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Giancarlo Santi The Grand Duel

Disc Reviews

Kudos to Van Cleef in Santi’s Imitative Debut The Grand Duel (1972) | Blu-ray Review:

Kudos to Van Cleef in Santi’s Imitative Debut The Grand Duel (1972) | Blu-ray Review:

Arrow Video resurrects another Lee Van Cleef headliner with 1972’s The Grand Duel, the debut of Giancarlo Santi, who had previously been the assistant director on Sergio Leone’s celebrated The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Notably, the film was scripted by Ernesto Gastaldi, a noted genre writer (who also directed a handful of titles), responsible for Elio Petri’s The 10th Victim (1965) and Mario Bava’s The Whip and the Body (1963). Like Gastaldi’s other spaghetti western treatment featuring Van Cleef, 1967’s Day of Anger, recycled themes popularized by Leone provide the narrative backbone of a title which supplies exactly what it promises, a climactic showdown, with little to run on between its opening and closing acts.

Grizzled ex-sheriff Clayton (Van Cleef) comes to the aid of the fugitive Philip Vermeer (Alberto Dentice), a young man framed for the murder of a powerful landowner known as The Patriarch. Clayton, who was present on the night of The Patriarch’s murder, knows the identity of real responsible party, and his protestations on the matter are what cost him his job. Following Vermeer’s footsteps like a guardian angel, Clayton has made it his responsibility to ensure the real killer pays the price. As bounty hunters descend on Vermeer, who is saved by the older lawman’s noble intrusion, the two men travel to Jefferson, where they will confront the villainous Saxon brothers and the angry relatives of The Patriarch.

The weird family baggage of The Patriach’s clan recalls classic Anthony Mann tangents (1950’s The Furies for instance) but without much excitement for their inevitable denouement. However, The Grand Duel is purely in the vein of knock-off Leone mode, with a sneering Van Cleef usurping Eastwood’s iconic Man with No Name persona. Several flourishes meant to establish his steely façade (such as chewing on bullets as he sleeps) provides stylized if silly relief for a man who gave up his livelihood to maintain his values and integrity. Ere goes, it’s not much fun. Besides Van Cleef, the film’s most pronounced attribute is a score from Luis Bacalov, best known for scoring Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 classic Django.

Both Gastaldi’s screenplay and Santi’s direction seem predicated on an already familiar formula, which isn’t assisted by re-hashing cast from the Leone films (despite the established reputation of Van Cleef as his own brand) the director worked on previously. While there is indeed a ‘grand duel’ at the end of the film, in arguably the best staged and most energetic portion of the film, everyone, including Van Cleef, seems to be sleepwalking through narrative motions until this moment. To be fair, the final dramatic duel does attempt to go for broke as it positions all its warring factions against the might of Van Cleef’s Clayton. While die hard fans of this era and this genre might find much to appreciate, The Grand Duel still plays like B-side filler compared to the (now) greats it borrows from heavily.

Disc Review:

Arrow Video presents The Grand Duel as a new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative with 1.0 compressed monaural soundtrack in 2.35:1. Picture and sound quality are excellent in this new transfer, which includes audio commentary from critic, historian and theorist Stephen Prince.

An Unconventional Western:
Arrow includes this newly filmed half-hour interview with Giancarlo Santi.

The Last of the Great Westerns:
Arrow includes this newly filmed twenty-five-minute interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi.

Cowboy by Chance:
Actor Albery Dentice (aka Peter O’Brien) is the subject of this new thirty-five-minute interview.

Out of the Box:
Producer Ettore Rosboch sits for this new twenty-nine-minute interview courtesy of Arrow Video.

The Day of the Big Showdown:
Assistant Director Harald Buggenig is on hand for this new twenty-minute interview from Arrow Video.

Saxon City Showdown:
Academic Austin Fisher presents this new fifteen-minute video appreciation of The Grand Duel, arguing for the development of Lee Van Cleef’s persona and this film’s unique position in the spaghetti western genre.

Two Different Duels:
This fifteen-minute feature compares the original cut with the longer German cut.

Game Over:
Arrow includes this obscure nine-minute sci-fi short made in 1984, directed by Bernard Villiot and starring The Grand Duel’s Marc Mazza.

Marc Mazza – Who was the Rider on the Rain?
Documentary filmmaker Mike Malloy presents this new twelve-minute video essay on elusive actor Marc Mazza, a bit player in European films.

Film Rating: ★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

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Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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