When it comes to the Italian western aka the spaghetti western, the first director who comes to mind is Sergio Leone (The Good The Bad And The Ugly); and then there is Sergio Corbucci. While Leone was blazing a successful career, Corbucci first came onto the scene with his film Django. The film was dirty, violent, and mean. For those who are only familiar with the Quentin Tarantino version of Django, well, you’ll definitely see the films are drastically different aside from them both being revenge films. Much later on Corbucci got the chance to follow up his first big hit with another western, The Great Silence. I had gotten to see this dark western before, though it was in the form of a bootleg copy. There was a lot of grain, and the ending attached to the film was radically different from the one Corbucci had intended. Film Movement Classics has done an amazing job at cleaning this title up and giving it a new 2K restoration. As for the film itself, saddle up, because this is like something many have not seen before.
One of the first striking things you will notice about this western is that it is mostly filmed in the cold and in the snow. We meet Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant) as he is jumped by a group of bounty hunters whom he quickly dispatches, and when one surrenders himself, Silence manages to shoot off the man’s thumbs. That’s the thing about Silence that’s pretty cool. He kills in self-defense but seems to enjoy crippling bounty hunters so they won’t be able to kill again. We later get to find out just why Silence has it out for bounty hunters, but also the grisly reason why he’s been given the name Silence.
It’s when Pauline (Vonetta McGee) witnesses her husband being shot down by the ruthless bounty hunter Tigrero/Loco (Klaus Kinski) that she sets out to hire Silence and get her revenge. The thing about Tigrero is that he is a brutal bounty hunter who takes pleasure in his job, bringing in the dead to collect on his bounty, and when he discovers that there is a band of outlaws hiding in the hilltops just outside of town, he has plans to collect on a big payday.
There is even a new sheriff in town who you hope will be able to control Tigrero since he has it out for bounty hunters, and when Silence comes into town, he’s not so pleased to know about Silence either. For those who have seen The Hateful Eight, there is a lot that is going to look familiar here, and that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, considering Tarantino is openly a fan of Corbucci’s films. What’s great about the sheriff played by Frank Wolff is that though he has this disgust towards bounty hunters, he lives in a world where there is nothing he can really do aside from kill them, but he attempts to live in the eye of the law and plans to only draw his gun to serve and protect the law. But Corbucci has presented a cynical world where violence rules, and, well, there are no clear-cut bad guys, though it could be argued Tigrero is simply evil because he kills more out of the pleasure of doing so.
The cinematography and the score delivered by Ennio Morricone elevate this film to another level and give it a larger-than-life feel. Despite the film’s beauty, its carnage is always nearby. This is a world that the white-hat-wearing good guys of the American western simply wouldn’t survive. This is a world where people don’t meet in the streets for a fair gunfight, but instead one where the bad guy will take pleasure in crippling you and go about his day, business as usual. And this gets me to the film’s conclusion. I won’t spoil anything, but I can guarantee there isn’t another western that is like it. In the credits it discusses how the events in the film would eventually lead to the end of bounty hunting being a legal form of work. I don’t know how true it is, but you can definitely see how men attempting to bring in the bad guys by any means necessary could escalate into creating men more violent than those they are bothering to hunt down.
This is a simple, straightforward film, though it has some complicated characters with their own set of morals. The gunfights are bloody, and even when the film attempts to be a romance, the cynical nature of the film creeps in. This isn’t a feel-good movie, but it is a damn good western that is lean, bloody, and mean.
The Great Silence is presented in the aspect ratio 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 32 mbps. This restoration looks great, from the textures of the variety of costumes to the detail we see in some of the grand landscapes in the wide shots. We get to see the dirt, grime, and blood that has clung to these characters while the film preserves some of its natural grain from originally being shot on film; this is really something only noticeable in a few of the night shots. There is only one scene that seemed to be a little off that I can’t tell if it is because of a lens filter that was used or simply that that part of the film was possibly damaged. For a small yet important film from way back in 1969, this is a well-done restoration.
The Stereo 2.0 track is as expected, considering the film was produced well before the time of surround sound. The audio track that starts with the film is Italian, which I would have preferred to listen to, but someone decided to use white subtitles, and this is frustrating, because so much of the film is done in the snow, and you can’t read them. Thankfully we do have the option for English dubbing, though in this process some names have been altered for some reason, like Tigrero being changed to Loco. The score from Ennio Morricone still explodes from the speakers, as does the gunfire that is sprinkled throughout.
Cox on Corbucci: (14:46) Here we have Alex Cox (Repo Man) discussing the importance of Sergio Corbucci and his contributions to the genre. There is a lot of history that gets thrown at the viewer in a short amount of time, but those familiar with the genre will be able to easily follow along with Cox. There is a lot of appreciation that is coming from Cox in this interview, and it definitely adds to the experience, especially him discussing the film’s ending.
Western, Italian Style: (38:01) This is an old 1968 documentary that delves into the Italian film scene and all the westerns they seemed to be cranking out at the time. What’s pretty cool is seeing and hearing about them working on a Sergio Leone film, but we also get to see some behind-the-scenes footage of The Great Silence.
Two Alternate Endings: Once you see how this film ends, you’ll understand why they had to do alternate takes and why supposedly 20th Century Fox’s co-founder wanted to bury the film after seeing what he had purchased. It’s like nothing I can remember seeing, especially in the Western genre.
While this isn’t my favorite western, this is simply one that will stick with me for years to come. I love seeing what Klaus Kinski does with his role, and he delivers such a vicious character I would have loved to see another film about this character. For those who like their westerns raw, bloody, and ruthless, you simply can’t ask for much better. I had liked the film before, but now having seen this film the way it was intended, this is one I’ll be re-watching several times down the road.