The Grand Duel – Blu-ray Review
Film Title: The Grand Duel
Release Date: 1972
Runtime: 94 minutes
Region Coding: Region A
Studio: Arrow Video
Audio Format: PCM 1.0 Mono
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Formats Available: Blu-ray
Version Reviewed: 2019 Blu-ray Disc
Blu-ray Release Date: 05/07/19
Director: Giancarlo Santi
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Alberto Dentice, Jess Hahn, Horst Frank, Klaus Grünberg, Antonio Casale, Marc Mazza, Dominique Darel
Jump to Sections: Movie | Video | Audio | Bonus | Closing | Screenshots
Full Blu-ray Tech Specs can be found at the very bottom.
“The Grand Duel” from 1972 was an Italian spaghetti western also known by its original title “Il Grande Duello” and the alternate title “The Big Showdown” which was used in the United States release, and that name is even used during the film’s English title sequence (as seen HERE). Don’t let that title fool you, you are in fact watching The Grand Duel. The film was directed by Giancarlo Santi. Santi is best known for his work as an assistant (second unit) director to Sergio Leone on three other spaghetti western classics: “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly“ (1966), “Once Upon a Time in the West“ (1968), and “Duck, You Sucker“ (1971).
The screenplay to the movie was written by Ernesto Gastaldi, also known for his contributions as the screenwriter on the films “My Name is Nobody” (1973), “Torso“ (1973), and “Once Upon a Time in America“ (1984). Interesting film fact: The Grand Duel was released in the United States in 1974, two years after its original European release.
The story here starts with an ex-sheriff “Clayton” (Lee Van Cleef) coming to a small town of Gila Bend on a stagecoach. As the stagecoach approaches the town it comes to a screeching halt when the road is blocked because a wanted man is held up in a building, being surrounded by bounty hunters. The wanted man “Philip Vermeer” (Alberto Dentice) has a price of three thousand dollars on his head. In actuality he’s innocent and has been framed for killing a very important member of the community, in a nearby town called Silverbell. Being a former lawman, Clayton decides to intervene in what becomes one hell of a shootout and then ironically offers the wanted man some help.
The man that was murdered (“Patriarch Samuel Saxon”) was the father to a group of three brothers that now run things in the town of Silverbell where the main events eventually will transpire, that is once the stagecoach gets back on its way. Those Saxon brothers are a ruthless bunch led by “David Saxon” (Horst Frank). The other two brothers include the murderous “Adam Saxon” (Klaus Grunberg) and even the town’s Sherriff “Eli Saxon” (Marc Mazza). Inevitably it will mean Clayton and Philip have to fight off countless bounty hunters and then confront the brothers to get justice finally served.
There is just simply no denying that Lee Van Cleef was both an unforgettable face and name that goes synonymously with the western film genre. Cleef was first most known for his co-starring roles in two full-fledged American westerns with “A Man Alone“ (1955), and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance“ (1962). He would later co-star in two of the unarguably best spaghetti westerns of all-time: “For A Few Dollars More“ (1965), and “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly“ (1966).
This film (The Grand Duel) certainly proved to be one of the actor’s more memorable starring roles along with the films “The Big Gundown“ (1966) and “Day of Anger“ (1967) – both also spaghetti westerns. He was a pretty diverse actor, as he actually proved early on in his career. Lee Van Cleef would end up spending most of the latter part of his career doing comedies or action films – namely with “Escape from New York“ (1981). However, he did make a return to the western genre on a few occasions in films before his passing in 1989.
Simply put, “The Grand Duel” (AKA “The Big Showdown”) was one of the last really good spaghetti westerns. Its opening scene proves to be very memorable. That much is for certain.
Movie Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)
“The Grand Duel” is presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, just as it was originally shown during its theatrical run. This was shot on 35mm film using Arriflex 35 Iic cameras with Zeiss Lenses in Techniscope cinematographic process, according to the IMDb technical specifications.
The film was first released on Blu-ray here in the United States back in 2012 via a “double feature” release. That release actually shared just one disc for two spaghetti westerns. As a result of that choice (by another distributor), the compression issues were quite evident as you can tell in screenshots. This time around though Arrow Video has given this a 2K restoration from the original camera negative and it’s one tremendous improvement. In fact, visually this in comparison with the previous version on Blu-ray is pretty impressive, as I’ll first show you below.
