Leone virtually invented. Each of the four films included in this eight-disc set are influential milestones in that once-maligned, now-celebrated genre, and while Leone's classic Westerns were largely dismissed by critics throughout the 1960s and '70s, they now stand as the masterworks of a visionary artist who was posthumously elevated into the pantheon of world-class filmmakers. To acknowledge Leone's historic impact on the genre, the Leone Anthology
includes MGM's previous two-disc extended-cut collector's edition of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
(1966), and applies the same deluxe treatment to A Fistful of Dollars
, For a Few Dollars More
(1965), and, for the first time on DVD, the fully restored English-language version of the original 157-minute Italian cut of Duck You Sucker
(previously known by its alternate U.S. title A Fistful of Dynamite
), which was never shown in American theaters.
A Fistful of Dollars is best known in America for spawning the "Man With No Name" marketing campaign that made Eastwood a star, although Eastwood's character is clearly named "Joe" in this cleverly adapted low-budget remake of Akira Kurosawa's samurai classic Yojimbo, in which Eastwood's lone drifter vies for strategic advantage in a corrupt Mexican town divided by a bitter family feud. The operatic qualities that grew increasingly lavish in Leone's later films are evident here on a smaller scale, along with the modern, innovative score of Ennio Morricone, whose legendary collaborations with Leone (on all four of these films) were vital to the director's deliberate defiance of Hollywood's Western traditions. Fistful was an instant success in Italy and its immediate sequel, For a Few Dollars More, is often cited as the definitive Spaghetti Western, with a bigger budget ($600,000) and a charismatic costar with Eastwood (Lee Van Cleef) in an uneasy alliance between gunslingers that introduced a hint of humanity to Leone's increasingly de-mythologized vision of the West. While teaming Eastwood, Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach in a ruthless Civil War-era quest for buried Confederate gold, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly completed Leone's "Dollars" trilogy (filmed primarily on locations in Spain) on a truly epic scale, introducing the darker cynicism, grander ambition, and artistic maturity that defined Leone's later films.
Leone vowed to quit making Westerns after his 1968 masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West (a Paramount release not included in this set), but circumstances led him to seize the directorial reins of Duck You Sucker, a dynamic yet deeply disillusioned study of revolution that can now take its rightful place among Leone's greatest films. Like several of Leone's films, Duck You Sucker suffered a long history of cuts, re-cuts, and censorship, and the fully restored 157-minute version (unseen since the film's 1971 Italian premiere) more effectively explores the complex friendship between an Irish rebel explosives expert (James Coburn) and a brutish Mexican bandit (Rod Steiger) who becomes a reluctant revolutionary in 1913 Mexico. With explosive action sequences that remain among the most impressive ever filmed, Duck You Sucker now gives richer meaning to the film's original Italian title Giù la testa ("Keep Your Head Down"), asserting Leone's theme that family is far more important than the devastating violence of revolution. In the Leone Anthology (a variation on previous DVD sets released in England, Germany, and Japan), Duck You Sucker is the long-awaited crown jewel in a box-set of cinematic treasures. And while Leone purists will endlessly debate over the image quality (generally quite impressive) and 5.1-channel soundtrack mixes included here, there's no denying that The Sergio Leone Anthology is the definitive Leone tribute for a technically demanding 21st-century audience, and that's cause for enthusiastic celebration. --Jeff Shannon
On the DVDs
Listed is the eight-disc set (also including cast lists, scene selections, brief synopses, and behind-the-scenes details), the bonus features found in The Sergio Leone Anthology provide a comprehensive study of Leone's career, themes that dominated his work, and the historical contexts that inform Leone's classic "Spaghetti Westerns." With an even balance of lively authority and erudite scholarship, acclaimed Leone biographer and British film historian Sir Christopher Frayling provides informative commentary on A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and Duck You Sucker, while Time magazine critic Richard Schickel's equally astute commentary remains on MGM's previous two-disc release of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. (Many of these features were prepared for the U.K. version of The Leone Anthology, including interviews conducted in 2003 and 2005.) In addition to a wide variety of vintage American radio promotional spots for these films, the meticulously researched and delightfully fascinating "location comparisons" show "then and now" scenes from all four films, with original film clips perfectly matched to location photos taken in 2004 by devoted Leone fans Donald S. Bruce and Marla J. Johnson.
