The Great Silence
|The Great Silence
(Il grande silenzio)
Italian film poster
|Directed by||Sergio Corbucci|
|Produced by||Attilio Riccio|
|Written by||Vittoriano Petrilli
John Davis Hart
Lewis E. Ciannelli
|Story by||Sergio Corbucci|
|Starring||Jean Louis Trintignant
Vonetta Mc Gee
|Music by||Ennio Morricone|
|Edited by||Amedeo Salfa|
Adelphia Compagnia Cinematografica
Les Films Corona
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox Italia|
|Box office||570,486 admissions (France)|
The Great Silence (Italian: Il grande silenzio), also known by its UK broadcast title The Big Silence, is a 1968 Revisionist Spaghetti Western film directed and co-written by Sergio Corbucci. An Italian-French co-production, the film stars Jean-Louis Trintignant and Vonetta McGee (in her film début) alongside genre regulars Klaus Kinski, Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli and Mario Brega.
Conceived by Corbucci as a political allegory inspired by the recent deaths of Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Malcolm X, the film's plot takes place in Utah prior to the Great Blizzard of 1899. It pits a mute gunslinger (Trintignant), fighting in the defence of a group of outlaws and a vengeful young widow (McGee), against a group of ruthless bounty killers led by the psychotic "Loco" (Kinski) and the corrupt banker Henry Pollicut (Pistilli). Unlike most films of the genre, which were filmed in the Almería province of Spain to double for areas such as Texas and Mexico, The Great Silence was filmed on location primarily in the Italian Dolomites.
Distributed in Italy and various international markets by 20th Century Fox and its subsidiaries, The Great Silence only proved to be a modest financial success in the countries it played in. The film was withheld from release in the United States until 2004, when it was made available on DVD by Fantoma Films and Image Entertainment. Despite initially receiving controversy for its bleak and dark tone, the film's reputation grew, and it gained a cult following in the wake of its release. The Great Silence is now widely regarded by fans and authorities on Spaghetti Westerns as one of the greatest films of the genre, and is acknowledged as Corbucci's masterpiece. Praise has gone to the film's performances (especially those of Trintignant, Kinski, McGee, Wolff and Pistilli), its unconventional use of a mountainous, snow-bound environment, the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, the ending, and its subversion of various conventions of the Western film genre.
Henry Pollicut, a corrupt Utahn banker, has a man named Gordon and his wife murdered by two bounty killers. To prevent Gordon's son giving them away, one of the killers slices the boy's throat, rendering him permanently mute. Years later, the son, armed with a Mauser C96, exacts his revenge by assassinating the bounty killer and shooting Pollicut's right-hand thumb.
Sometime later, in 1898, a severe blizzard has swept the frontier, bringing privation to the town of Snow Hill. As a result, much of the community is forced to steal in order to survive. Pollicut, seeking to make a profit, places prices on the thieves' heads, attracting the attention of a bounty-killing gang led by "Loco". As they prey on the outlaws, Gordon's son, now going by the moniker "Silence", works with the bandits and their allies to fight against the killers. Silence operates on a principle whereby he provokes his enemies into drawing first so he can kill them in self-defense.
One of the outlaws, a black man named James Middleton, leaves the safety of the group to be with his wife, Pauline. James is subsequently killed by Loco when he takes Pauline hostage. Vengeful, Pauline writes to Silence, requesting him to kill Loco. Meanwhile, the newly elected Governor, hoping to have order maintained before declaring an amnesty regarding the outlaws, assigns the righteous but bumbling soldier Gideon Burnett as the sheriff of Snow Hill. On his way, Burnett encounters the outlaws, who steal his horse for food. After getting lost in the snow, he finds a stagecoach travelling to Snow Hill, on which he meets Silence, and later, Loco. Upon arrival, Silence meets Pauline, who promises to raise his reward.
Pauline attempts to sell her house to Pollicut, who demands that she becomes his mistress – his reason for putting a bounty on her husband. Pauline bitterly refuses. Silence leaves for the town saloon, and attempts to provoke Loco into drawing. Instead, Loco severely beats him before Silence fights back. Angered, Loco attempts to shoot him, but he is stopped by Burnett, who arrests him for attempted murder and prepares to take him to a prison out of town. Before leaving, Burnett requests that the townspeople provide food for the outlaws. Meanwhile, Pauline nurses Silence's wounds, and they share a romantic moment together.
