The Great Silence [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Film Movement
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (24th May 2018).
The Film

In the dying days of the Old West, bounty hunters have decided that dead is better than alive and are it is easier to round up several outlaws as corpses and collect a lump sum at once than to bring 'em back alive to stand trial. With word of a vote on a general amnesty during the next elections, the governor of Utah (Hercules Unchained's Carlo D'Angelo) sends ex-army man Gideon Burnett (Once Upon a Time in the West's Frank Wolff) to the mountain town of Snow Hill to put a stop to this practice as the town seems to be paying out a hefty amount of bounties, and the bounty hunters are waiting out the outlaws hiding in the hills as the winter becomes more unforgiving. The smarter among the "bounty killers" have taken to exploiting the desperation of the outlaws' loved ones to lure them back to be killed, and those left behind who have an appetite for vengeance turn to "Silence" (The Man Who Lies' Jean-Louis Trintignant), a mysterious man who only kills bounty hunters, and only in self-defense. After whip-wielding sadist Loco (Aguirre, the Wrath of God's Klaus Kinski) holds her hostage to draw out and gun down her husband, the widow Pauline (Blacula's Vonetta McGee) sends for Silence (who happens to arrive on the stagecoach with Loco on the way to collect his bounty and Burnett whose horse has been stolen by the outlaws for food). Burnett makes it known right away that he disapproves of Loco's handiwork and banker/Justice of the Peace Policutt (Death Rides a Horse's Luigi Pistilli) taking a percentage of the bounty. Policutt, who financially forced Pauline's husband into a position where he had to steal and then paid Loco extra to hunt him down in order to possess her, warns Loco that Silence is there to kill him if he does not get to him first. Loco, however, is wise to Silence's modus operandi of picking a fight and then getting his opponent to draw first Silence having already taken out Loco's buddy Charlie (Seven Blood-Stained Orchids' Bruno Corazzari) on behalf of the mother of one of the outlaws engaging instead in hand-to-hand combat and trying to get stoic Silence to draw first; however, his men try to intervene and Silence kills them all before being shot in the back by Loco who is the arrested by Burnett. Policutt tries to use his influence to arrange for Loco's release while stoking up fears among the townspeople about the outlaws, but Burnett intends to take Loco to the city jail and tells the townspeople to leave food on the outskirts of the village for the outlaws and they will leave them alone since they too are waiting on the amnesty vote. As Pauline nurses a badly-wounded Silence, Policutt and his henchman Martin (My Name is Nobody's Mario Brega) close in while Loco escapes from Burnett and rounds up his fellow bounty hunters to ambush the outlaws in a potential mass slaughter for profit.

Although director Sergio Corbucci is best known for his earlier spaghetti western Django which sparked not only a whole spate of imitations (as well as retitlings of unrelated films) in the years following but also a big-budget pastiche by Quentin Tarantino with Django Unchained it is The Great Silence that is Corbucci's true triumph in the genre, and the spaghetti western in his oeuvre that truly rivals any of the westerns of Sergio Leone or the best of Sergio Solimma (arguably Face to Face). The familiar elements of Leone are evident in the film, somewhat combining the two protagonists of For a Few Dollars More into a "man with no name" whose motives are uncertain until the childhood trauma is revealed in flashback that links the hero and one of the villains minus the musical trigger in what is otherwise one of Ennio Morricone's finest non-Leone western scores, but even Leone would never have dreamed up such a despairing finale; so much so that Corbucci first provided a more ambiguous recut and then a "happy ending" reshoot (a practice he with which he was not unfamiliar, having provided an extended afterward for Italian audiences for the finale of his earlier Minnesota Clay). Without a word of dialogue, Trintignant builds his character upon the expository passages from other characters through his eyes and gestures while the dialogue of Kinski and Pistilli is paired down to the strategic; indeed, it seems as if verbosity is a liability, with Wolff's Burnett speaking out of turn with the governor, giving too much of himself away in casual conversation, and practically providing the means for others to set a trap to walk into for himself and the bandits when proclaiming his intentions to seek justice and pleading for tolerance from the locals. While the film's primarily female character is victimized, she and the other female characters particularly saloon prostitute Regina (Bread, Love and Dreams' Marisa Merlini) and the mother of one of Charlie's victims are more resilient than the norm, helping Pauline bury her husband in defiance of Loco (who wanted the body preserved in snow until he returned to claim it) and calling out usurer Policutt on paying out blood money. The aforementioned ending is deeply cynical but far more appropriate in tone than the expected happy or at least triumphant ending, and more so than the one Corbucci conceived for some versions. Corbucci's staging and technique are sloppier than that of Leone, with future Tinto Brass cinematographer Silvano Ippoliti (Caligula) favoring handheld photography and fluid pans with focus that wavers sometimes deliberately and sometimes with the adjustment of the zoom lens along with stocking diffusion that washes out the snowy landscapes into blinding whiteness cut through by cloaked figures on horseback that are difficult to distinguish from one another (deliberately so in the case of the mother offering her son's horse as payment to Silence cutting to a shot of a figure on horseback who comes into focus as Loco while Silence arrives instead on the stagecoach). Morricone's score largely downplays the choir vocals in favor of a simple melody that seems to mirror the emotional warmth of the film's love scene amidst the physically cold atmosphere. Corbucci seems to have peaked with The Great Silence, with his subsequent westerns from the bigger budgeted The Mercenary to the more comic Companeros failing to match it or his earlier efforts, and much of his subsequent directorial filmography composed of more generic action and comedy films.
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Video

