Release Date(s)1972 (May 7, 2019)
Studio(s)Cinema Shares International Distribution (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A
After the success of For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Lee Van Cleef enjoyed a run of more spaghetti westerns, which included The Big Gundown, Day of Anger, and Death Rides a Horse, among many others. Often overlooked from this period in time is The Grand Duel (aka Il Grande Duello), a 1972 effort from former Sergio Leone assistant director Giancarlo Santi.
Telling the story of an escaped convict (Alberto Dentice aka Peter O’Brien) with a bounty on his head and a sheriff (Lee Van Cleef) out to get him while also facing the consequences of his past, this particular western has a much more playful feel than those typically made during this period, which were mostly downbeat with undercurrents of cynicism. It doesn’t entirely work on a tonal level, partially due to Luis Enríquez Bacalov’s score, which bounces back and forth between a more laid back, atypical western flavor with slow repeating refrains on the harmonica to cornball action arrangements that reek of the timeframe that the film was made in. Subsequently, Quentin Tarantino even took samples of the score for the Kill Bill films much later on.
The story also shifts focus more than once, expanding upon the two main characters, including Van Cleef’s who winds up as more of a co-lead than an out and out star. He isn’t a “man with no name” type, but he does have his own reasons for doing what he does, and those around him find him almost anarchic because of it. His counterpart, the wanted criminal on the loose named Phillip, is of questionable allegiance at every turn, though he’s seemingly a thief with a heart of gold.
On the other hand, The Grand Duel is highlighted by some memorable camera work and action set pieces, including the opening which explodes with characters being catapulted into the air while firing their sidearms to multiple exchanges of gunfire. So even though the tonal qualities make it seem slightly inadequate, the film still has plenty to offer in terms of genre expectations.
For Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray release, the film has undergone a new 2K restoration from the original 2-perf Technicolor 35mm camera negative and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Even better, two versions of the film are included: the English language version, which features the title The Big Showdown and English opening and closing credits, and the Italian version, which features the title Il Grande Duello and Italian opening and closing credits (the latter appears to be print-sourced, even though the accompanying booklet doesn’t mention it). Outside of the credits and different languages, the content of each version is otherwise identical. It’s also worth noting that there’s also a longer German version of the film which couldn’t be included as the elements don’t seem to exist anymore.
Regardless of which language you chose, it’s a lovely and organic presentation with nicely-rendered grain and high levels of fine detail, none of it containing leftover artifacts or any unnecessary digital augmentation. The color palette, which is made up primarily of dusty and dirty environments, can be rich when given the chance, such as scenes that take place in saloons or wooded areas where hues are slightly more plentiful. The transfer also boasts deep blacks with good contrast and shadow detail. The image is stable and mostly clean aside from some leftover damage to the source that couldn’t be repaired, which is quite minor and relegated to mostly some mild flicker and small tears from time to time. It’s also worth noting that the backgrounds during the Italian credits sequences are much softer than those in the English credits sequences.
The audio is presented in either English or Italian mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. Both tracks are slightly narrow but well-rounded when it comes to the film’s score, which has more life to it than any of the soundtrack’s other aspects. Dubbing is slightly loose on both tracks, more so on the Italian track, which is to be expected. Sound effects, particularly gunfire, have plenty of impact, despite their often dated qualities. Some mild hiss is also present, which is more prevalent on the English track, but otherwise, both are free of defects and dropouts.
There’s also a bountiful amount of extras for this release. They include an audio commentary with film professor, author, and commentary favorite Stephen Prince; An Unconventional Western, a new 32-minute interview with director Giancarlo Santi; The Last of the Great Westerns, a new 26-minute interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi; Cowboy by Chance, a new 36-minute interview with actor Alberto Dentice aka Peter O’Brien; Out of the Box, a new 29-minute interview with producer Ettore Rosboch; The Day of the Big Showdown, a new 21-minute interview with assistant director Harald Buggenig; Saxon City Showdown: An Appreciation of The Grand Duel, a new 16-minute video essay by film academic Austin Fisher; Two Different Duels, a 16-minute side-by-side comparison between the Italian and longer German versions of the film; Game Over, a 10-minute sci-fi short film from 1984 directed by Bernard Villiot and starring The Grand Duel’s Marc Mazza; Who was the Rider on the Rain?, a 13-minute video essay about actor Marc Mazza by documentary filmmaker Mike Malloy; the international and Italian trailers for the film, both presented in HD; a Stills, Posters, and Press image gallery containing 18 stills; a Lobby Cards image gallery containing 34 stills; a Super 8mm, Home Video, and Soundtrack Sleeves image gallery containing 16 stills; and a 28-page insert booklet featuring cast and crew information, In the Grand Tradition of Leone by Kevin Grant, Original Reviews compiled by Roberto Curti, Play it Again Marc: Bernard Villiot on Game Over, and presentation details.
The previous Blu-ray of The Grand Duel, which was released as a co-feature with Keoma by Mill Creek Entertainment, left plenty to be desired, despite the $5 price tag. My only wish is that the longer German version of the film could have somehow been included, even in standard definition, just for the sake of completion. Otherwise, this is a dynamite package for spaghetti western fans the world over. Highly recommended.
– Tim Salmons