Grand Duel, 1972
I’ve watched a few non-Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, now, and Grand Duel is the only one that really fit my expectations. It’s just about perfectly what you expect when you imagine the typical spaghetti western, from story through cast on down to the music.
A stagecoach is stopped just outside the town of Gila Bend, the driver is told that there’s a murderer in town, and some bounty hunters are waiting in ambush for him. Everyone in the coach has to stay put.
He says, “I’m thirsty,” and continues on. The bounty hunter just outside the stage pulls his gun and tries to tell Van Cleef to stay; Van Cleef hangs his bag and jacket on the guy’s gun and walks away.
As he saunters into town, he casually marks out where each bounty hunter is hiding. He lights a stogie, notices some movement in a pile of hay, so he tosses the match onto it. The guy hiding in it is forced to reveal himself to put it out. Brilliantly, he tries to cover himself again.
Van Cleef finally moseys into the saloon and gets some whiskey (under protest from the one-eyed saloon keeper, who doesn’t want to lose his remaining good eye.
The hunted man has been watching all this, and makes a break from his hiding place, taking out several of his hunters before barreling into the saloon. He threatens to shoot Van Cleef, who tells him that he might even have had a chance, if his gun wasn’t empty. The man, who is Pilipp Vermeer (played by Alberto Dentice, credited as “Peter O’Brien”), flashes back on the gunfight and realizes that he did indeed fire six shots.
They talk a little, Vermeer knows Van Cleef is a sheriff, and then the hunters outside demand that he come out. They’re willing to take him back alive if he doesn’t struggle, the reward’s the same either way. Neither Vermeer nor the sheriff buy it, but the sheriff tells Vermeer to toss his gun out and do what they say. So he does, then turns back and sees the sheriff has a gun on him.
Vermeer points out that sheriffs don’t get rewards when they bring men in.
Van Cleef’s sheriff calmly says “I never kill for money.”
I’m not going to recap the entire plot scene by scene, but that should give you a flavor of how things go. (And no, Vermeer was not shot, though you don’t learn that immediately.)
Vermeer’s murder, which he didn’t commit (of course), was of The Patriarch (he’s given no other name) of the Saxon family, in the town of Jefferson. Ex-Sheriff Clanton knows he didn’t do it, because he saw the man who did. One of the Saxon brothers also knows, and Clanton knows he knows, but the Saxons had Vermeer railroaded regardless.
As you might expect, cool is the operative word. The story’s not bad, it’s rather coherent, and the character motivations all seem pretty clear, but mostly this film is concerned with being cool, and it pretty much succeeds, largely due to Lee Van Cleef’s performance. Imagine Angel Eyes from The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, somewhat less ruthless and amoral, as the hero of the story, and that’s more or less how he plays it.
The other especially interesting bit that I wanted to mention is the lead up to the final gunfight. It takes place in a corral, not near the town but somewhere more remote. In a rather elegantly orchestrated series of shots, Van Cleef enters the corral from one side, and proceeds through a succession of gates to meet the Saxon brothers. The brothers are in three separate pens, and as Van Cleef approaches, one backs through a gate to join the second, then the two back through another gate to join the third.
The series of gates to be passed, the fence containing the men while surrounded by wide open space, is all very effective at building the tension of the scene.
Here’s the theme, taken from the opening sequence. It sounds a lot like Morricone, and isn’t.[audio:granddueltheme.mp3]
In short, it’s a load of fun, and Lee Van Cleef gets to strut his stuff, which is never a bad thing.
It is, of course, available on Mill Creek’s Spaghetti Westerns 20 Movie Pack which, as I have mentioned before, contains at least ten films not on any of their other collections, making it a must-have.
You can also get it on the Western Classics 50 Movie Pack but, as I also warned previously, there is an excessively high ratio of singing cowboy flicks on this collection.
Finally, it is also on the comprehensive Western 250 Movie Pack.
All of these versions are pan and scan, which is painfully obvious several times, and the picture is far less than pristine, as you can see from the screencaps above. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend this one. It’s a load of fun.