2019 Blu-ray vs. 2012 Blu-ray Comparisons:
Sources: 2019 Blu-ray (left) and 2012 Blu-ray (right)
More 2019 vs 2012 Blu-ray Screenshot Comparisons
As you can tell from looking at those screenshots in comparison – this 2K restoration brings with it a much-improved amount of visual detail, as well as having been nicely cleaned up. That said, you will not see very many imperfections here visually like specks of dirt or hair, as they have all been touched up (cleaned) during the restoration. There’s finally solid black level now, with a slightly more accurate approach to the color timing as well. Things just seemed to be a tad bit too bright before and now comes off as more realistic. The flesh tones now, as a result of the color corrections, appear to be more accurate here than ever before. There’s still a nice visible amount of film grain that has been preserved, in a tasteful manner with this restoration effort.
In fact, I ended up saying near this exact same thing about another film I recently reviewed of the same genre, from this very same distributor, and that also received a 2K restoration (“Keoma“). That being said, it’s safe to say that the folks at Arrow Video know what they’re doing here as do the parties involved with each individual restoration.
The presentation here visually really can be impressive at times, while it admittedly does have its share of a few short scenes or specifically shots that don’t nearly look as good. Typically spaghetti westerns weren’t known for being the most visually appealing, unique in their visual style sure, but just not breathtakingly beautiful. That being said, given some restoration work, this film and some other recent films that received restorations as well (from the genre) really make you amazed to ever see things looking this good in high definition.
Video Quality Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
Audio here on this Blu-ray is presented in uncompressed Linear PCM 1.0 Mono. There is the option to pick either the original Italian or English sound mixes. It should be noted that these versions also visually feature different opening and closing credits sequences for each language. This is identical to how things were on another spaghetti western I recently reviewed from Arrow Video (“Keoma“).
Originally this film received a 2012 release on the Blu-ray format as a double feature with the aforementioned film. On that older release, the film got a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix that ran roughly around a 1.7Mbps bitrate. This time around with the LPCM 1.0 Mono mix it runs at a fixed bitrate of 2.3Mbps, a nice little improvement. Speaking of improvement, this is definitely one in terms of audio quality in comparison to that older release. Both the English and Italian audio mixes in PCM 1.0 Mono prove to sound a whole lot cleaner with less hiss and no distortion. The original music (composed by Sergio Bardotti) sounds really nice, fitting the mood perfectly here all throughout, from the opening credits up to the very end.
The dialogue here (in either language) is delivered a bit more distinctly, seeming to have been cleaned up some. It’s a bit more than just a solid lossless Mono mix, as it does have a few slightly impressive moments thanks to the action of the gunfire and whatnot. You can certainly consider this enough of an improvement in terms of audio in comparison to the previously released Blu-ray double feature that contained this film. This is the best that I’ve heard “The Grand Duel” sound on a home video release.
Audio Quality Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)
Bonus materials on this release are presented in both SD (standard definition) and HD (high definition) video with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound. The languages here can vary between English and Italian, so I’ll be mentioning below if something isn’t in the English language. The bonus materials include the following:
- Audio Commentary by Film Historian Stephen Prince
- NEW “An Unconventional Western” (31:40 – HD) is an interview with the film’s director Giancarlo Santi. This interview is presented in the Italian language with English subtitles. The interview itself proves to be very informative and not just about this film, as he goes into pretty great detail about his entire career as a filmmaker. It’s very fun hearing him talk about working with the legendary Sergio Leone. Santi worked as an assistant (second unit) director on three of Sergio Leone’s most popular spaghetti westerns (as I mentioned much further above). Something very interesting is when Santi actually starts to discuss director Quentin Tarantino. It is known Tarantino is a fan of this film and actually refers to it when discussing filmmaking. Santi certainly seems to be a tad bit upset and mainly that Tarantino used the music from this film in one of his films (“Kill Bill: Vol. 1”), going as far to call it theft of the composer’s work. Ouch! Let’s just say he’s not a fan of the modern filmmaker. Santi recounts working with the late Lee Van Cleef on this film with great admiration.
- NEW “The Last of the Great Westerns” (23:57 – HD) is an interview with the screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. This interview is presented in the Italian language with English subtitles. The screenwriter here is very honest and admits to only having seen this film one time but still remembers his story. He also discusses working with the director Giancarlo Santi on this film. The writer just doesn’t seem to regard the film as a masterpiece by any means, despite its popularity. It’s very fun to hear Gastaldi discussing the style of Italian filmmaking from his perspective back during his career. He goes on to discuss his work as a screenwriter on some other western genre films like “My Name is Nobody” (1973), “Arizona Colt Returns” (1970), “Man from Nowhere” (1966), and “A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe” (1975).
