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Savant Short Review:

The Great Silence

The Great Silence
1968 / Color / 1:66 flat / 105m. / Il Grande silenzio
Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Klaus Kinski, Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli, Vonetta McGee, Mario Brega
Cinematography Silvano Ippoliti
Art Direction Riccardo Domenici
Original Music Ennio Morricone
Writing credits Vittoriano Petrilli, Mario Amendola, Bruno Corbucci, and Sergio Corbucci
Produced by
Directed by Sergio Corbucci

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; helpless victims 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 gory neck 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. There 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 the score.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Great Silence rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Good-
Sound: Good
Supplements: Trailer, alternate ending, interview with Alex Cox
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 6, 2001

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