The Great Silence

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This article is about the 1968 film. For the absence of evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, see Fermi paradox.
The Great Silence
Great silence dvdcover.jpg
DVD cover
Directed by Sergio Corbucci
Written by Mario Amendola
Bruno Corbucci
Sergio Corbucci
Vittoriano Petrilli
Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant
Klaus Kinski
Frank Wolff
Luigi Pistilli
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Silvano Ippoliti
Release date(s)
  • 19 November 1968 (1968-11-19)
Running time 105 min.
Country Italy
Language Italian

The Great Silence (Il grande silenzio, 1968), or The Big Silence, is an Italian spaghetti western.[2]

The movie features a score by Ennio Morricone and stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as Silence, a mute gunfighter with a grudge against bounty hunters, assisting a group of outlawed Mormons and a woman trying to avenge her husband (a murdered outlaw). They are set against a group of ruthless bounty hunters, led by Loco (Klaus Kinski).

It is one of Corbucci's better known movies. Unlike most conventional and spaghetti westerns, The Great Silence takes place in the snow-filled landscapes of Utah during the Great Blizzard of 1898.


Winter 1898. The rough weather brings hunger and privation to the small village of Snowhill in Utah. In order to survive, the poor people start to steal and rob. Therefore they become outlaws and have to hide in the mountains, because of the bounty rewarded on them. While people are suffering, the village becomes a paradise for bounty hunters, who can hardly be opposed by the poor, who are labelled as outlaws.

When Pauline's husband falls prey to the unscrupulous bounty hunter Loco (Klaus Kinski), she hires a mute gunfighter, Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant), to kill Loco. Since Silence as a child had to watch his parents being killed by bounty hunters, he tramps through the country chasing those who are killing people for money under the cloak of the law. In order to not violate the law and be added to the blacklist of the bounty hunters, he provokes them to pull out their weapon first. Then he has a reason to act in "self-defense" and shoot them.

But Loco does not let himself be provoked. Not until after he lures the new sheriff – who had been given the impossible task by the governor to re-establish order in the region and to grant amnesty to those starving in the mountains – to his death, does Loco face up to the final fight with Silence.


The film is famous for its bleak ending, a bloody scene in which the sympathetic characters are gunned down by the greedy bounty hunters, "all according to the law," as Loco comments. The director was forced to shoot an alternate ending for the North African and Asian markets.

The Fantoma DVD features the alternative "happy" ending without sound. The comic sheriff played by Frank Wolff returns from the "dead" (after having been trapped in a frozen lake by Loco) to save the day. It is unlikely that an English or Italian audio track was ever created for this ending.[3]



The film was inspired by the film Day of the Outlaw (1959), directed by Andre De Toth. It was a black-and-white western starring Robert Ryan and set in the snowbound town of Bitters, Wyoming, disrupted in the film by the arrival of seven outlaws on the run from the cavalry with a stolen army payroll.

With this film, Sergio Corbucci brought together different approaches of the spaghetti western genre with highly political themes from contemporary history. On the one hand, the main hero is not only close-lipped, he is mute. The muteness of Trintignant is a joke, which is typical for Corbucci. Because a western hero never talks much, Corbucci exaggerates this genre-typical must and depicts the main hero as a mute. Besides the end, another aspect is the emphasis on law and its organs. For example, Klaus Kinski as the villain mentions several times that he has not violated a single law. This is clarified by the Ahasuerus figure of the justice of the peace, played by Luigi Pistilli, who is the merchant of the village too.

Here, the double-dealing zeitgeist becomes clear: the actions of the state and its law are controlled by capital. Even the demonstration of this aspect was perceived as criticism on America and capitalism. Because of its interpretation, the law fails as a moral instance. With its law, the state only protects the property and rewards bounty instead of supporting the people themselves. Pure privation forces the people to steal in order to survive. But because of the inevitable criminal act, they become criminals who are chased by bounty hunters in order to ensure law and order. Thus, the "evil" bounty hunters are those who ensure law and order, whilst the "poor" are fought as lawbreakers.