Although The Great Silence was picked up by Twentieth Century Fox and distributed by the in several markets, the film was never released theatrically in the United States and first screened on television in the United Kingdom in 1990. The film's first legitimate DVD release in the United States came courtesy of Fantoma and in the UK by Eureka, both of which utilized a non-anamorphic transfer letterboxed at 1.66:1 (Digital Classics would carry over the Eureka extras in with an anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer in 2009). Beating Film Movement to Blu-ray was TC Entertainment in Japan with a 1080i60 encode from a master presumably struck for European television followed by a 2017 German edition from AL!VE that ran roughly a minute shorter than what should be a 106 minute running time (it is possible the German disc drops the Italian-language ending scroll before the closing credits). Film Movement's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer derives not from a 2K master struck by German rights owners Beta Film - who previously licensed to the company their 4K restorations of the Sissi trilogy - but from a more recent Italian 2K restoration. The film's end credits state that the film is "schermo panoramico" (panoramic screen), so the 1.85:1 framing appears to be more accurate than 1.66:1, losing nothing on the top, gaining a sliver on the bottom and slightly more on the left side of the screen. The resolution is such that the weave of the various stockings stretched over the lenses are quite evident on the wide end of the zoom, as is the substitution of shaving foam and cotton for snow in some insert shots, while revealing newfound textures in skin, coarse clothing, and every strand of hair well-delineated when the focus of Ippoliti's camera is tack sharp (which it is not always by design, as with the extremely shallow depth of field during the love scene between Trintignant and McGee). Grain is heavy, especially in the low-lit interiors but it no longer looks like "machine noise" or over-sharpening of the older non-anamorphic DVD transfers. With the German edition not being English-friendly (and possibly incomplete), Film Movement delivers a release of the film that should satisfy fans and newcomers (and tide over those who anticipate one of the bigger niche UK labels to offer a competing edition).
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Audio

The disc specs state "Italian and English versions", but what we get is a single encode of the complete Italian version of the film with a clean, lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono Italian track with optional English subtitles along with a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English dub (the downbeat ending was also dubbed into English and is complete here) that seems to have come from a poorer source with dialogue always understandable but sound effects and music sounding more muted and low hiss apparent in the silences. The Italian track is recommended but the English track was supervised by Lewis E. Ciannelli and features familiar vocal talent including Mel Welles, Carolyn De Fonseca , Ted Rusoff, and Edward Mannix.
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Extras

Extras start off with Cox on Corbucci (14:46) in which filmmaker Alex Cox retreats to his hut to discuss the film in a poncho. He covers Corbucci's career, including his friendship with Sergio Leone and how they were both inspired by Akira Kurosawa's Yojimo to make westerns, and his desire to set Django in the snow. The most interesting aspect of the discussion is his recollection of inquiring with the French distributor as to the lack of US or UK release dates for the film owing to Clint Eastwood allegedly convincing Fox's Darryl F. Zanuck to pick up the film for a remake only for the producer to detest the film, and Cox's supposition that the suppression of the film made him more cynical. Two alternate endings are provided for the film, Alternate Ending 1 (2:01) being the happy ending with optional commentary from Cox who describes Corbucci as a "weird dude" who hated hippies but seemingly patterned the film's costumes after hippie styles (this short track was presumably carried over from the DVDs) while Alternate Ending 2 (4:31) is an abrupt recutting of the Italian ending rendering the fates of several characters ambiguous. Western, Italian Style (38:01) is a 1968 documentary narrated by actor Frank Wolff on Italian westerns, looking at the influence of Leone's Dollars films on other films including their titles (and how other successful westerns created buzzwords that figured into the titles of subsequent films), the influence of spaghetti westerns on Italian culture with western weddings and a visit to a nightclub showcasing cowboy music act John and Wayne, dubbed interviews with Enzo G. Castellari (Any Gun Can Play) and Corbucci, as well as an overdubbed one with Trintignant during a lengthy visit to the set of The Great Silence. While informative, this is more of a puff piece played for levity. The documentary was previously featured on Blue Underground's Blu-ray of and the Koch Media German DVD of Bruno Corbucci's Shoot, Gringo... Shoot!. The disc also includes the original theatrical trailer (3:46) and a Film Movement 2018 theatrical trailer (1:44). Enclosed with the disc is a featuring a ten-page essay by Simon Abrams..
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Overall

Although director Sergio Corbucci is best known for his trendsetting earlier spaghetti western Django, it is The Great Silence that is Corbucci's true triumph in the genre, and the spaghetti western in his oeuvre that truly rivals any of the westerns of Sergio Leone and the best of Sergio Solimma.
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