The opening Chairman Mao quote ("The Revolution is not a dinner party...") segues into a barefoot peon pissing on an anthill, so you have back-to-back jibes at La Chinoise and The Wild Bunch before the credits even begin. Sergio Leone is funny like that: he turns the stagecoach into a drawing room on wheels, the bourgeoisie excoriating the Mexican peasant (Rod Steiger) is assaulted, impregnated, and dumped into a pigsty. The Irish dynamiter (James Coburn) arrives from the Troubles weary ("One revolution is enough for me") and becomes lanky firecracker to Steiger’s squat cherry-bomb, "John and Juan." Amid the rebellion of Villa and Zapata, the bandito becomes a patriotic leader by mistake -- the bank is the town’s shimmering temple, its storming reveals vault after vault filled with political prisoners. Meanwhile, the ex-IRA fighter recalls a gauzy ménage a trois (with a note adduced from The Informer) and ponders his colleague’s view of revolt: "What happens afterwards? The same fucking thing starts all over!" Jagged Western vistas camouflage what is virtually a WWII battlefield, with prisoner camps, a crypto-kommandant donning aviator goggles atop a tank and voluminous shootings surveyed with a craning camera; the execution of dissenters against a church wall is witnessed by a government poster with ripped-out eyes, Steiger’s sons (each from a different mother) are slaughtered in the catacombs ("To me, country is family"). The results, impossibly virile and caustic, are closer to the theater of radical disenchantment of Uccellacci e Uccellini, The Spider’s Stratagem and Allonsanfan than to the shootout-arias of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. (Ennio Morricone keys the sounds to the theme -- the lyrical chorales of the past give way to the sardonic electric organ of the present.) Leone post-‘68 is pragmatic but not cynical, insurrectionary ardor returns to the exhausted rebel even if it’s aboard a locomotive hurtling toward an inferno. Cinematography by Giuseppe Ruzzolini. With Romolo Valli, Maria Monti, Rick Battaglia, Antoine Saint-John, Franco Graziosi, and David Warbeck.
--- Fernando F. Croce