Burnett and Loco stop by a frozen lake to allow Loco to relieve himself, but he springs a trap, shooting the ice surrounding Burnett and leaving him to die in the freezing water. Loco rides to his hideout and convinces the rest of his gang to confront Silence. Determined to take Pauline by force, Pollicut attempts to rape her as his henchman, Martin, tortures Silence by burning his right hand. Silence overpowers Martin and kills Pollicut. Loco and his gang arrive to look for Silence, just as the outlaws then appear at the edge of town to collect the provisions, having been previously advised to do so by Burnett. Deciding to use them to draw out Silence, the gang herd the bandits into the saloon and capture Pauline. Loco tells Pauline to have Silence duel with him – if Silence wins, the outlaws will be set free; if he wins, they will be killed.
Ignoring Pauline's pleas that the duel is a trap, Silence stands outside the saloon. A killer shoots his left hand, greatly impairing his speed and marksmanship. Loco then stands in the doorway, ready to face the weakened Silence. As Silence begins reaching for his Mauser, Loco reaches for his Peacemaker – but as Silence draws, another wounding shot is fired. Loco fires at Silence's head, killing him. Distraught, Pauline attempts to shoot Loco herself, but swiftly dies as well. The bounty killers turn their guns on the outlaws, massacring the entire group. As Loco and his men prepare to collect their bounty, "all according to the law", he takes Silence's Mauser from Pauline's hands, claiming it as his own. The killers ride out of Snow Hill into the morning sun. A title card explains that Loco's actions resulted in public condemnation of bounty killing, and a memorial was erected in Snow Hill to honor those who died by his greed.
Due to the bleak nature of the original finale, Corbucci was forced to shoot an alternative "happy" ending to the film for the North African market, where Spaghetti Westerns were popular, but had to have an upbeat conclusion. Some of the footage shot for this ending appeared in the film's Italian trailer, despite it not appearing in that release of the film. Because it was believed that no audio elements for this ending had survived, early DVD releases of the film, such as the US release from Fantoma Films, feature it without sound. However, a version with Italian dubbing has surfaced in recent years, and has been translated into English by members of the Spaghetti Western Database fansite.
In this ending, Loco draws his gun without waiting to be prompted by Silence. Suddenly, Burnett, having somehow survived being trapped under the frozen lake, rides into town on horseback and shoots Loco in the head, giving Silence enough time to kill the remaining bounty killers. Burnett frees the outlaws as Pauline takes the bandages on Silence's burnt right hand off, revealing a gauntlet that he used for protection. As Burnett takes the thieves to the local jail to await their amnesty, he asks Silence to become his deputy, which he accepts with a smile. Reunited as a romantic couple, Silence and Pauline see Burnett and the outlaws off.
- Jean-Louis Trintignant as Gordon Jr./"Silence"
- Klaus Kinski as "Loco" ("Tigrero" in the Italian version)
- Vonetta McGee as Pauline Middleton
- Frank Wolff as Sheriff Gideon Burnett (Corbett in Italian)
- Luigi Pistilli as Henry Pollicut
- Mario Brega as Martin
- Carlo D'Angelo as the Governor of Utah
- Marisa Merlini as Regina, the Saloon Owner (Régine in Italian)
- Raf Baldassarre as Sanchez (Bobo Schultz in Italian)
- Spartaco Conversi as Walter, Leader of the Outlaws
- Remo De Angelis as Bounty Killer in Flashback
- Mirella Pamphili as Saloon Girl
- Loris Loddi as Young Silence in Flashback (Uncredited)
- Adriana Giuffrè as Silence’s Mother in Flashback (Uncredited)
- Bruno Corazzari as Charlie (Uncredited)
- Pupita Lea Scuderoni as Miguel's Mother (Uncredited)
- Werner Pochath as Miguel, the Young Outlaw (Uncredited)
- Jacques Toulouse as Sheriff Al (Uncredited)
- Fortunato Arena as Outlaw (Uncredited)
- Benito Pacifico as Stagecoach Driver (Uncredited)
- Mimmo Poli as Barman (Uncredited)
- Gino Barbacane as Bounty Killer (Uncredited)
- Claudio Ruffini as Bounty Killer (Uncredited)
- Luciano Rossi as Bounty Killer (Uncredited)
- Bruno Ukmar as Bounty Killer (Uncredited)
- Mauro Mannatrizio as Jack (Uncredited)
- Giulia Salvatori as Child on Sled (Uncredited)
According to Sergio Corbucci, actor Marcello Mastroianni gave him the initial idea of a mute gunfighter when the former told him that he had always wanted to appear in a Western, but would have been held back by his inability to speak English. By this time, having leading actors in Spaghetti Westerns performing in English was a growing practice because it was believed to allow international marketability. When Corbucci first met Jean-Louis Trintignant, who was hired for the leading role of the film by the French production partner Les Films Corona after it was turned down by Franco Nero (who had previously played the title character of Corbucci's internationally successful Django), he learned that Trintignant did not speak English either. To bypass the need for an English-speaking lead, Corbucci decided to turn Trintignant's character into a mute. At the time, Trintignant was known for his role in the critically acclaimed romantic drama A Man and a Woman; the tragic nature of that film is referenced in the doomed romance Silence shares with Pauline. Silence was Trinignant's only role in a Spaghetti Western.
Corbucci hired established German actor Klaus Kinski to play Loco in part to emulate Boris Karloff's performance as the vampire Gorca in Mario Bava's Black Sabbath, a film that was a major stylistic influence on The Great Silence. Other cast members were established character actors in or outside the Spaghetti Western genre, including Luigi Pistilli, Mario Brega, Marisa Merlini, Raf Baldassare, Carlo D'Angelo, Spartaco Conversi and Bruno Corazzari (an actor often compared to Kinski). Frank Wolff, usually known for playing serious or villanous characters, was cast against type in the semi-comical role of Sheriff Burnett.
Vonetta McGee, a then-unknown pre-law San Francisco State College dropout and amateur actress who had moved to Rome to find work at Cinecittà, was cast as Pauline in her first film role. After appearing in Corbucci's film and Luigi Magni's Faustina, McGee was invited to return to America by Sidney Poitier, where she became a major actress in the blaxploitation genre. Alex Cox later cast her as Marlene in his film Repo Man based on her performance as Pauline.
Location filming began in December 1967 in the Italian Dolomites, around the ski resorts of Cortina d'Ampezzo (Veneto) and San Cassiano in Badia (South Tyrol). Several Snow Hill scenes were shot on a set specifically built for the film, with log cabins and alpine roofs. Many of the surrounding hills were used for various set-pieces, including Loco's gang's hideout, the way station, the stagecoach route and the Snow Hill graveyard. These locations were chosen for filming partly because Corbucci wanted to go on a skiing holiday, and the producers allowed him to make the film in these resorts. According to his autobiography Kinski Uncut, Kinski had an on-set affair with actress "Sherene Miller" during the Cortina shoot, while his wife Brigitte and daughter Nastassja enjoyed sledding in the snow. Production then moved to southern areas of Italy; Silence's flashback to his childhood was shot at Bracciano Lake, near Manziana in Lazio. The Elios town set in Rome, which had previously been used by Corbucci in Django, was used for several Snow Hill scenes (including two night sequences and the build-up to the final duel). Production had ended by March 1968.
Most of the Snow Hill scenes filmed at Elios were shot at night so that the fake 'snow' looked more convincing; 26 tons of shaving cream 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. Camera overexposure was also occasionally used to avoid continuity errors. Alex Cox has noticed that the film's costume designs by Enrico Job (the husband of director Lina Wertmüller) appear to have been influenced by hippie fashion styles, including mufflers, shawls, and outfits made of fur and leather - interestingly, Corbucci was known for standing heavily against the hippie subculture. Like other Spaghetti Westerns, the film was shot silent so that post-production dubbing could be performed in multiple languages. At one point during the production, Wolff had to be restrained from strangling Kinski when the latter insulted his Jewish heritage by telling him, "I don’t want to work with a filthy Jew like you; I'm German and hate Jews." Following the incident, Wolff refused to speak to Kinski unless required to by the script. Kinski later declared that he insulted Wolff because he wanted to stimulate and help him get into character.
The Great Silence was one of several Spaghetti Westerns produced between 1967 and 1968, along with Enzo G. Castellari's Kill Them All and Come Back Alone and One Dollar Too Many, Sergio Sollima's Run Man Run and Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, to be showcased in Patrick Morin's made-for-television documentary Western, Italian Style. During the making of the film, Corbucci and Trintignant were interviewed; Corbucci discussed the nature of violence in his films and Spaghetti Westerns in general (comparing the use of violence in such films to the James Bond franchise), while Trintignant spoke of the unusual nature of his role and how he would practice drawing his gun - by pulling a sock (substituting for the gloves Silence wears in the film) off his hand and reaching for a long-steamed artichoke in his pocket.