Silence himself is not a saviour. In fact, Corbucci provides Silence with a reason for his acting (a traumatic childhood experience), but he also lets Pauline explicitly mention that Silence claims the same sum for killing Loco as Loco received for killing Pauline's husband. And Silence also cleverly interprets the law in order to perform a contract killing under the cloak of self-defense.

In spite of this fact, Silence, like other heroes in spaghetti westerns, functions as a role model and sympathetic character for the audience. From that point of view, it is a remarkable consequence of Corbucci, that he lets Loco triumph. All sympathetic characters, as well as the defenseless hostages, are killed in cold blood.

Corbucci dedicated the story about a good man, who dies in a barbaric hell, to the memory of Jesus, Martin Luther King, and Che Guevara. The reference to Che Guevara and Jesus becomes apparent by the destruction of Silence's hands. Jesus was nailed on the cross and the hands of dead Che Guevara were sent to Fidel Castro in a preserving jar. Corbucci previously used the motif of the destroyed hands in Django. This symbolism is intended to point out the impossibility of the revolution, because the execution of Silence does not save the hostages, just as Che Guevara's assassination did not change mankind significantly.

The film is understood as a critical answer to For a Few Dollars More by Sergio Leone, who depicted the bounty hunters uncritically, almost naïvely.

Therefore, Corbucci proceeded in a very sociological manner and created the first part of a trilogy, which deals with the topic "revolution". While the impossibility of revolution was pointed out in The Great Silence, the topic was picked up again and solutions were pointed out in the films The Mercenary and Compañeros.

The Great Silence is considered a cult film that is convincing because of its complexity. In fact, while the political aspect has sometimes overlooked in subsequent decades, the film is still looked at by many as a high-water mark for the Euro-western genre.

The Austrian director Michael Haneke is a great fan of the film too and refers to the ending as unique. The only piece with a similar plot structure coming to his mind, is Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea.

Reportedly, Jean-Louis Trintignant only agreed to play in a spaghetti western under the condition that he did not have to learn any lines for the role. That's why the main character conveniently became a mute in the story.[4]


Location shooting took place in the Italian Dolomites, around the ski resorts of Cortina d'Ampezzo (Veneto) and San Cassiano in Badia (South Tyrol). It was also shot at Bracciano Lake, near Manziana in Lazio and the Elios town set in Rome was used for several of the Snow Hill scenes (including two nights sequences and the build-up to the final duel).

The scenes were shot at night so that the fake "snow" looked more convincing; shaving foam was used to give the street a snowbound look. For the daylight scenes, the Elios set was swathed in fog, to disguise the fact that the surrounding countryside had no snow.


Jean-Louis Trintignant is famous for the films A Man and a Woman, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist, Roger Vadim's And God Created Woman, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors: Red and Michael Haneke's Amour.

Silence's distinctive rapid-firing pistol is a Mauser C96, which started being manufactured in 1896. That Mauser pistol reappeared in Clint Eastwood's Joe Kidd (1972), while the snowbound setting was used in Pale Rider (1985) and briefly in Unforgiven (1992); in the early Seventies there was even a rumor that Eastwood was going to remake The Great Silence.

The only words Silence utters are as a boy, played in flashback by child actor Loris Loddi (from The Hills Run Red, 1966). As his mother is shot, he cries out, "Mamma! Mamma!", though the English dubbed voice is reused from the final scene of Corbucci's earlier film Johnny Oro (1966).


Currently a musical project by the Finnish Progressive Music Association is running, which encourages bands and musical artists to musically interpret the film. The Spaghetti Epic 3 The Hungarian progressive rock band Yesterdays wrote a 20 minutes long epic called Suite Pauline based on the main character's story (this song is also featured on the Spaghetti Epic 3 CD). Anima Morte also recorded a version of the main theme for the Cani Arrabbiati - Opening themes tribute compilation.

The music by Ennio Morricone was later sampled by Thievery Corporation. The grindcore band Cripple Bastards released an album with the same title.



  1. ^ "Il Grande Silenzo". British Film Institute. London. Retrieved November 11, 2012. 
  2. ^ Hughes, p.88
  3. ^ "DVD review at". Retrieved 2006-10-29. 
  4. ^ "The Great Silence review at". Retrieved 2006-10-29. 

External links[edit]

  • Parts of this article were translated from the German, especially from this version.