The Grand Duel/Keoma Double Feature Blu-ray Review
Both films are presented 2.35:1 and come via an AVC encode. The very style with which they have been shot means that they will never, could never look spectacular. There are frame judders, specks and pops and dirt and shots can vary in grain texture and detail. None of this age-related wear ‘n’ tear is bad, you understand, and it certainly isn’t any sort of error on the part of the transfers, themselves, which just present the raw material in 1080p.
Of the two, it is The Grand Duel that probably looks the best, and it is certainly the most consistent in terms of clarity and grain structure, and the standard of film stock used. Detail is often very good indeed. I expected this to be soft and lacking definition, but there are some fine closeups on offer. It always helps when you have such amazingly grizzled countenances as Lee Van Cleef’s to fill the screen with, and we can certainly inspect the crags and grooves and greying whiskers on his sunburned and classic visage with this image. There is no DNR with this title. Skin tones are okay, and black levels are satisfactory. Contrast bears up well. There are lots of moments when it appears as if edge enhancement has been added – though this is not the case. The ringing around the weird rock formations during the start is inherent to the photography and the strong natural light. Artefacts and banding do not rear their ugly heads either.
Although it does boast some fine detail in close-ups, good skin-tones and more-than-reasonable black levels,Keoma suffers in other, more disconcerting ways. Primarily, it is stricken with frozen grain which can, on many occasions, become quite unsightly. Poor Franco Nero went up against this decidedly unpleasant phenomenon in Blue Underground’s BD of Django and, thankfully, this is nowhere near as bad as that, but it will irritate some people. We’ve seen this on quite a number of Italian movies that have been transferred to hi-def, and there’s been a lot of explanations put forward for it, from the sublime – the use of a certain type of scanner in a particular authoring lab – to the ridiculous – the overt application of DNR being “masked” with fake digital grain. There is also the school of thought that this glistening, sharpening of the texture is actually the “correct” look for some films that have been blown up from 16mm 2-perf. But that isn’t the case with Keoma. The title sequence of Nero riding across mountains and through valleys looks, frankly, shocking. It is blurred, mired with this awful grain and even has some smearing during one shot. Well okay, that is the title sequence and it probably hails from different film stock. But the rest of the film sort of alternates from good, nicely resolved close-ups to stippled and gleaming imagery that looks frosted with crystals. Once you’ve clocked it, I’m afraid there’s no getting away from it.
Detail is much better than I’ve seen it before, with material, wood-grain and facial information offering up a lot more for scrutiny. And contrast is improved. The search by torchlight through the town and the skirmishes in the dark barns being prime examples. Three-dimensionality isn't great in either case, and neither image caters too well for depth.
Neither film is particularly colourful, but they still look fine to me, with greens and browns well depicted, primaries occasionally allowed to shine, and eyes certainly showing up their cast with clarity and sharpness. I would say that the palette for Duel is deeper and more acutely saturated, with more variety on show with regards to costumes and decor. Keoma is a dustier, dirtier and more hazy looking film though, even here, there are some subtleties on display, such as the colourful stitching in some clothes and drapes. The transfers seem to do the best they can with the source material.
The Grand Duel would score a lucky 7 – it looks film-like and boasts detail and clarity that I’ve never seen before.
Keoma gets a 5 from me because there are definite improvements made over the SD versions, but I’m quite willing to concede that viewers with less of a tolerance for that frozen grain will want to drop this down somewhat.
Overall, this set gets a 6.
Mill Creek supply both films with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track. They are both punchy, brittle and typically off-kilter. They are also pretty faithful to the source or, at least, every other version that I’ve encountered of these two films. Hiss and background noise can be apparent with both films, though never to any detrimental or distracting degree. Effects have little definition, everything from crunching bodies to shattering wood to horses’ hoofs to harsh laughter comes across as clumpy and lacking in prioritisation.
The dubbing for either offering here is terrible – but then you knew that already. The lip-synch is out by a mile in some instances, but the voices themselves come through very well. There’s lots of character to the ripe, hoary old dialogue which goes a long way to patching over the wayward gob movements.
Depth is virtually non-existent, although the score for both films comes over with some power, though little finesse. Levels seem slightly off, with Bacalov’s famous score for Duel swarming in over the track with far greater presence that any of the other elements. Again, this isn’t anything unexpected. In the world of the Spaghetti, this ramshackle approach is entirely accurate and, in fact, appropriate. Obviously, there are lots of people who would rather that Keoma had silent passages instead of that anvil-cracking vocal track ... and this mix is not going to do them any favours. Personally, as I’ve said, I love this wacky score, but there are times when the track creaks and groans under the weight of Natale’s grinding voice and shatters with the roof-ripping warble of Susan Duncan Smith. That bizarre little twanging guitar suspense cue sounds more than decent, though.
Gunshots have the typical Spaghetti sound – muted, yet loud, if you know what I mean, lacking detail yet possessing that distinctive chunk and whine that suggests even hats can generate ricochets. But Keoma adds sizzling arrows and flung blades into the aggressive pot – however, both are rendered with the same effect. There is a lot of screaming during the finale, and this gets quite raucous, the mix struggling with the high ends. Woody Strode's amazing war-screech sounds suitably unnerving, however.
All things considered, there is nothing special about the lossless mix for either film, but a respectable performance from undemanding sources, just the same.
Both films get 5 out of 10 for their audio. Folks, they are what they are. No amount of cleaning-up is going to make them sound any better, because then they wouldn’t sound authentic. Nuance was never a part of the original mix, and nor was positioning or depth. These tracks present the audio precisely as it should sound.
We get theatrical trailers for both films ... and that’s it. Not very inspiring, eh?
Massive Spaghetti-overdose with a couple of k-k-k-ray-zeee cult-classics on one silver platter. It’s a double-bill of insane characters doing insane things, and spouting insane dialogue as they do so. Politics are shunted aside, but plenty of grand statements about human nature are made amidst the tumbling bodies and piercing gun-barrel stares. Whilst it is correct to assume that that there are no distinct messages or morals behind The Grand Duel - indeed,as Cyndi Lauper might say, if she was a fan of relocated, quasi-Shakespearean Western mythologizing, that is, these Spaghettis just wanna have fun - the same cannot be said for Keoma. Enzo Castellari addresses prejudice and bigotry and he takes pot-shots at the attitudes of a world reeling from Vietnam, drawing parallels between the Old West and the outsider status of the war veterans. It mixes surrealism with classical tragedy and it more than delivers the goods in the action stakes. Whilst Lee Van Cleef is on fine form in The Grand Duel, both Franco Nero and Woody Strode deliver outstanding performances in Keoma. Arguably, they have never been better.
The transfer for The Grand Duel is pretty good, though understandably rough in places and a total reflection of the make-do, on-the-hoof style of snatch-the-light filmmaking that hallmarked the Spanish/Italian Frontier. Keoma, on the other hand, has been struck with the grain-pox that turns texture into a glistening mire. However, this anomaly should not be enough to have fans dismissing what remains a barnstorming classic in its hi-def debut. The lack of extras on both features is certainly annoying, but even this should not deter anyone from adding these splendid Spaghettis to their collection. At this price, you really can’t go wrong.
These films are several shades of awesome, folks, with Keoma bravely striking out across bold new ground for a genre that had, by this stage, died. Nobody had the guts to tell Keoma that, though.
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