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Friday, 3 January 2014

20 Essential Westerns - (20) The Great Silence

I wanted to include a spaghetti western in the Archive's list of 20 essential westerns, but I decided to avoid the obvious choices because I've written about these titles, the Eastwood/Leone trilogy especially, several times. In fact I'd rate the Eastwood/Leone western, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as the best spaghetti western of them all, personally I'd rate it higher even than Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West which is most people's choice for the best spaghetti oater .
The reason I have chosen Sergio Corbucci's The Great Silence , also known as The Big Silence, to represent the Euro-westerns on our list is not only because it is such an excellent film, but also because it is such an unusual western. The films also has one of the most  unique endings in not only western but film history.

Howard Hughes, in his Once Upon a Time in the Italian West called, The Great Silence Corbucci's most perceptive and effective western.

The plot - 1886, Snow has covered the Rockies, forcing the outlaws out of the mountains and into the valley. There are bounty hunters waiting for them who collect cash from the government for every outlaw they kill. The most ruthless of these bounty hunters is Loco (Klaus Kinski), he takes sadistic pleasure in killing his prey. Only one man Silence (Jean Louis Trintignant) so called because the bounty hunters cut out his vocal
chords when he was a child, is man enough to face the brutal Loco. Soon the snow will melt with the redness of warm blood.

The DVD from Digital Classic features a lengthy interview with Alex Cox the renowned director and critic. Cox rates the movie very highly and he stresses the bleak ending of the movie, calling it absolutely wonderful. He points out that there was an alternative happy ending filmed for the movie when the studios decided the original ending was far too downbeat, and that ending is included here with a commentary by Cox explaining how it all fitted into the original movie.

The transfer of the film to the digital medium is also of the highest quality. The movie is mostly set against a featureless snowy landscape and the images come across crisp and clean. The soundtrack is a basic stereo mix but it does the job. Gunshots ring out with crystal clear clarity.

All in all the DVD has been treated with the same care as the recognised classics of the genre, which is only fitting for such an excellent movie.

I'm not going to give away the ending as there are still many people who have yet to see the film, but I will say that it is a true classic of the genre. The landscapes are beautiful, the cinematography majestic and the acting is well above the standards of most Euro westerns. Django may be Corbucci's best known western but the Great Silence is certainly his best.