- NEW “Cowboy by Chance” (35:32 – HD) is an interview with actor Alberto Dentice (AKA Peter O’Brien) who played wanted man “Philip Vermeer” character in the film. The actor starts by discussing his early career in musical theater. He also mentions having a band in the 1960s. From all that he transitioned over eventually into acting in two 1968 films that he played a hippie.
- NEW “Out of the Box” (29:02 – HD) is an interview with the film’s producer Ettore Rosboch. This interview is presented in the Italian language with English subtitles. The producer does a great deal of reminiscing about working on this particular film. You’ll basically learn this film was made to fulfill a contractual obligation to the lead actor Lee Van Cleef.
- NEW “The Day of The Big Showdown“ (21:07 – HD) is an interview with the film’s assistant director Harald Buggenig. This interview is presented in the Italian language with English subtitles. He discusses working on this film a pretty good bit as well as some other films he worked on during his career.
- NEW “Saxon City Showdown” (15:32 – HD) is an analyzation of this film done by academic Austin Fisher. Those common to Arrow Video releases will likely know Fisher for his contributions to other releases by the distributor. His love and knowledge for both movies (in general) and the spaghetti western genre specifically make for a very nice blend here for those who appreciate cinema. This proves to be very, very informative and entertaining as well.
- NEW “Two Different Duels“ (15:38 – HD) takes a comparative look at the differences between the original cut of this film and the longer German cut. They [Arrow Video] could not get the additional footage to restore, as it had not been preserved with the original film elements, but they did manage to get some standard definition (SD) footage from the master of the longer German cut. Here you’ll see a side-by-side comparison between the original Italian release and the International cut of the film. The focus will be made on the differences between the two versions, such as the title sequence starting earlier on the original cut. This is a very cool feature to have that I wish more films would receive. Audio here is presented in the Italian and German languages with no subtitles, just English text to describe the sources and their differences.
- “Game Over“ (9:12 – SD) is an obscure 1984 science fiction short film directed by Bernard Villot that starred actor Marc Mazza, who appeared in this film (“The Grand Duel”). The short film is presented in the French language with forced English subtitles.
- “Marc Mazza: Who was the Rider on the Rain?” (12:32 – HD) is a video essay that was done by filmmaker Mike Malloy. This discusses the “elusive actor” Marc Mazza that co-starred in this film.
- Original Trailers include:
- International Trailer (2:56 – HD) is in English.
- Italian Trailer (2:56 – HD) is in the Italian language with English subtitles.
- Image Galleries play as slideshows and they can be navigated using the chapter forward and/or back buttons on your remote. The images here include:
- Stills, Posters and Press (3:00 – HD)
- Lobby Cards (5:40 – HD)
- Super 8mm, Home Video and Soundtrack Sleeves (2:40 – HD)
- A Collectible Booklet is included which is 28 pages in length. This features lots of artwork, scenes from the film, as well as info about the cast & crew, about the restoration, an essay “In the Grand Tradition of Leone” (2019) written by Kevin Grant, Original Reviews (compiled by Roberto Curti), and a discussion about the short film “Game Over” (included on this release) written by Bernard Villiot. This booklet is pictured below in the packaging section, at the near bottom of the review.
Overall the bonus materials here a very in-depth with over three and a half hours worth of extras. You’ll get new interviews from the film’s director, screenwriter, one of the co-starring actors (Alberto Dentice), one of the producers, and the assistant director. There’s an excellent comparison between the original Italian and International German cut of the film, an obscure 1984 short film (“Game Over”) featuring one of the actors from this film, an appreciation video by academic Austin Fisher, a video essay discussing that actor (Marc Mazza), the original trailers, three image galleries in HD, and lastly a collectible booklet (available only during the first-pressing).
Bonus Materials Rating: 5 (out of 5)
“The Grand Duel” was certainly an enjoyable and memorable spaghetti western, near the end of that genre of film being at its peak. Lee Van Cleef offers up an unforgettable performance, as usual, here and you get a good supporting cast. It’s not the most complex of stories for the western genre but it works, it’s as simple as that.
In terms of video quality, you’ve got a nice 2K restoration that gives a nice improvement over the previously available 2012 Blu-ray double feature that included this film. In terms of the audio quality, you get another nice improvement with much more clarity and less hiss this time around in a PCM 1.0 Mono mix. The bonus materials here prove to be a bit more than just solid with over three and a half hours worth of extras, physically a booklet included (only in the first-pressing), and even some reversible cover artwork.
In terms of Blu-ray release, this gets:
4.5 (out of 5) for video quality
4.25 (out of 5) for audio quality
5 (out of 5) for bonus materials
2019 Blu-ray Disc Screenshots: