For those of you who like your oats with a fair helping of spaghetti, you’ve something to get excited about. Mill Creek Entertainment is bringing two deserving masterpieces of the unique genre to HD for the first time – a double bill aptly titled “the Spaghetti Western Double Feature.”
THE GRAND DUEL (aka THE BIG SHOWDOWN): Well, so far as it goes in my book, you’ve got ‘The Duke’ in the top spot. You’ve got Clint in the second spot. And, for my tastes, Lee Van Cleef has always been a close third place winner for the best gunslinger in a Western. Sure, maybe he’s a bit grizzled. Maybe he’s a bit gruff. But he just had ‘the look’ that worked so masterfully in the wild West – that steely glare rivaling even Eastwood in two out of his three forays into spaghetti Westerns (1965’s FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and 1966’s THE GUN, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY). Standing lean and walking tall, Van Cleef strode onto the streets with a gun on his hip, and you knew he meant business. 1972’s THE GRAND DUEL put him in the lead with this story of a somewhat retired marshal seeking justice for a young man wrongly accused to murdering the patriarch of a sleepy old town, and it features one of the finest showdowns ever committed to film in the film’s climax. Much of the film is a bit of a caper – a light police procedural told with some wit and humor – that doesn’t quite match Van Cleef’s bitter resolve, but, mostly, it’s a winner. Four stars.
KEOMA: And, of course, one can’t think of true spaghetti Westerns without the memorable contributions of Franco Nero. He takes center stage here in the title role as a wronged half-breed who goes back home seeking vengeance against his three cruel half-brothers for spoiling his youth with beatings and (mild) torture; but, before it’s all over, their aging father might have something to say about all of it. The 1976 film is revered as a Western masterpiece, and it certainly has all of the right elements: gunplay, action, an almost swashbuckling lead with Nero, excellent shooting locations, and some unforgettable cinematography. However, it also has – unquestionably – one of the most questionable soundtracks committed to any film, much less a Western. It’s a veritable Greek chorus singing out tunes to mimic or advance the emotional narrative of the tale. While some critics I’ve read laud it for its effectiveness, I found it almost comic by today’s standards. Three stars.
It all looks as grainy as an older feature might, but be warned: the audio is only a two channel presentation. THE GRAND DUEL was very tinny and hard to hear on a few occasions, though the mix of KEOMA wasn’t all that bad. No special features other than theatrical trailers, but both films are presented in theatrical widescreen, a format for which KEOMA makes extremely effective use. I’d argue that it’s worth watching both because each has something unique to offer by way of storytelling.
RECOMMENDED. Fans of traditional Westerns might be a bit put off by the characteristics that distinguish a true ‘Spaghetti Western’ from the more American variety, but there’s plenty of other reasons to hang on through these two wild films. As for THE GRAND DUEL (aka THE BIG SHOWDOWN), you get to watch Lee Van Cleef at the top of his game. As for KEOMA, you get some downright inspired location shots and cinematography that no doubt still inspires directors (Tarantino, anyone?) these days. The stories might seem a bit dated – maybe even a bit too traditional, so far as Westerns go – but they’re definitely serviceable tales with enough gunplay and action to hold one over until the next High Noon.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Mill Creek Entertainment provided me with a DVD Screener of the SPAGHETTI WESTERN DOUBLE FEATURE (THE GRAND DUEL / KEOMA) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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