A Fistful of Dynamite

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Let's blow up some shit.
"I know what I am talking about when I am talking about the revolutions. The people who read the books go to the people who can't read the books, the poor people, and say, "We have to have a change." So, the poor people make the change, ah? And then, the people who read the books, they all sit around the big polished tables, and they talk and talk and talk and eat and eat and eat, eh? But what has happened to the poor people? They're dead! That's your revolution. Shhh... So, please, don't tell me about revolutions! And what happens afterwards? The same fucking thing starts all over again!"
Juan Miranda

Directed by Sergio Leone in 1971, the film takes place during the Mexican Revolution in 1913. Juan Miranda, a Mexican bandit, has a chance encounter with early Irish nationalist John Mallory. Mallory also happens to be a demolitions expert with enough explosives to level a mountain.

Despite a rather heated, if ultimately non-fatal, first meeting, Miranda seemingly enlists the Irishman's talents in order to fulfill his life's ambition: robbing the Mesa Verde national bank. Unfortunately for Juan, the entire heist is an elaborate ruse and John is simply using him to further the revolution's aims. And so begins Juan's unwillingly entry into the revolution and of course his chaotic friendship with Mallory.

Despite the light-hearted moments between Juan and John, the romantic side of revolution is frequently deconstructed throughout the movie as both characters suffer significant losses. It's arguably Sergio Leone's most politically charged movie, although the revolution setting was intended to be symbolic according to Word of God. The whole thing is, as with all Leone's westerns, set to epic Ennio Morricone.

The film never had the commercial success of the director's other Spaghetti Western classics, due in part to confusing trailers implying it was an actual comedy and poor marketing. Leone's insistence the movie be called Duck, You Sucker! in its initial U.S release despite being repeatedly told this was not a popular turn of phrase in the states didn't help things either. Critics reviewed it favourably but certainly not to the extent of the director's other work.

Sergio Leone's final western epic, it's also undoubtedly his most overlooked film.

The movie has been released under many titles; Duck, You Sucker! which in turn was derived from the films Italian name Giu La Testa literally meaning "Down with the Head" and during a re-release was renamed A Fistful Of Dynamite.

Tropes used in A Fistful of Dynamite include:
  • Accidental Hero: Despite Juan's best efforts to the contrary he is constantly being lauded as a hero of the revolution.
  • All There in the Script: The flashbacks are silent, so the name of John's friend (Nolan) is never known.
  • Anachronism Stew: When he is captured by the Governor, Mallory uses a Hi-Power handgun, which was first made around 1935. Later on, Juan uses a Nazi MG-42 (The 42 meaning 1942, when it was made) to blow away a government convoy. Both weapons are used in a film set in 1913
  • Artistic License History: Sergio Leone took many liberties with regards to the actual Mexican Revolution. This was however for the most part deliberate with the revolution as it was intended to be symbolic, rather than an accurate portrayal. Also see the entry for Did Not Do the Research below.
  • Badass: John Mallory
  • Badass Boast: "When I go, they're gonna have to re-write maps" Oh boy, does he deliver.
  • Bandito: Juan Miranda and his outlaws.
  • Bank Robbery: Subverted. Juan relieves the bank of all its valuables but unfortunately for him it's full of political prisoners, not money.
  • BFG: The big ass machine guns used at San Hoglay.
  • Big Bad: Colonel Reza.
  • Big Damn Heroes: John saves Juan's life at the last minute from a firing squad, in typical explosive fashion.
  • Black and Gray Morality: The protagonists are a greedy bandito and a smug guy obsessed with dynamite. The opponents are an evil army bent on emprisoning and/or killing anyone they meet.
  • Catch Phrase: Mallory's "Duck, You Sucker!"
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: Mallory has this across his face. A lot.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Compared to the Westerns of the period, there are a lot of F-bombs.
  • Death Glare: Juan gives one to GOD after finding his family dead.
  • Did Not Do the Research: John being an Irish nationalist in 1913 owns an IRA flag. Problem is the IRA didn't exist until 1919. He would have most likely been an Irish volunteer for the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) if any official organisation at all. This failing is further compounded by countless reviews and summaries of the film labelling John ex-IRA and even an IRA terrorist.
  • Downer Ending
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: John Mallory issues one of these before blowing away his former friend-turned-informant Sean Nolan with a shotgun.
  • Ennio Morricone: Did the soundtrack.
  • Fake Nationality: Main characters, Juan Miranda (Mexican) and John Mallory (Irish) are both played by Americans Rod Steiger and James Coburn.
  • Fan Disservice/Naked People Are Funny: A group of rich men are stripped naked by Juan's group.
  • Flash Back: John occasionally recalls his younger days back in Ireland with his best friend Sean and an unnamed love interest.
  • Flashback Echo: Played straight. John witnesses Dr. Villega betraying the resistance and pointing out members for the firing squad. He instantly recalls a similar event involving his friend Sean Nolan betraying him in Dublin.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Juan's view of revolution is that the poor die to replace those in power with other selfish rich people. Then the cycle simply repeats itself.
  • Heroic BSOD: Juan's reaction to his children's and John's deaths.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: John is fatally wounded during the film's final battle before deciding to go out with a bang.
  • Infant Immortality: Tragically averted with the death of Juan's children.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Juan Miranda.
  • Judge, Jury, and Executioner: John Mallory acts as this to Sean Nolan, deciding his fate on the spot when he attempts to have him arrested by British forces. It's heavily implied John feels a great deal of guilt over judging his old friend so harshly.

