Color, 1972, 94m.
Directed by Giancarlo Santi
Starring Lee Van Cleef, Peter O'Brien, Marc Mazza, Jess Hahn, Horst Frank, Klaus Grunberg
Blue Underground (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Mill Creek (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US RA HD), Wild East (US R0 NTSC), King (Japan R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), Elstree House, Storm Rider (UK R0 PAL), Titanus (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1)

The Grand DuelBy the time it opened in the early 1970s, The Grand Duel waThe Grand Duels something of an anachronism. The demand for traditional spaghetti westerns was waning fast thanks to genre-twisting offerings from Hollywood like Little Big Man, the sudden renewed demand for thrillers and horror films from Italy, and the slapstick antics of Terence Hill and company. Even Sergio Leone was throwing in the towel, and star Lee Van Cleef was only destined to make another trio of oaters himself before switching back over to more modern action roles. However, the quality of the film itself has made it a perpetual favorite among fans with multiple video editions winning over subsequent generations.

Riding in on horseback, mysterious lawman Clayton (Van Cleef) comes upon a group of bounty hunters searching for wanted man Philip Wermeer (one-shot actor O'Brien, aka Alberto Dentice), a shaggy-haired dropout holed away in a shack enjoying the company of a prostitute. The wily Clayton manages to take care of the ambushers and saves Philip, who has been accused of murdering the patriarch of the powerful Saxon clan. However, Clayton -- who has his own reasons for seeking justice -- believes one of the three corrupt Saxon sons (Frank, Grunberg, and Mazza) is actually responsible for the crime. Of course, the two men have to pull out their pistols on multiple occasions before the real culprit is uncovered.

A fast-paced, entertaining western with a strong sThe Grand Duelense of visual flair, The Grand Duel was directed by Leone disciple Giancarlo Santi (who did second unit work on several classic films for the director) and has a very similar feel, ranging from Van Cleef's avenging black angel (straight out of For a Few Dollars More) to the pivotal monochrome flashbacks setting up the final multi-gunman climax. The evocative score by Luis Bacalov is also highly atmospheric and effective (with the best cue later used for the anime sequence in Kill Bill, Vol. 1), though the film also has its share of absurdist humor including one startling stunt that wouldn't be out of place in a Warner Bros. cartoon. O'Brien is actually pretty good here, and it's a shame he didn't go on to do more work; however, it's really Van Cleef's show all the way, and his fans should find this one worth more than a couple of viewings.

Numerous variations of The Grand Duel have popped up on home video over the years, but there are really just a few significant ones to note here. (The UK discs are shoddy rips from old VHS copies and should be avoided.) The first notable DVD on the market came from Wild East as a double feature with Beyond the Law, now discontinuedThe Grand Duel and going for stupid amounts of money online. Wildly inconsistent in quality, it reflects the slightly shorter Italian edit of the film clocking in at just over 91 minutes with several brief shots omitted for some baffling reason. This edit is also found on the Italian and Japanese releases, though what's interesting here is that the original Italian credits are actually far more Leone-ish and stylish than the English language ones with etched red titles sliding horizontally across the screen (a la Once Upon a Time in the West) over both the lengthy opening and the closing montage. Next up is the budget-pThe Grand Duelriced Blu-Ray from Mill Creek, which bears the title The Big Showdown (which has caused this to be confused with another Van Cleef film, The Big Gundown, on more than one occasion), and comes as a double feature with the cult favorite Keoma. That 1080p transfer looks excellent, with very little damage, rich colors, and terrific detail. It's still kind of shocking a disc that looks that good could get relegated to the bargain bins, but there you have it. The sole extra is the theatrical trailer.

Finally we reach the only real special edition of the film, a DVD from Blue Underground released in 2013. Why they opted for standard def only here is anyone's guess, but the master here looks virtually identical to the Blu-Ray in terms of color grading and framing but is obviously limited to the visual constraints of NTSC. This one features the onscreen title of Grand Duel and actually runs five seconds longer for some reason, but nothing significantly different seemed to jump out. The frame grabs seen in this review are all from the Blue Underground release, but if you'd like a comparison, check out this shot from the DVD compared to this one from the Mill Creek Blu-Ray. The big extra on the DVD is a new audio commentary with western writer C. Courtney Joyner (who also penned Prison and Class of 1999) and Westernpunk's Henry Parke, which is pretty much worth the double dip. Both are very well versed in westerns of both the American and Italian variety, covering the various character actors and narrative influences as well as the distinctive role of such elements as torture in European westerns and the brief but surprising female nudity that had a few critics raising their eyebrows. Also included are the English international trailer and a bonus spaghetti western trailer reel including titles like A Bullet for the General, Django, Four of the Apocalypse, Keoma, Mannaja - A Man Called Blade, Run Man Run, and Texas, Adios.

Reviewed on April 22, 2013.