THE GRAND DUEL: A Fistful of Lee Van Cleef
Starring Lee Van Cleef, Alberto Dentice, Horst Frank, Marc Mazza, Klaus Grunberg, Antonio Casale, Dominique Daril. Directed by Giancarlo Santi. (1972/94 min).
On Blu-ray from ARROW VIDEO
Like any respectable western fan, I hold Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy in the highest regard. After all, they created the spaghetti western template and remain the standard by which all others are still judged. And of course, they made Clint Eastwood an international star.
The late, great Lee Van Cleef was in two of those films, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, and with all due respect to Mr. Eastwood, I thought the characters played by Van Cleef were the best parts of both of them. The intensity needle dropped just a notch whenever he wasn’t on the screen, and in my humble opinion, he’s not in either film nearly enough.
The coolest thing about 1972’s The Grand Duel (on-screen title: The Big Showdown) is Van Cleef is almost the whole show here, bringing an abundance of his beloved badassery. The popularity – not-to-mention quality – of spaghetti westerns may have been on-the-wane at the time, but Van Cleef was always enjoyable in them. What renders The Grand Duel a cut above most of them is Van Cleef’s character, Sheriff Clayton, an ambiguously-motivated anti-hero not unlike Colonel Mortimer in For a Few Dollars More.
For reasons slowly made clear as the story unfolds, Clayton repeatedly saves Philip Wermeer (Alberto Dentice) from a variety of bounty hunters. Philip is wanted for the murder of Saxon City’s patriarch, Ebenezer Saxon, but claims he’s innocent, which Clayton is already aware of. Ebenezer’s three sons supposedly want to see him hang, but Philip, whose own father may have been murdered at the behest of the Saxons, is looking for a little payback of his own. It’s soon clear that the Saxons are actually more interested in making a political power grab involving a nearby silver mine that Philip’s father owned.
The plot itself ebbs and flows, as does the viewer’s overall interest in it. The Grand Duel works best when it focuses on the action, with scenes which range from intense & violent to intentionally silly. The same could be said about some of the characters. Van Cleef is his usual steely-eyed self, delivering each line with intimidating authority and dominating every scene he’s in. The Saxon boys make formidable protagonists, with Klaus Grunberg a stand-out as the repulsively sadistic Adam. The same can’t be said for Barry Gibb lookalike Dentice, whose overwrought performance grows increasingly irritating.
The Grand Duel is directed by frequent Leone collaborator Giancarlo Santi. He may not have the master’s touch – or budget – but shows he’s learned a thing or two along the way. Though story itself ain’t much, the film is fast-moving, fun and occasionally quite funny, with Van Cleef’s charisma to keep it all together.
Like their recent release of Keoma, Arrow Video has put together a comprehensive Blu-ray for this one, with a great transfer and abundance of bonus features, making this a good pick-up for spaghetti western lovers.