Release R0 by Pegasus Entertainment (UK) of Storm Rider - Running Time: 1:29:42
Phillip Vermeer (Alberto Dentice as Peter O'Brien) has escaped from jail and is heading back to Saxon City to clear his name and take revenge on the Saxon family who killed his father and framed him for the murder of their own Patriarch. Along the way Vermeer meets and teams up with Clayton (Lee Van Cleef) a former sheriff who has his own mysterious reasons for going to Saxon City and an equally personal reason to confront the Saxon family. David Saxon (Horst Frank) has taken over the running of the family interests since his father's death while middle brother Eli (Marc Mazza) is sheriff and the town is totally in their ruthless grip with youngest brother Adam (Klaus Grünberg), a white clad, effeminate and psychotic killer, dishing out the brutality to order. But all is not clear cut and when the truth of the Patriarch's killing is finally exposed a final showdown is the only way for old scores to be settled and a clear future to be secured.
Il Grande Duello, or Storm Rider as it was released in the UK, was director Giancarlo Santi's only western but his work as assistant director for Sergio Leone and Giulio Petroni meant that he was well versed in the art of this particular genre and his work in this film shows that he was a very capable pupil. If nothing else, he knew how to copy the masters as the majority of the most compelling scenes here are often Leone-esque in their style. Tight close ups of faces then eyes (always Van Cleef's best feature) and drawn out, dialogue light scenes echo the great man and add a sense of weight to a story which, in truth, suffers some glaring holes. It's a whodunnit at heart although the final 'twist' is not such a great surprise and the final showdown, probably the film's best scene, is somewhat unrealistically contrived. The Saxons had shown no compunction up to then in outnumbering their adversaries and murdering them so why does David now suggest a showdown where he and his brothers are at a clear disadvantage against the better and faster gun of Clayton? Ah well, never mind. The showdown is worth having no matter how flimsy the reasoning and it gives a perfect frame for the haunting theme music which has become so well known outside the genre from its use by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill.
As a Spaghetti from 1972 this is a surprisingly serious film made in the 'classic' Leone style more common in the mid to late 60s. There are the occasional, and unsuccessful, comedic moments but these are brief and easily forgotten but for the most part this is a film which seems to have ignored the success of the Trinity series and stuck to a style which had made the genre so popular to begin with but which had gone some way out of style by this time. Thankfully the film is all the better for it and although not reaching the heights of some of the genuine greats of the cycle it is a thoroughly enjoyable ride and probably Van Cleef's last good western made in Europe.
Il Grande Duello is a film worthy of a first class remastered release but has somehow been overlooked while other, lesser films, have enjoyed some excellent treatment. There have been 'public domain' releases in North America from Mill Creek and St Clair but until now no UK DVD release at all. As such I suppose we should be grateful for any release but in truth the product from Pegasus does not really do the film justice. On the positive side it is offered in widescreen but the picture quality is poor with faded colours and unsharp, almost VHS quality image. In particular there seems to be a magenta/green colour cross on the source print (a common problem with old prints) which suggests there was little or no remastering done at all. (See screenshots below for examples) On checking the St Clair release of this film it is clear they had the same source print but they endeavoured to correct the colour to a degree and I'm afraid to say their result, though far from perfect, is clearly better for it.
The sad truth is that here in the UK we are almost completely starved of Spaghetti releases on DVD. Outside of the Leone Canon you can count them on your fingers and, as such, I am grateful for any that we get. And for any UK based fan of the genre who is unable or unwilling to purchase DVDs from overseas this release will at least allow them to see this very solid Spaghetti. But it is not the release the hardened fan or collector would have hoped for in terms of quality. It is, however, a budget release and, as such, can be had new for only a couple of pounds on Amazon as of this writing. In those terms, if you live in the UK and haven't seen the film before you can't go wrong. Any way you can get it the film is worth a viewing.
The Pegasus Entertainment release features scene selection but no extra features.
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--Phil H 16:59, 5 August 2010 (UTC)