Extras on A Fistful of Dollars begin with "A New Kind of Hero" (22:53), Frayling's behind-the-scenes analysis of the film's innovative anti-hero played by Clint Eastwood, whom Leone hired (when first choices Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Lee Marvin, and Charles Bronson proved too expensive) after seeing Eastwood in a 1961 episode of Rawhide. In the interview featurette "A Few Weeks in Spain" (8:33), Eastwood recalls the experience of making the film on location, and "Tre Voci" (or "Three Voices") is an 11-minute combination of retrospective interviews with producer Alberto Grimaldi, screenwriter Sergio Donati, and Mickey Knox, an American actor living in Rome who provided many of the post-synchronized voices for the English-language versions of Leone's films. In "Not Ready for Prime Time" (6:20), maverick American director Monte Hellman describes the circumstances that led to his direction of an explanatory Fistful of Dollars prologue for the film's American network TV premiere on August 29, 1977. Featuring Harry Dean Stanton, and filmed as an attempt to "legitimize" the Man With No Name's seemingly immoral behavior, the rarely-seen prologue (7:44) is introduced by obsessive Leone fan Howard Fridkin, who saved his Betamax recording from the one-time-only 1977 broadcast.
Frayling examines For a Few Dollars More in "A New Standard" (20:15), a "making of" featurette with emphasis on the film's male/male dynamic (described by Frayling as Leone's "invention of the brother he never had"). In "Back for More" (7:08), Eastwood recalls how he'd begun to watch Leone to inform his own directorial ambitions. "Tre Voci" (11:05) continues the retrospective interviews with Grimaldi, Donati, and Knox, and "The Original American Release Version" (5:19) examines three edits (including removal of the name "Manco" so Eastwood's character could remain "nameless" in the film's American marketing) that were made for the film's U.S. release.
Extras on The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly are highlighted by "Leone's West" (19:53) and "The Leone Style" (23:47), a pair of excellent documentaries exploring the film itself and the evolution of Leone's visual style as his budgets and production values grew to epic proportions. Featuring interviews with Clint Eastwood, critic and Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel, and others, these are must-see features packed with entertaining observations and anecdotes. Lending historical context to Leone's film, "The Man Who Lost the Civil War" is a 14-minute excerpt from a documentary about ill-fated Confederate general Henry Hopkins Sibley's botched campaign to expand Confederate dominance in the West. The "Reconstruction" featurette (11:07) is a detailed study of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly's painstaking restoration to Leone's intended 179-minute extended cut, featuring an interview John Kirk, the MGM director of technical operations who supervised the film's meticulous reconstruction. The essential contribution of composer Ennio Morricone is celebrated in the "Il Maestro" featurette (7:47) and film music historian Jon Burlingame provides an excellent audio-only survey (12:29) of Morricone's most popular soundtrack. Deleted scenes include the extended "Tuco torture" sequence (in which the brutal beating of Eli Wallach's character is masterfully cross-cut with the melancholy performance of a prison-camp orchestra); the brilliant "Socorro sequence" that was drastically edited in previous cuts; and a French trailer revealing shots and alternate angles not seen in the film's various theatrical releases. The poster gallery includes eight posters from the film's international marketing campaigns.
For Duck You Sucker, Frayling's film-by-film analysis continues in "The Myth of Revolution" (22:10), a behind-the-scenes study of Leone's deepening artistic maturity, as manifested in the film's cynical view of political revolution. "Donati Remembers" (7:20) is a continuation of the retrospective interview with screenwriter Sergio Donati (who by the early '70s was urging Leone to return to smaller-scale filmmaking), and "Once Upon a Time in Italy" (6:00) explores the ambitious effort that went into creating the definitive traveling exhibit of material (props, posters, costumes, etc.) from Leone's archives and beyond, first shown at the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage, in Los Angeles, California, in July 2005. In "Sorting Out the Versions" (11:37), film historian Glenn Erickson narrates a visual survey of the various cuts and changes made to Duck You Sucker during its tortured history of global distribution, and in "Restoration Italian Style" (6:07), MGM director of technical operations John Kirk outlines the painstaking effort to restore Duck You Sucker to its original Italian premiere length of 157 minutes, resulting in the first-ever English language version based on the film's Italian-language restoration of 1996. The disc concludes with the enjoyable "Location Comparisons" (9:32), six rare radio spots from the film's original U.S. release in 1972, and (as with all other films in this set) the original theatrical trailer. --Jeff Shannon