Wednesday, June 26, 2013

DVD Review: THE GRAND DUEL (1972)


Label: Blue Underground

Region Code: Region FREE NTSC
Audio: English Dolby Digital Mono
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (2.35:1)
Duration: 94 Minutes
Rating: R

Director: Giancarlo Santi
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Alberto Dentice, Jess Hahn, Horst Frank, Klaus Grunberg

The Grand Duel (1972) is the debut feature film from director Giancarlo Santi whom was second unit director on Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) among others, it turns out he could shoot a pretty great Spaghetti Western, too. The film stars a face quite familiar to the Euro-Western genre, the steely-eyed Lee Van Cleef (Escape from New York) as Sheriff Clayton, a lawman stripped of his star on the trail of a Phillip Wermeer (Alberto Dentice) whom stands accused of murdering the patriarch of the crooked Saxon clan. 

At the top of the film Clayton catches up with Wermeer in Gila Bend, Arizona. Complicating the apprehension of the fugitive is the arrival of a band of bounty hunters out for the reward on his skull. Clayton's not about to hand him over to the low lifes and actually assists in helping Wermeer evade his would-be captors, there's a rather elaborate and unrealistic escape sequence with Wermeer using a falling corpse and a wagon to launch himself to freedom, this is a frenetic actioner at times and the action looms large in this scrappy western. While the jailbird temporarily regains his freedom at some point the sly-eyed sheriff captures him, however, instead of turning him over to be hanged the two men form an uneasy partnership, the motivations for which boil down to each man seeking justice,  which ties directly to the three surviving Saxon sons who want nothing more than to see Wermeer hanged for their father's death.

The brothers Saxon make for a great trio of villains, there's a corrupt politician, a crooked sheriff and a despicable, scar-faced brother who guns down an unarmed old man outside of a saloon, just to prove what a piece of shit he really is. Each of the brother's get some depth to 'em, not too deep mind you, but just enough to make 'em interesting. Who actually gunned down the Saxon patriarch is a point of contention and we get some nice monochromatic flashbacks to that fateful night at the rail station, small touches like this reinforce the notion that this is definitely an above average watch as Spaghetti Westerns go, these Euro cowboy films are like surf-rock and ska-punk - there's only a handful of decent ones for every hundred or so, and the late-60's and early 70's were lousy with imported westerns, thankfully we have great distributors like Blue Underground to help sort through the chaff. . 

The Grand Duel comes sorta late in the Euro-western game but Giancarlo Santi's film is stylish, violent and not without some humor, this is fun stuff that plays very much like a old west buddy cop variation on the typical western revenge story. Van Cleef is fantastic as the silent but deadly lawman Clayton, Dentice plays off Van Cleef's straight man to great effect, the two make for a entertaining duo. We get some great dusty set pieces and it's packed gun-slinging action and fun, over-the-top stunt work  at one point Van Cleef's character catches a bullet in his teeth, so there's definitely a sense of fantasy at play here but it never devolves into a send-up of the genre, this is a mighty fine Euro-Western with everything you'd expect and a few surprises to keep things interesting

DVD: Blue Undergrounds dual-layered DVD edition of The Grand Duel has been transferred in hi-def from the original Italian negative and fully restored for this release, and it looks mighty fine. There's minimal print damage and a nice layer of fine film grain, the new hi-def transfer definitely passes muster with strong sun-drenched colors and a fair amount of depth for a standard-def image, occasionally it appears soft but overall this is a great looking edition, wish BU had the Blu-ray right to this one. 

The English Dolby Digital mono audio does it's job but not much more, the dubbed dialogue is crisp but there's the expected lack of depth to the proceeding, Luis Bacalov's haunting score sounds quite nice, fans of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol.1  (2003) will most definitely recognize the film's memorable theme. 

Special feature's include an audio commentary from journalists C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke who provide an informative and entertaining accompaniment to the feature, there's no dead air-and what's said is quite interesting, particularly for myself who knew little about the director and not much about the genre. We also get a Theatrical Trailer (2:55) for the film and a Spaghetti Western Trailer Reel (26:31). 

Verdict: The Grad Duel is pretty cool, scorched sun and sweat Spaghetti Western with a very nice presentation from Blue Underground. It's is a keeper, Lee Van Cleef was never cooler onscreen than with what he throws at us here, it's not usurping Sergio Leon'e Dollars Trilogy for Spaghetti Western supremacy but it's a definite recommend. 3 Outta 5