Following the film's completion, The Great Silence was, as per standard procedure for a Spaghetti Western, edited in its final, completed form and dubbed into five languages: Italian, French, Spanish, German and English. Subtitled versions were created for foreign markets outside of the dubbed versions. The English-language version was written by John Davis Hart and Lewis E. Ciannelli (the son of Eduardo Ciannelli), recorded at Via Margutta Studios in Rome under Ciannelli's direction, and featured Wolff and McGee reprising their on-screen roles among the other ADR performers.
Although Hart and Ciannelli's dub script remains relatively faithful to the original Italian dialogue, the meaning of numerous lines and scenes were changed. Much of the dialogue concerning the outlaws, such as a remark made by Walter, the leader of the bandits, about their forthcoming amnesty, as well as Loco's conversation with Burnett about the morality of the thieves, were rewritten to imply that most of the outlaws were being persecuted not simply because of their poverty, but for also practising Mormonism. Several of the characters' names were also changed from Corbucci's originals, for example, "Tigrero" became "Loco", "Sheriff Gideon Corbett" changed to "Sheriff Gideon Burnett", and "Bobo Schultz" was renamed "Sanchez".
Film historian Howard Hughes suggests that, despite the implications of a large budget as a result of an international cast, as well as elaborate set and costume designs, there are several aspects that suggest otherwise. These include several continuity errors and revealing mistakes present throughout the film, and a variance in the quality of the film stock. In comparison to the standard 2.39:1 Technicolor/Techniscope presentation most Spaghetti Westerns were filmed in, The Great Silence was filmed in the cheaper widescreen (1.66:1) Eastmancolor format.
The Great Silence has been interpreted by various film critics and historians as a subversion of various conventions of the Spaghetti Western film genre. Corbucci, a left-wing radical who made his political views either the subtext or subject of several of his films, wrote the film’s story as an allegory highlighting the corruptions that can be caused by capitalism and authoritarianism, which are personified by the sadistic, greedy bounty killers led by Loco (who use the bounties to fuel their desires for violence and money while acting under the law), as well as the schemes of the banker Pollicutt. This is partially in line with the "Classical Plot" of both American Westerns (such as Shane) and certain Spaghetti Westerns (such as A Fistful of Dollars), in which, according to Will Wright, a "lone stranger rides into a troubled town and cleans it up, winning the respect of the townsfolk and the love of the schoolmarm." As a result of his sympathetic portrayal of the outlaws and the demoniac characterization of the people who hunt them, Corbucci's presentation of bounty killers is far more negative than such figures in Sergio Leone's films - the closing title card of The Great Silence contrasts with the opening title card of For a Few Dollars More.
A key aspect of the film that differentiates its stylistic choices from other Westerns significantly is the setting – a snow-bound Utah that deviates from the desert plains seen in most Western films, American or Italian. The bleakness of the winter landscape, which was inspired by André de Toth’s Day of the Outlaw and John Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn, complements the dark and pessimistic tone of the film, while providing motivation for the characters, as the living conditions and chances of survival are made more dire. The snowy backdrop isolates the events of the story by providing very little visible geographical detail, and "fair metaphors for the enclosed, cruel world herein" are created.
Silence bears similarities with other Spaghetti Western protagonists – he is dressed in black (like Corbucci’s previous creation, Django), is extremely fast and accurate with his gun, and is anti-heroic, sharing some of his characteristics with Loco (both will kill other people on the grounds that they will receive payment). However, unlike other ‘strong and silent’ Spaghetti Western characters, such as Django or Joe in A Fistful of Dollars, Silence is completely mute, giving him a sense of vulnerability and sensitivity. In contrast to the Colt Single Action Army revolvers used by his fellow Spaghetti Western protagonists and the other characters in the film, Silence’s choice of weapon is a semi-automatic Mauser C96 – its rapid rate of fire gives him an unfair advantage over his opponents, therefore his marksmanship comes in part from technological, not physical, prowess. Like Django and Joe before him, Silence’s hands are injured prior to the climax, greatly impeding his marksmanship. However, a further link to the bounty killers he fights is established – due to his throat being cut by their kind, Silence frequently shoots the thumbs of his enemies off, rendering them unable to use a gun. Thus, when his own hands are injured, a Freudian cycle is complete. Also, unlike Django and Joe (as well as Sartana, Sabata and James Bond), neither his will to survive nor his advanced weaponry can save Silence in the final duel against Loco. The latter then delivers a symbolic "castration" upon the hero by taking the Mauser for himself after killing him.