John: I don't judge , Ortega. I did that...only once in my life

  • Lovable Rogue: John.
  • Love Triangle: In Mallory's flashbacks of Ireland it's hinted he and his best friend Sean loved the same woman, which might have affected their judgement since Sean ended up ratting John to the British and John shot his friend.
  • Manly Tears: Juan, discovering his six children executed among the rebels.
  • The Mole: Sean Nolan. John's best friend and fellow Irish nationalist is revealed through flashbacks to be the reason he is on the run from the British for murder.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Apparently originally advertised as more of a comedy, which in turn likely helped undermined its commercial success. The first half of the movie is a Black Comedy, for argument's sake. Still, a movie that opens with a bunch of racists being mugged and raped likely isn't going to have too much sunshine and rainbows.
  • Not in This For Your Revolution: Juan. At least in the beginning before he's dragged into the revolution anyway. He's only after money initially.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Averted. Despite both James Coburn and Rod Steiger being American, their Irish and Mexican accents hold up well throughout the entire film
  • Rage Against the Heavens: When he finds his family murdered Juan tears the cross from his neck and obviously sees God as having failed them.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Dr. Villega.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: The film acts as a deconstruction of this.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilised: Embodies this trope.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Played straight and averted. John responds to his best friend Sean's treachery with extreme shotgun toting prejudice. However when faced with a very simular situation with Dr. Villega, he shows mercy implying regret over having "judged a man once" in the past.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Subverted. Juan attempts this alone when he finds his family dead. He ends up failing and being arrested.
  • Spaghetti Western
  • Stuff Blowing Up
  • Taking You with Me: During their heated first encounter, an enraged Miranda threatens to shoot Mallory, who responds by opening his coat to reveal enough explosive materials to send them all into the afterlife with him.

"When I go, I'm taking half this country with me"

  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Juan not just shooting, but machine-gunning the guy who shot John for like half a minute.
  • Title Drop: The phrase "Duck, you sucker(s)" is used multiple times, typically before John blows something to hell and back. "A fistful of dynamite" is nowhere to be heard (it was probably a reference to Leone's own A Fistful of Dollars).
  • Torture Always Works: Sean Nolan & Dr. Villega are both tortured into becoming informants on their respective allies.
  • Throw Down the Bomblet: John. Aw hell yeah.
  • Tranquil Fury: John Mallory. He's almost serene at San Hoglay and barely flinches as he kills two British officers and his former friend in a bar.