Friday, June 1, 2018

Blu-ray debut for a seldom-seen spaghetti western: Sergio Corbucci's THE GREAT SILENCE

One of those movies you may have heard of over the years but rarely have been able to actually see, THE GREAT SILENCE, a 1968 spaghetti western from a lesser-known Italian director, Sergio Corbucci, after a very limited theatrical release here in the USA, will finally be available next week via Film Movement on Blu-ray. No less an authority than Alex Cox has deemed the film "One of the finest westerns ever."  TrustMovies would not go that far, but the film is worth seeing -- if only for its take-no-prisoners finale that pretty much outdoes any other western you'll have seen in its near-total darkness. The only problem is that, while the movie is dark, it's not at all deep.

Signore Corbucci, who died back in 1990, wrote some 57 films and directed 63, so he's not exactly unknown to film buffs, but he is nowhere near as noted, say, as is his friend and compatriot Sergio Leone.

Corbucci was involved in films of various types -- from westerns to comedies to some of the popular-back-then giallo genre. According to many "experts," this film is his masterpiece. If so, I'm happy to have seen and enjoyed it, but I'm probably not going to dig into many of his other movies.

There are a number of good reasons for digging into this film, however -- beginning with its unusual cast. In addition to the fine Italian actors on view (including Luigi Pistilli, playing one of the film's two major villains), we've got a French star (Jean-Louis Trintignant, above) as the hero, German (by way of Poland) star Klaus Kinski (below) as the supreme villain,

and two Americans: the gorgeous Vonetta McGee (below, right, of Blacula and Melinda) and an actor named Frank Wolff who began his career in Roger Corman movies but found his greatest success in Europe doing these spaghetti westerns. Wolff (shown in the penultimate photo below) adds what little humor there is to the film, as the newly sworn-in sheriff who proves a bit smarter than he looks or acts.

The subject here is a little different, too. We've often seen westerns that feature a bounty hunter or two, but here these guys are all over the place and as nasty as they come. In league with the town big-shot (played by Pistilli, at center, below) who turns every-day citizens into criminals with a bounty on their heads, these bounty hunters then bring in their prizes, dead, of course, since their posters proclaim them "Wanted: Dead or Alive."

The film's end credits inform us that the massacre by bounty hunters that we eventually see here, taking place in Utah, was the thing that finally put a halt on these greedy murderers. Just as well, too, because almost immediately after you begin to enjoy and appreciate a character in the film, he or she is summarily killed off.

Women, wives, children, no one is safe. In fact, our hero, known as Silence, was rendered silent as a child by a bounty hunter determined to keep the kid's mouth shut. Filmed in some gorgeous snowscapes, the movie is lovely to look at but about as bleak as they come. Other than that darkness, however, in both concept and execution, the film is pretty obvious and standard. For the first 40 minutes, given its reputation, you wait for something on screen to indicate its "greatness." My spouse gave up at that 40-minute point, noting, "I've seen much better on episodes of Gunsmoke or Bonanza."

Too bad, because the movie does gain power and weight as it moves along. The finale goes against just about all we've come to expect from the western genre, and this in itself makes The Great Silence worth seeing. So far against grain does the movie go that two alternate endings were shot -- evidently, just in case. One of these provide a last-minute reversal and features just about every happy-ending cliche you could want (and indeed probably expected this film to give you). The second alternate ending proves much more bizarre, as it leaves just about everything up in the air.

The Blu-ray transfer in 2K digital restoration is decent enough to pass muster, and the disc's half-dozen Bonus Features include an excellent interview with Alex Cox regarding the film and Sergio Corbucci; a fun 1968 documentary, Western, Italian Style; original Italian- and English-language versions; trailers (then and now: this is the film's 50th anniversary); and those two alternate endings.

Even if you don't place the film in your pantheon of great westerns, there's certainly enough in this tasty, tidy package to make your investment of money and time worthwhile. From Film Movement Classics and running 105 minutes, The Great Silence hits the street on both Blu-ray and DVD this coming Tuesday, June 5 -- for purchase and/or rental.

No comments: