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DVD Review: The Great Silence (1968)

GsThinking of the great spaghetti western directors of all time, the three Sergios (Leone, Sollima, Corbucci) always pop up. The latter of the three is at the helm of The Great Silence -- one of the best westerns, Italian or otherwise.

What makes Il Grande Silenzio so memorable, refreshing, and rewarding is the unexpected shock value Sergio Corbucci provides the viewer through his refutation of the most essential spag-western elements which we're most familiar with. In a remote, snow-covered Utah village, vicious bounty killers are massacring at whim, mostly innocent "bandits" and local pariahs (apparently Mormons!), in order to collect loot and appease the caprice of the corrupt banker ruling the area.

Fittingly, who better to play the sadistic, self-satisfied leader of the brutal bounty hunters, Loco, than Klaus Kinksi? Fans of Italo-westerns will also love the casting of perennials Luigi Pistilli and Mario Brega (of Sergio Leone fame), as the aforementioned money-grubbing banker and his heavy set, sausage-eating henchman, respectively. While chaos reigns completely, a widow (Vonetta McGee, from the wonderfully anti-PC The Eiger Sanction), whose husband has been gunned down by Loco, calls on justice -- in the form of "Silence" (Jean-Louis Trinitgant), a mute who avenges wrongdoing and has, of course, the reputation of being the fastest and deadliest shot in all of Utah.

Naturally, we get a love story developing between Silence and the widow, but here, it's capped off by a surprisingly tender love-scene, rather than the typical "rape 'em and leave 'em" machismo stunts so prevalent in the genre.

True, Jean-Louis Trintignant may seem like an odd choice for the masculine, archetypal role of the "mysterious stranger", but he not only displays every emotional state with his eyes masterfully, never uttering a single syllable throughout the film, but he's also effectively convincing and sympathetic as our righteous protagonist. Kinski is also in top form, grinning devilishly and stealing scenes in a brilliant, psychopathic show of acting prowess.

And, of course, what would any great spaghetti western be without the ubiquitous Ennio Morricone? But remember, you won't hear a typical Morricone score, just like you won't see a traditional Italo-western. The conclusion to The Great Silence is one of the most interesting, emotionally striking, and truly surprising finales in the genre.

Extras: Yes, there's an "alternate ending", as well as audio commentary, and a trailer.

-- Ellie Slavova


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