Monday, February 09, 2004

Talk is Cheap: The Great Silence (1968)

This is simply one of the greatest Spaghetti Westerns ever made. It’s also one of the darkest films ever, regardless of genre. But don’t let that scare you off if you’re skittish about such things since it’s also frequently haunting (thanks to composer Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable score), beautiful, lyrical, humorous, crazy, and most important of all, thoroughly captivating. It stars the one-and-only Klaus Kinski, in one of his finest roles, as a droll yet blood-crazed bounty hunter named Loco, and the great French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant as the aptly named, mysterious gunslinger Silence. The wonderful American character actor Frank Wolff (Once Upon a Time in the West among many others) co-stars as the sheriff and Vonetta McGee (Repo Man) brings a tragic humanity to the film as the widow who hires Silence to avenge the death of her husband. Director Sergio Corbucci, although not always the best craftsman, manages to bring an unbridled energy and passion to the film that occasionally rivals the power of the great Sergio Leone’s Westerns from the same period. Corbucci, who also directed the very influential Django (1966) starring Euro-superstar Franco Nero, Navajo Joe (1966) with Burt Reynolds (!), and the excellent Companeros (1970), was more or less a political filmmaker when it came to making Westerns and actually called his take on the genre “Zapata-Spaghetti.” Basically, when it comes down to his Westerns, the good guys are the tough Lefties and the bad guys the fascist Right. Simple and direct though they may be, Corbucci’s films are nevertheless emotional powder kegs and they still manage a fair amount of complexity when it comes around to character. But if you’re looking for ambiguity, look elsewhere. There’s no time for that jazz when the bullets are flying.

The Great Silence is available on DVD from Fantoma. The disc contains the loony alternate “Happy Ending” that Corbucci filmed for the North African and Asian audiences that demanded that their Westerns end on an up note. Even after watching it you’ll still not believe it. Director and longtime Spaghetti Western fan Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy, Straight to Hell) supplies a brief yet interesting video interview wherein he talks about the film’s brooding tone and puts Corbucci’s work within an historical context. He also pens the liner notes. Although I have to disagree with Cox’s assessment that Silence is the greatest Spaghetti Western ever made (that honor still has to go to Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West), it’s right up there. But please, don’t watch this if you’re feeling unstable or depressed. I’ve got enough of a guilty conscience as it is.

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