Duck, You Sucker  Review: Sergio Leone’s Final Western
Sergio Leone's final western may pale in comparison to his best-known efforts but Duck, You Sucker still delivers the goods in explosive doses, thanks to Leone's fab direction, its politically rich premise & dynamite performances from its leads. An interesting deconstruction of the romanticised nature of revolution, this epic zapata western remains the most overlooked film in Leone's filmography and is undeniably worthy of more love & appreciation.
The fifth & final western from the auteur of spaghetti westerns, Duck, You Sucker is arguably the most under-appreciated film of his career. Although not as great as his previous works in the genre, it is still accomplished enough to rank amongst the finest examples of Zapata westerns, thanks to Leone’s fabulous direction, the film’s politically charged premise & dynamite performances from its leads.
Serving only as a producer at first before being talked into taking up the directorial duties as well, this is a small-scale story unfolding on a large-scale canvas. Leone here attempts to deconstruct the romanticization of revolution, in the same manner, he deconstructed the American Old West in Once Upon a Time in the West and really digs into the human cost of revolution while commenting on the class struggle.
Set during the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s, Duck, You Sucker follows a Mexican outlaw who meets an Irish explosives expert on the run and forces him into his scheme of robbing a national bank, only to have the tables turned around when he inadvertently ends up freeing the rebel prisoners and is hailed by them as a glorious hero of the revolution, thus attracting the attention of the government’s forces.
Leone’s direction isn’t as polished as before but he nevertheless maintains a sense of stability over how the film’s set of events transpires. It takes a while for the story to get going but the character introductions still carry that cool, stylish touch while things only get better as the plot progresses. Also, despite one of the leads being amoral & despicable, Leone is still able to make us connect with the humanity within him.
Compared to earlier westerns by Leone, Duck, You Sucker has a more exaggerated feel to it. Camerawork ranges from extreme close-ups to sweeping pans of the vast, barren landscapes, and from energetic action to slow-mo flashbacks. The first act takes ample time to set things up but once the board is set, the journey sure gets more interesting. Also, Ennio Morricone’s score for this picture remains one of his most playful compositions.
What gives the story its strong foundational core is the unlikely friendship that develops between its two seemingly incompatible characters. And this bonding is allowed to simmer & grow at its own desired pace. Rod Steiger plays the Mexican outlaw and his arc only turns more human with time while James Coburn’s input exudes both confidence & charisma, with the story deriving most of its narrative juice from the friction & camaraderie in their chemistry.
On an overall scale, Duck, You Sucker is short on duels but big on explosions, and even though it lacks the sophistication of Leone’s best-known works, it is capable & sturdy enough to stand on its own. Easily the most overlooked film in Leone’s filmography, this epic Zapata western is undeniably worthy of more love and can definitely benefit from a broader viewership.
Capturing the essence of political revolution in its raw, messy, crude & conflicted form, Sergio Leone’s final western comes thoroughly recommended.