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With: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Klaus Kinski, James Coburn, Rod Steiger, Harry Dean Stanton
Written by: Sergio Leone, Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati, etc.
Directed by: Sergio Leone
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 570
Date: 19/03/2013

The Sergio Leone Anthology (2007)

4 Stars (out of 4)

The Man with No Shame

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy The Sergio Leone Anthology on DVD

Sergio Leone (1929-1989) has more than 50 movies on his resume, but only seven as credited director. Nonetheless, in recent years, his star as one of the great directors of the 20th century has slowly risen. No other filmmaker made such luxurious use of space and time; Leone could wait nearly forever for a scene to play out and pay off, and he used vast expanses of space, both left to right on his 'Scope widescreen frames, but also an infinite distance. He specialized in the Spaghetti Western, whose stretches of dusty wasteland were his perfect palate -- but who knows what kind of films he could have made given time and resources. Certainly his final film, Once Upon a Time in America (1984) -- ten years in the making -- showed that he could do almost anything.

He began with sword-and-sandal films, writing scripts and serving as either assistant director or actor. His debut came with The Colossus of Rhodes (1961), but he immediately detoured into Westerns, making the famous "Man with No Name" series with Clint Eastwood. In 2003, MGM restored and re-released Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) in theaters. Technicians had tracked down the original footage, which had not yet been dubbed into English. Nearly 40 years after the fact, Eastwood and Eli Wallach (and a voice impersonator for the late Lee Van Cleef) came in to dub the new scenes. The subsequent DVD carried over the brilliant work done on this restoration, and MGM's new Leone box set, "The Sergio Leone Anthology," preserves this DVD exactly.

But the new set also improves upon the first two Eastwood films, A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965), adding all the extras that were previously available on the European DVDs, but not on the chintzy American DVDs.

For a Few Dollars More features Eastwood not as "The Man with No Name," but as Monco, a bounty hunter who learns of the high price on a dangerous bandit called Indio (Gian Maria Volontè). Unfortunately, another, more experienced bounty hunter Col. Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) has also decided to bag Indio for himself. So the two strike up an uneasy partnership, with Monco pretending to join Indio's gang and the Colonel giving the orders from behind the scenes. It's a good deal longer and more expansive than A Fistful of Dollars, and Leone heightens the sense of danger by making both the Colonel and Indio as crafty and cunning as Monco; since there's no clear winner, every scene crackles with energy. As always, Ennio Morricone's score provides suspense and a unique mood. Klaus Kinski stars as one of Indio's goons (he was also in Sergio Corbucci's The Great Silence.) In the U.S. cut, all references to the name "Monco" were cut out so that the distributor could advertise the film with the "Man with No Name" gimmick.

The real reason to get excited about this eight-disc set, however, is the American DVD debut of Leone's Duck You Sucker, a.k.a. A Fistful of Dynamite (1971). The film stars Rod Steiger as a Mexican bandit, Juan Miranda, who meets up with an Irish explosives expert, John H. Mallory (James Coburn). It's the Mexican Revolution, and one man wishes to help out while the other wishes to help himself. Once again, Leone presents a complex hero and villain who must rely on each other for help. It's his most overtly political film; he seems too worried about the quality of his opinions to make sure the film moves properly. And though both actors are excellent, it's distracting to see them portraying other cultures. Steiger reminded me of Charlton Heston's Mexican cop in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958) and Coburn's Irish accent reminded me of Welles in The Lady from Shanghai (1948). Regardless, Leone's genius is clearly on display here, and it's a near-great film. Morricone provides arguably his most bizarre score.

Each film comes with its own separate disc full of extras. Leone scholar Sir Christopher Frayling provides commentary tracks, and there are dozens of interviews and featurettes, including several with Eastwood. (Eastwood admits that he learned a lot from Leone, even though he believes that Leone could have shortened things a bit.) Director Monte Hellman explains how he was hired to shoot extra footage for the TV premiere of A Fistful of Dollars, basically adding a prologue that made Eastwood's character more heroic and less selfish. (The disc includes Hellman's footage, starring Harry Dean Stanton, although transferred from a terrible video recording.) There are also many trailers and TV spots. Critic Richard Schickel provides a commentary track on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and critic Roger Ebert contributes an essay to the helpful liner notes booklet.

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