The Grand Duel
Western, Action, Drama | 98 mins | Released: 1972
Director: Giancarlo Santi
Starring: Lee Van Cleef, Alberto Dentice, Jess Hahn, Horst Frank, Klaus Grunberg, Antonio Casale, Marc Mazza
Our Rating: 7
In The Grand Duel, Phillip Vermeer has escaped from prison where he serves a sentence for the murder of Saxon, the patriarch of Saxon City, who in his turn is believed to be behind the murder of Vermeer’s father. Vermeer is holed up in Gila Bend by a swarm of bounty killers, who want his $3.000 reward, posted by Saxon’s three sons David, Eli and Adam.
A sheriff named Clayton arrives on a stagecoach and bosses his way through the cordon set up by the local lawmen. While walking to the saloon, he performs actions that tip off Wermeer as to where some of the besiegers are hidden (like throwing a lit match so a man hidden in hay has to put it out). Wermeer makes it to the saloon, where Clayton, who has counted Wermeer’s shots and knows that he is out of bullets, arrests him.
Hole, a spokesman for the bounty killers, calls on Wermeer to surrender. A shot rings out and Clayton emerges dragging the “dead” convict. They argue that Clayton should give up the body, and not be allowed to collect the bounty, because of his position as sheriff. The disagreement develops into a gunfight. Wermeer mounts a horse and escapes, pursued by the pack (though not Clayton). Vermeer makes the bounty hunters follow his horse, and then hitches a ride with the stagecoach, where he finds Clayton among the passengers.
When they stay the night at Silver Bells, Vermeer goes for a shotgun hanging on the wall, but Clayton stops him. A drunken stationmaster assures the gun is empty, but Clayton retorts: “Never consider a gun empty.” Then he and Wermeer play cards, Vermeer betting his $3.000 bounty. Vermeer wins and Clayton promises to take him to Saxon City as he wants. Wermeer steals a revolver from Clayton’s bag, but is told that it is empty. Vermeer repeats Clayton’s earlier saying and pulls the trigger, but Clayton shows him the bullet, taking it out of his mouth. Vermeer tries to leave, but Clayton shoots the door, this time with bullets.
Bounty Hunters led by Hole surround the house. They give Vermeer thirty seconds. He and Clayton are inside with Elisabeth, a female passenger who has earlier shown interest in Vermeer. Clayton tells her that Vermeer is innocent and that he saw who did it, but if Vermeer walks out the door, he will never know. Vermeer gives himself up. Hole and two of the bounty hunters now kill the others in their pack, and then ride off with Vermeer.
Clayton finds them beating and questioning Vermeer in a waterfall, asking where the silver of his father is and offering to let him go if he tells. Clayton shoots off the rope and frees him. Vermeer asks if he is still a prisoner, to which Clayton responds “No” he holds a gun against Clayton and rides off to Saxon City on the his horse.
Vermeer confronts the Saxon sons, Adam and Eli. He accuses Eli, who is sheriff, and demands to know who truly killed his father. We also learn that Hole was sent by Eli to find out who really killed the old man Saxon.
Clayton arrives and demands that the Saxons reopen Vermeer’s case. Vermeer sends word to his friends to gather at the silver mine; Clayton surpervises a duel between Hole and Wermeer, once he reveals that Hole murdered Vermeer’s father. An ambusher is there helping Hole, but Vermeer shoots him without Clayton interfering. In a German-language version, the dying Hole says he killed Vermeer because he refused to share the silver.
Adam Saxon massacres Vermeer’s followers with hidden explosives and a machine gun. He also kills his own men, not to leave any witnesses. David Saxon, the oldest of the brothers, meets with Clayton, who says that they both know who killed the old man Saxon. David offers $25.000 if he and Vermeer leave town.
Clayton relays the offer that the charge will be dropped. Vermeer replies that the Saxons made the offer because “dead people don’t need a leader.” Adam shoots him from a window, though Elisabeth, who arrived in town to marry Adam, cries out a warning. Clayton escapes during the gunfight.
In the morning, Vermeer is to be hanged. Clayton says he knows who is the real killer. David wants the hanging to continue but Eli says that he must know. Clayton confesses that he himself did it, saying that the judge was bought by Saxon, and justice would only be exacted through his death. The Saxons agree to meet him at the cattle pens.
At the confrontation, when Clayton approaches, David says that the three must draw first to overcome Clayton’s expert gunplay. Vermeer, from a distance, shoots off Clayton’s hat so that he draws first and kills both men. Vermeer picks up his hat and gun, and says that Clayton now can go back to being a sheriff. Vermeer leaves for Mexico with Elisabeth, not caring about the silver.
The Grand Duel (Il Grande duello, 1972), also referred to as Storm Rider and The Big Showdown, is a Spaghetti Western directed by Giancarlo Santi, who had previously worked as Sergio Leone‘s assistant director on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. The film stars Lee Van Cleef as a sheriff who seeks justice for a man accused of murder.
In his investigation of narrative structures in Spaghetti Western films, Fridlund writes that Vermeer and Claytons relationship before their arrival to Saxon City follows the stories of commercially more successful, Spaghetti Western films: Death Rides a Horse and Day of Anger, about the relationship between an older gunfighter and a younger protagonist. Fridlund further traced the root of this type of plot to the play between, the younger and the older bounty killers in For a Few Dollars More.
In all four films, Lee Van Cleef portrays the older character. Subsequently, Wermeer’s return to his hometown and quest for the truth about the death of his father, and the massacre of innocents, are closer to what happens in films like: Massacre Time and Texas, Adios that are more influenced by another genre highlight, Django.
The music for The Grand Duel was composed by future Academy Award winner Luis Enríquez Bacalov.
Notable Quotes from The Grand Duel:
Madame Oro, Stage Passenger: “Hey Driver, can’t you put the fear of God into those mules of yours?”
Sheriff Clayton: “I don’t talk unless I feel like it, that’s one of my rules.”
Sheriff Clayton: “He’s not guilty; he’s stubborn.”
Bighorse the Stage Driver: “Settle down and get a bed!”