Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
There seem to be Spaghetti Westerns by Sergio Leone, and then those made by everyone else. Sergio
Corbucci rates highest on the list of pretenders to the throne, and his Il Grande silenzio is
his most talked-about title among EuroWestern fans, even though its English-language release
never happened, or was very limited. This new DVD is uncut, and should sate the curiosity of Spaghetti
lovers who've only seen cut vhs tapes or laserdiscs.
A snowbound town in is the setting for a grim Western tale:
a band of pacified, starving outlaws in the hills provides the excuse for an unethical justice of the
peace, Pollicut (Luigi Pistilli), to put a bounty of a thousand dollars on each of their heads.
This has attracted a glut of ruthless bounty hunters, who make murder a daily occurrance. When the
innocent husband of Pauline (Vonetta McGee) is gunned down by head killer Loco (Klaus Kinski, aka
Tigrero in the Italian version), she tries to hire mysterious drifter Silence (Jean-Louis
Trintignant) for revenge: the mute Silence has a spacey aura of virtue about him, and uses a
broom-handled Mauser pistol. For the authorities' part, they send loudmouthed sheriff Burnett (Frank
Wolff), whose efforts at first seem fairly effective. But nothing can stop the fated showdown
between scofflaw Loco and Silence.
The Great Silence has an excellent cast. Jean-Louis Trintignant, much more familiar in top-tier French
art films (is this My Night at Loco's ?) broods nicely in his mute role, fitting in quite well
with the Spaghetti regulars around him: Mario Brega, Spartaco Conversi. Klaus Kinski, usually seen in
smaller, colorful parts in this genre, here carries a big piece of the show in his uniquely
loathesome way. Frank Wolff, who started in lowbudget American films like Beast from the Haunted Cave,
apparently went to Europe with Roger Corman around the time of Atlas and never came back. Vonetta
McGee had a spotty career after her start in this movie, and can be seen in small roles in
The Kremlin Letter and Repo Man.
The only other Western Savant can think of offhand that uses snow and cold so well is Andre de Toth's
Day of the Outlaw, a black and white movie also about a snowbound town split by polical
differences that has
to deal with lawless intruders. Snow falls frequently in The Great Silence, and it's no optical
overlay, but rather great big fluffy flakes that cover everything about three feet deep. This must have
been an unusually tough show to film, not just for the cold but for the problems of tracking up the
clear snowbanks that fill almost every scene. Just getting out of Almeria earns The Great Silence
high marks, even if they moved north to the Pyrenees.
As a Spagetti Western, Sergio Corbucci's The Great Silence is good, but still can't touch Leone
with a ten foot snow cone. The bleak story has realistic touches that really help - the practical sense
of needing food and shelter in this show is very much foregrounded. But the Spaghetti basics are all
still there: incredibly merciless killers who become tiresome because they essentially have no character;
whose only response is a desire for vengeance; gunfighters who never miss. Villain Kinski plays his
part as if he is the hero, which is a wise choice, but there's still a lack of characterization
that the excellent Ennio Morricone score, try as it will, never quite fills in: the backstory of Silence's
wound never takes on the operatic grandeur found in similar Leone situations.
Frankly, it's the Leone score and the beautiful photography that appeal the most in this show. Even with such
a solid story, Corbucci's direction drifts and falters, with sloppy and arbitrary blocking and framing
of shots. A lot has been said about the movie's 'uncompromised' ending, which comes off as a grim
surprise if you're not expecting it, but as just a downer if you are. After 90 minutes of nihilism, the fact
that the ending is so extreme doesn't come as a surprise. Then again, it would have stunned me if I saw
in 1968, so who's to say?
Fantoma's DVD of The Great Silence is a good entertainment package. The transfer is from a very
clean element (all that snow and hardly any dirt or scratches) that still only gets passing marks
for appearance. The colors are somewhat washed out and coarse patterning appears in dark areas in some
shots. It looks reasonable but not great, and nowhere near as good as the earlier
Companeros, which probably had much better elements to work with.
is an alternate ending offered as a silent extra - it's as determinedly positive as the
real ending is negative, but neither ending compels: both just seem like ways to end the show. English
director Alex Cox is in for a brief discussion of the movie from a fan's point of view, but he mostly
repeats info readable on his nice liner notes.
This package is bound to delight Spaghetti Western
fans. The only real disappointment is that there's only an English language track. The rather
good dubbing still plays as artificial and false, and detracts mightily from Kinski's performance. The epic
Morricone music comes through loud and strong, however, and the disc will get many a play just to listen to
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Great Silence rates:
Supplements: Trailer, alternate ending, interview with Alex Cox
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 6, 2001
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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