Review by Troy
= Highest Rating
a snowbound frontier town an enigmatic gunfighter (Jean-Louis
Trintignant), called "Silence" because he is mute, runs afoul
of the sadistic bounty killer Loco (Klaus Kinski). It is only
a matter of time before they are forced to face off in a duel...
Next to Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci is
the most critically acclaimed director of Italian westerns.
Though best known for his classic Django
(1966), most critics agree that his masterpiece is 1968's The
Great Silence. With its snowy setting, mute protagonist
and incredibly downbeat finale, it stands out as one of the
most individualistic spaghetti westerns ever made less quirky
than Lucio Fulci's Four of the Apocalypse
(1974), but no less lyrical.
Corbucci's trademark "rough and ready" style
is writ large over the film
elegant compositions are juxtaposed with crude zooms and sloppy
handheld shots to create an atmosphere that borders on verité
at times. While it was Clint Eastwood who was destined to find
international stardom as the mysterious anti-hero of Leone's
westerns, Corbucci can lay claim to two characters that are,
in some respects, more memorable than Eastwood's laconic anti-hero.
One of them, of course, is Django, played to rugged perfection
by Franco Nero; the other is this film's "Silence," moodily
essayed by French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant.
a darling of the art house circuit perhaps best remembered as
the protagonist of Bernardo Bertolucci's The
Conformist (1970), may seem a strange choice to head
the cast of a spaghetti western, but he proves more than capable.
Deprived of the power of speech (Silence, we are told, had his
vocal chords cut by bad guys when he was a child), he relies
instead on his formidable presence and expressive, sorrowful
eyes. Silence is not the cold, almost superhuman thug of Leone's
pictures, but a more human, fragile and accessible figure.
In addition to Trintignant, Corbucci assembled
a fantastic supporting cast headed by Klaus Kinski. As the somewhat
foppish bounty killer with a heart of ice, Kinski (A
Bullet for the General, Venus
in Furs) delivers a restrained and effective performance;
he is dubbed in the English edition, but his menacing gaze is
as intense as ever. American actress Vonetta McGee (Blacula)
makes her film debut as Silence's love interest. For a genre
film from 1968, the presence of a black heroine stands out as
rather a bold touch, and McGee comes through with a touching
performance. Spaghetti western buffs will also revel in the
meaty roles for Luigi Pistilli (For
a Few Dollars More), Mario Brega (The
Good, the Bad & the Ugly) and Frank Wolff (Once
Upon a Time in the West). Silvano Ippoliti's cinematography
offers some memorable images, and he definitely makes the most
of the unusual (for a SW) snowy landscape. And what would a
spaghetti western be without a score by Ennio Morricone? Il
Maestro serves up one of his very best scores here, with
the haunting main theme measuring up to his more celebrated
themes for Leone's westerns.
DVD release of The Great Silence
is admirable overall. The 1.66 framing looks correct, although
the image is not enhanced for widescreen TVs. Print quality is
very good overall, but a defect of the original cinematography
plagues a number of scenes... It seems that Ippoliti opted to
use a piece of gauze as a diffusion filter, but neglected to insure
that it was thoroughly out of focus
thus certain scenes look to have been shot through a stocking!
Fantoma can hardly be blamed for this idiosyncrasy, however. Audio
quality is serviceable
no better or worse than one would expect for a dubbed movie of
this vintage. Extras include the theatrical trailer, an interview
with filmmaker Alex Cox, who enthusiastically dissects his love
of the SW genre and this film in particular, and, most notably,
an alternate "happy ending".
As noted above, the released film
contains what is quite possibly the most diabolically nihilistic
ending of its period; the alternate finale is illogical, incoherent
and downright amusing. It's great to have the scene included as
an extra, but it seems to have never been married to a soundtrack,
so it is presented silent. (A brief audio commentary by Cox is
optional for this bizarre ending.)