The Ugly, the Ugly and the Ugly: Spaghetti with Extra Sauce

One of the most unusual, freakish and violent spaghetti westerns ever made (and that’s saying a lot!), 1972’s THE GRAND DUEL, directed by Giancarlo Santi, comes to Blu-Ray in an extras-laden special edition, thanks to the folks at Arrow/MVDvisual.

The movie, while predominantly spaghetti in flavor and origin, is actually a co-production with France and Germany – so add sides of crepes (pronounced “creeps”) and brats.

The story, while on the surface seems typical of the genre, is remarkably fresh and different – yet, dutifully pays homage to Leone, as well as to the great Sergio Sollima 1967 entry The Big Gundown (DUEL’s alternate Euro title was The Big Showdown); the movie additionally is a nod to it’s spaghetti superstar lead Lee Van Cleef.  You’ll also notice references to Death Rides a Horse, The Mercenary, and other staples of the beloved genre; furthermore, you can throw in Stagecoach and Man Without a Star, among the slew American masterpieces, likewise duly paid tribute in a revisionist, stylish way.

Van Cleef plays Clayton, a fairly honest lawman, whose striving for justice in an unjust land, gets him the boot – and not in a nice way.  He rescues a young fall guy, Newland (Horst Frank) – about to be dealt with for the murder of a local icon, known as The Patriarch.  Together, the pair set out to solve the killing, leaving a trail of bodies and carnage behind.

As you might have guessed, THE GRAND DUEL is as much a mystery as a western.  Credit this to screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, acclaimed scribe of many classic gialli.  Director Santi, a former a.d. to Leone on GBU and Once Upon a Time in the West, excels in creating the necessary suspense and pulling off some amazing action sequences.

Most bizarre is the confrontation with the despicably evil Saxon family, particularly sociopathic son Adam.  Adam Saxon is more than a mere vicious psychopath – he’s a bisexual vicious psychopath, his face pockmarked with remnants of decades of STDs.  It’s that kind of a show.

Van Cleef, as usual, is terrific, using all of his formidable tricks of the trade, aka them “angel eyes,” a penchant for delivering lean dialog with scalpel effect, and fast gunfighting skills.  The supporting cast admirably backs him up, and deserves mention – especially the aforementioned Frank, Peter O’Brien, Jess Hahn, Antonio Casale, Dominque Darel, Matt Mazza, Alessandra Cardini, and  Anna Maria Gheraldi.  Most prominent is the actor portraying the loathsome Adam – Germany’s Klaus Gunsberg.  It’s an astonishing performance from a thesp whose only other pic I’ve seen him in was as the likeable, doomed protagonist in Barbet Schroeders’ 1969 psychedelic noir More (playing opposite the great Mimsy Farmer, in possibly her finest role).

The remaining credits are top-notch as well, specifically the beautiful scope camerawork of Mario Vulpiani and the wonderful score by Sergio Bardotti (pseudonym for Luis Enriquez Bacalov, best known as the composer of the original Django, The 10th Victim, and  It Can Be Done Amigo. A recent posthumous credit is as music contributor to the current hit BBC series Killing Eve; Bardotti/Bacalov passed in 2007).

The new Arrow 1080p High Def Blu-Ray remaster of THE GRAND DUEL looks, well…grand, I’m sure better than any U.S. print did in 1972 or since (this, by the way, is the complete rendition – not the badly edited and censored nonsense, released in many Anglo territories under the title Storm Rider); it is accessible in either the English dub or the Italian cut (the latter with excellent English subtitles).

As indicated above, a fistful of supplements append this release, and include vintage and newly filmed interviews with director Santi, costar Peter O’Brien (aka Alberto Dentice), writer Gastaldi, producer Ettore Rosboch, and assistant director Harald Buggenig.  There is also a documentary on the pic by Austin Fisher, audio commentary by film critic Stephen Prince, plus a visual gallery of stills, international poster art and home video sleeves.  There is also a comparison between the various versions of THE GRAND DUEL, and a rare sci-fi 1984 short, Game Over, featuring costar Matt Mazza (there’s even a separate mini look at Mazza’s career!).

A thoroughly engrossing and underrated late spaghetti offering, THE GRAND DUEL checks off all the boxes, and then some.  Or, maybe, I should have said “coffins.”

THE GRAND DUEL. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; Uncompressed 1.0 LPCM mono audio.  Arrow Video/MVDvisual. CAT # AV189. SRP: $39.95.

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