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Duck You Sucker

Mar 22, 2013


DVD

Sergio Leone’s fame rests largely on his Dollars Trilogy, a trio of spaghetti Westerns starring Clint Eastwood, but what’s not so well-known is that Leone directed another trilogy that included his monumental “Once Upon a Time in the West,” and the 20th century crime drama “Once Upon a Time in America.” The third film, which stars James Coburn radiating extreme levels of cool and a terrific Rod Steiger, is “Duck, You Sucker!”

It was poorly reviewed upon release, and for decades it was impossible to see the entire thing because early home video releases were severely cut.

But the entire 157-minute cut can now be found in a two-disc package loaded with extras. The film is full of all things Leone: tense standoffs with sweaty guys glaring at each other, and a jarring mix of hilarity and pathos accompanied by a dreamy Ennio Moriconne score.

It’s set during the Mexican Revolution, and Steiger is brilliant as an apolitical bandit with no taste for revolution. Coburn plays an Irish revolutionary explosions expert on the run in Mexico who joins him just to raise hell.

Their relationship and interests shift as the story unfolds, and the film is packed with spectacular sets that involve not a frame of CGI.

It’s also surprisingly political, but it would take another half dozen paragraphs to even begin to sort it out, so suffice to say: For Western fans, this is a wild 2 1/2-hour ride.

“Duck, You Sucker!” (1971) Written and directed by Sergio Leone. Starring Rod Steiger, James Coburn, and Romolo Valli. 157 minutes. Rated PG for violence, language and brief nudity. Also known as “A Fistful of Dynamite.” Filmed in Spain and Ireland.

 

ALBUM

If a slew of indie folksters were to storm the Grand Ole Opry and take it hostage, Phosphorescent would be the ringleader.

Athens, Ga., native Matthew Houck is the sole member of Phosphorescent. For years he has toed the line between country and lo-fi indie music — actually, he’s been drawing the line as he goes.

His sixth album, “Muchacho,” favors the latter genre, but includes enough parts pop-rock and alt-country to be enjoyed by the general listening public.

It takes a few turns of “Muchacho” to appreciate the album. Once they become familiar, some sections will find a home in the listener’s subconscious.

The album opens with a three-minute indie rock hymn, “Sun, Arise!” That’s followed by “Song for Zula,” with a sound reminiscent of a “Nebraska”-era Bruce Springsteen and a lyrical nod to Bette Midler and Johnny Cash: “Some say love is a burning thing, and it makes a fiery ring / Oh but I know love as a fading being / just as fickle as a feather in a string.”

Houck meanders through each track like a metaphysical poet with a crush on life and an affinity for textured folk-rock melodies. Heartbreak is unleashed through the city on “Ride On / Right On,” accompanied by hippie-dazed electric strings and a modified chain gang downbeat, as he finishes each line with “I hate you took me right on.” That tension is later released on the harmonious chorus of “A Charm / A Blade,” which acknowledges the darkness behind and foresees light ahead: “There’s a hope, there’s a chain / There’s a lot in the rain … There’s a charm, there’s a blade / There’s a lot in the rain.”

Phosphorescent’s particular brand of alt country is present in the album’s second half. “Muchacho’s Tune” recalls his 2009 tribute album to Willie Nelson, “To Willie.” “See I was slow to understand / This river’s bigger than I am / It’s running faster than I can / Lord, I tried,” he sings over a sparse, open-range tune with a touch of whimsy.

The album ends as it begins, walking along a sunlit path — an offering of inspiration from a seemingly weather-beaten storyteller and one of today’s best singer/songwriters.

“Muchacho,” Phosphorescent, 2013, Dead Oceans.

 

BOOK

How could you not fall in love with the narrator of “A Fistful of Collars,” Spencer Quinn’s latest installment in his Chet and Bernie Mystery series?

Chet is a happy guy who celebrates the little things: A glorious sunrise. Time with friends. A plate of nice, juicy ribs.

He sees the best in most people. A realist, Chet knows not everyone is a good guy, at least not all the time, so he gladly helps his partner, Bernie, take care of the ones who aren’t.

Bernie is a private investigator who is, simply, the best guy in the world, in Chet’s opinion. And who’s a better judge? After all, they spend almost every moment together, both at work and at leisure. Chet even sleeps at the foot of Bernie’s bed, at least part of the night; later, he likes to move to the living room, where he can better hear the whisper of cruising cars and cats.

The feeling is mutual, too: Bernie considers Chet both a great partner, whose speed and teeth make criminals quiver, and a great buddy. He’s always ready with a jumbo-size dog biscuit and a kind word, assuring Chet that while he can’t open doors or hold a gun, he “brings other things to the table.”

This time, perpetually near-broke Bernie gets a lucrative, piece-of-cake assignment to keep a dashing actor on task (ie., away from booze and drugs). But Bernie being Bernie, as Chet tells us, he can’t ignore that criminal activity is taking place. So soon Bernie and Chet are chasing a tale that involves both a long-ago murder and a more current one.

The mystery is fine here, but it definitely plays second fiddle to the characterization. Quinn nicely fleshes out everyone Chet encounters, from the old men who live next door to Bernie’s little boy and ex-wife to the yes-men who surround the actor. And we meet them not with the limited senses available to humans, but with the more fully developed nose, eyes and ears of a canine.

And as the book ends, we get a hint that there will be more mysteries for Chet and Bernie to solve in the future — including one that even Chet knows nothing about.

“A Fistful of Collars: A Chet and Bernie Mystery,” by Spencer Quinn, Atria Books, 2012.

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