When the Italian film industry was at its prime, plenty of America actors and actresses flew to the land of pizza and gladiators for quick paydays in roles that didn’t even require talking on the set. In the late ’50s and early ’60, they’d end up in Biblical epics or don a toga to be the next Hercules. But a few were able to elevate their careers to become international superstars. Lee Van Cleef had kicked around Hollywood since debuting in High Noon as a silent gunman way down on the credit list. For 13 years he’d appear as a henchman on every Western and crime TV show. A decade later Lee was still far down the credit list when he appeared in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. But then he got a ticket to Europe to make A Few Dollars More with Clint Eastwood, a supporting actor on Rawhide. On the landscape of Spain and the studios of Rome, the duo were stars of Sergio Leone’s next big hit after Fistful of Dollars. They returned for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and became the faces of the new Western. While Eastwood went back to Hollywood to become a force of nature, Lee Van Cleef kept returning to Italy to maintain his leading man status in numerous Spaghetti Westerns. The Grand Duel placed Lee in the midst of a battle between outlaws and bounty hunters.
Sheriff Clayton (Escape From New York‘s Lee Van Cleef) arrives on stagecoach in the barely there town of Gila Bend. He’s looking for Philip Wermeer (Alberto Dentice), a recent prison escapee. But he’s not the only one looking for the guy since there’s quite a few bounty hunters lurking around. Clayton senses that Wermeer isn’t the real killer. The Sheriff wants to take Wermeer back to Saxon City to expose the real killer of Ebenezer Saxon (Django, Prepare a Coffin‘s Horst Frank). However the Saxon brothers don’t seem to care about any real killer because they’re ready to hang Wermeer. There’s little hope for the local law enforcement helping out since Eli Saxon (Marc Mazza) is the Sheriff of Saxon City. Will there be any true justice in this family run town?
The Grand Duel is all about the skills of Lee Van Cleef as an actor. He’s perfect as the sheriff who is out to get his man yet also driven to expose true justice. He might not have the most handsome of faces, but he has a face that lets you know that he’s going to do the job. Don’t mess with him. Lee Van Cleef is able to show that the power he brought to the screen in the small doses in Hollywood Westerns could be expanded to being a leading man. He holds the film together. He proves with this film and others that he was more than Clint Eastwood’s “wingman” in the previous Leone movies. Thank goodness he stuck around Europe to be a leading man in Spaghetti Westerns such as The Grand Duel instead of reverting back to being a supporting character back home.
The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The 2K restoration from the original 35mm negative lets you fully appreciate what Lee Van Cleef could do with a close up stare. The audio is Uncompressed mono 1.0 LPCM audio. Things sound fine on both the original English and Italian dubs of the soundtrack. When you chose the language, you are also choosing the credits for that version. Since it was an international cast, both versions were created in ADR. The movie is subtitled in English.
Audio commentary by film critic, historian and theorist Stephen Prince starts off pointing out that the film’s limited budget kept the production in Italy for the exteriors. They shot in the Tuscany region. He speaks of how this movie came out around the time when the Spaghetti Westerns were losing their box office domination in Italy. He gives a bit of biography of Lee Van Cleef.
An Unconventional Western (31:40) is a newly filmed interview with director Giancarlo Santi. He talks about how the producers came to him with the script and Lee Van Cleef already attached. He speaks of how they got funding. There’s a strange story of when he worked on The Passenger. He was an assistant director who was the original director on Duck, You Sucker until Sergio Leone had to return to the director’s chair as the stars freaked out.
The Last of the Great Westerns (25:37) is a fresh interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. The prolific writer known for his Giallo scripts including Torso, All the Colors of the Dark and The Suspicious Death of a Minor also did several Spaghetti Westerns including My Name Is Nobody, Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming and Arizona Colt. He talks about how crews were working 300 days a year making Westerns between Spain and Italy. He talks about how the script came around.
Cowboy by Chance (35:32) sits down with actor Alberto Dentice AKA Peter O’Brien. He started making musical theater. He has major praise for Lee Van Cleef. The duo played guitars between shots. Lee had a stuntman that was nearly a clone of him.
Out of the Box (29:02) catches up with producer Ettore Rosboch. He came on board the project because the other producers had a contract with Lee Van Cleef.
The Day of the Big Showdown (21:07) gives assistant director Harald Buggenig a chance to line up how the shoot went. He had connections with a lot of folks in the credits. He was essential to the crew since he spoke both English and German so he was able to speak with the international cast.
Saxon City Showdown (15:32) a newly filmed video appreciation by the academic Austin Fisher. He focuses on Lee Van Cleef’s persona in the Westerns. He explains why the film was sold as The Big Showdown in certain markets.
Original Italian and international theatrical trailers (2:56) sets up the sheriff, the wanted man and the three brothers wanting revenge for their father’s death. They’re both the same length just different languages. The international trailer has the title as The Big Showdown.
Extensive image gallery (11:20) featuring stills, posters, lobby cards and home video sleeves, drawn from the Mike Siegel Archive and other collections. They even have the boxes from the 8mm versions.
Two Different Duels (15:38) a comparison between the original cut and the longer German cut of The Grand Duel. The German cut wasn’t kept up well so we can a comparison of the differences. It’s nothing too dramatic missing from the version on the Blu-ray.
Game Over (9:12) is a sci-fi short film from 1984 starring The Grand Duel’s Marc Mazza. Who is Mazza? Check out the next bonus feature.
Marc Mazza: Who was the Rider on the Rain? (12:32) is a video essay about the elusive actor Marc Mazza by tough-guy film expert Mike Malloy. It’s amazing how this small part player ended up films like Moonraker. Malloy does a fine job illuminating this familiar face who never truly got the spotlight. Mazza inspired a Doors’ song as a villain in Charles Bronson’s Rider on the Rain. We even find out Mazza’s outside acting success. This is a great career tribute to the actor.
Arrow Video presents The Grand Duel. Directed by Giancarlo Santi. Screenplay by: Ernesto Gastaldi. Starring: Lee Van Cleef, Alberto Dentice, Jess Hahn, Horst Frank & Marc Mazza. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 94 minutes. Released: May 7, 2019.
Tags: Arrow Video, Lee Van Cleef, Spaghetti Western