The Great Silence
Italy - France / 1968
Directed by Sergio Corbucci
Starring
Jean-Louis Trintignant
Klaus Kinski
Vonetta McGee
Color / 105 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD(R1 - NTSC)
Fantoma
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9
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Guest Review by Troy Howarth
In 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.
    T
rintignant, 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.

Fantoma's 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.)
5/28/04
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