There's a stagecoach travelling through the desert carrying passengers, most of whom would be glad to have the journey come to an end, or at least partake of a drink to fend off the effects of the blistering heat. Therefore when they pull up at a small outpost which has a bar, it looks as if their luck is in - until someone takes a potshot at the driver (Jess Hahn) which he takes great umbrage to. It appears there are quite a few gunmen dotted around the landscape, but what are they waiting for? One passenger decides he's not going to hang around, he is getting that drink, and makes his way to the bar, rifles and pistols trained on him all the while. But he has an ulterior motive, for he is Sheriff Clayton (Lee Van Cleef), and he is out for justice...
Grand Duel is regarded as possibly the last Spaghetti Western of quality that Lee Van Cleef made, and its profile was only raised by Quentin Tarantino's inclusion of a portion of its score, a very Ennio Morricone-like set of themes by Luis Bacalov, for his Kill Bill soundtrack, leading many fans to hunt down the original to see what he had appreciated about it. In effect, the film played out as a murder mystery, though for one thing that did not become apparent until the last half of the story, and for another if you didn't work out who the culprit was you simply were not paying attention, for it was blatantly obvious. That should really have been a mark against the entertainment value, yet it didn't work out that way, as it was fairly captivating.
Maybe not consistently, but director Giancarlo Santi had won his position at the helm after taking the assistant direction duties on a number of films, most importantly for our purposes two Sergio Leone movies in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. True, Grand Duel was not up to those lofty standards, but you could make out something of the same epic style in Santi's efforts even if the narrative was more of a standard one for Westerns of this type, the basic revenge affair mixed with a desire for one character to clear his name. Though that character was not Clayton, he was actually the one seeking justice on the part of another man, who must be persuaded by him that he has his best interests at heart and is not out for the price on his head.
That other character was Philipp Wermeer, a fugitive from various bounty hunters played by Alberto Dentice, for whom this appears to have been his sole movie role. Looking a lot like Barry Gibb of The Bee Gees, he cuts a dash through the dusty scenery and eventually, the town whose hierarchy wants him executed for supposedly murdering their patriarch, though Clayton not only wishes to prove Wermeer innocent, it turns out he wants to bring down this corrupt family who are exploiting all and sundry for their own dubious gain. And then there's the hoard of silver worth a fortune which Wermeer knows the location of, and the Saxon family desire to get their hands on as it would set them up for life, much to the detriment of both their hometown and the entire state.
Van Cleef stole the show as expected, playing a man completely in control even when it appears things are not going his way, but he had good support from Dentice, who would have made a pretty solid leading man in the Terence Hill mould had he pursued it, and Horst Frank as David Saxon, one of three evil brothers who now rule the roost: his steely blue-eyed stare was used to great effect in what might have been one of his best roles. Klaus Grünberg as one of the other brothers made an impression too, his Adam a pox-ridden but immaculately dressed in white villain, apparently effete until he sets about massacring an entire wagon train with a heavy duty machine gun in the most worrying scene, even if it does establish once and for all there is no doubt of the Saxons' wickedness. Santi also threw in some neat stunts for visual spice, including one shot where a stuntman is propelled over a building and takes a shot at one of his aggressors in mid-air, managing to hit him then landing safely (!). Some find this muddled, but it was the flair and technique that carried it.