The Grand Duel

by Sam Cohen
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday May 14, 2019
The Grand Duel

As mentioned in previous pieces about films the spaghetti western genre, a lot of the film that inhabited the genre stood as shallow facsimiles of director Sergio Leone's best works. And as the genre waned to a close in the 70s, a lot of the last works felt like an "In Memoriam" slideshow for a movement that changed modern filmmaking as we know it. "The Grand Duel" isn't much more than a greatest hits collection of the genre's most common archetypes and to this writer, that's okay. Director Giancarlo Santi, who was the Second Unit Director on a lot of Leone's films, is adept at inserting the theme of oppression into the storyline without having it diminished by the narrative's proclivity for bloodletting. Unlike many similar directors, Santi saw violence as a tool to reveal characterization, not as some cheap thrill.

"The Grand Duel," also known as "The Big Showdown" and "Storm Rider," is about a grizzled sheriff named Clayton (Lee Van Cleef) out to arrest a prison escapee charged with the murder of a patriarch of Saxon city. That escapee, named Philip Wermeer (Alberto Dentice), has a past with Clayton and the sheriff is faced with the Saxon clan as they seek their own justice on Wermeer's actions.

Like the best Spaghetti Westerns, "The Grand Duel" is just one set piece separated from making the story a bona fide buddy action comedy. Santi and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi take great pleasure in showcasing the back and forth between Clayton and Wermeer, especially as tensions rise and more gunplay is doled out. In one particular sequence, Wermeer is about to be hung until dead by some of the Saxon thugs, only to be saved at the exact last moment by Clayton. That wasn't because Clayton was late to the party, he was just begrudging in getting involved with the clan that rules over the town.

What particularly struck me about "The Grand Duel," is its liberal use of flashbacks. Every flashback is drained of color, almost completely until the point of monochrome, and they pull off the near-impossible task of giving context to present actions while providing more depth to Clayton and Philip's stories. When we meet the duo at the beginning of the film, they're both portrayed as characters with differing opinions on what constitutes justice. The flashbacks show that there isn't much separating the two and the rest of the town share a common enemy — a wealthy family that rules by oppressing.

Arrow Video's new Blu-ray release of "The Grand Duel" stands as both a comprehensive presentation of the film and a deeply-researched introspection of the genre. Accompanied by a slew of special features that'll please any fan of spaghetti westerns, this release is a must-own. If you do end up purchasing this, which you absolutely should, I recommend watching "An Unconventional Western," a newly filmed interview with Giancarlo Santi. He reveals some details about the film and his career that cut deep into why the genre itself was so revolutionary.

Other special features include:

• New 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative
• Original English and Italian soundtracks, titles, and credits
• "The Last of the Great Westerns," a newly filmed interview with Ernesto Gastaldi
• "Two Different Duels," a comparison between the original cut and longer German cut of "The Grand Duel"
• "The Day of the Big Showdown," a newly filmed interview with assistant director Harald Buggenig
• Booklet with essay by Kevin Grant

"The Grand Duel"
Arrow Video Blu-ray

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