The Great Silence, as with many of Corbucci’s Westerns, is known for its depictions of strong-willed female characters, namely the mother of Miguel the outlaw (who requests Silence to kill Loco’s compatriot Charlie), Regina, the saloon madam who Sherriff Burnett falls for, and Pauline. Because she seeks vengeance for the death of her husband through Silence, falls for him through shared pain and loneliness, and supports him until they are both killed by Loco, Pauline's role plays a vital part in the film’s narrative. She is also shown to be readily in control of her sexual autonomy, as seen in her refusals to become Pollicut’s mistress and her seduction of Silence as she tends to his wounds. Pauline is also African-American, and her interracial love scene with Silence is highly subversive, both in the context of Western films and commercial cinema as a whole. Corbucci, who tended to dislike the use of love scenes in action-oriented films, commented on Silence and Pauline’s unconventional romance and love scene by stating “There was something very beautiful and very morbid about it. This was the only love scene I ever included in a film of this genre, where the women are generally bizarre.”
The deaths of Silence, Pauline and the outlaws at the hands of Loco and his gang are a culmination of the subversive elements of The Great Silence and its anti-authoritarian stance. The deaths of sympathetic characters were nothing new for Corbucci – he had previously allowed the title character of his first Western, Minnesota Clay, to be killed off. However, the political context of his later film made plays a major factor in the presentation of its thematic concerns. According to Alex Cox, a major proponent of Corbucci’s films, “Corbucci’s widow, Nori, told [producer] Katsumi Ishikuma that her husband had the deaths of Che Guevera and Malcom X in mind when he conceived The Great Silence... For the radical, for the revolutionary, both deaths were terrible news. You could only take on the powerful and the wicked for a short while, it seemed, before they crushed you.” In contrast to the deaths of leading characters in similarly progressive films of the time, such of Ben, Duane Jones’ character in Night of the Living Dead, and Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, in which said characters are killed by similarly disenfranchised groups, the bounty killers are working as part of the State, acting in the service of capital by helping to protect it. What further separates the deaths of the heroes and the anti-authoritarian position of The Great Silence from Romero and Hopper’s films is that, unlike Night of the Living Dead and Easy Rider, which were produced without the restrictions of well-established genre conventions, Corbucci’s film also subverts and comments on the genre that it is part of. Cox believes that the moral message of the film is that "sometimes, even though you know you'll fail, you still do the right thing." He also adds that by facing an unbeatable foe and dying in the ensuring duel, Silence "becomes the noblest hero of any Western film since Shane."
|The Great Silence|
|Soundtrack album by Ennio Morricone|
|Label||Beat Records Company|
The Great Silence's soundtrack was composed by Ennio Morricone, Corbucci's frequent musical collaborator since Navajo Joe, and conducted by Bruno Nicolai. A melancholic, emotive score, it is often seen as Morricone's best Spaghetti Western soundtrack aside from his compositions for Sergio Leone. An LP release was made by Beat Records in 1978, ten years after the film's initial release. The soundtrack was then reissued on CD, also containing five tracks from Morricone's score for Un bellissimo novembre, in 2005 and 2014.
|1.||"Il Grande Silenzio (Restless)"||2:29|
|2.||"Passaggi Nel Tempo"||2:55|
|3.||"E L'Amore Verra'"||1:58|
|4.||"Barbara E Tagliente"||2:02|
|5.||"Prima Che Volino I Corvi"||2:31|
|1.||"Voci Nel Vento"||2:42|
|2.||"Gli Assassini E La Madre"||3:21|
|3.||"Invito All' Amore (Silent Love)"||4:00|
|4.||"Nel Vecchio Saloon"||1:11|
|5.||"L' Ultimo Gesto"||4:27|
|6.||"Dopo Il Martirio"||1:41|
The Russian progressive rock band Little Tragedies, the Hungarian band Yesterdays and the Italian group N.O.T. (Noise Overtones Therapy) composed and performed 20-minute pieces based on the film, titled The Voice Of Silence, Suite Pauline and Epilogo respectively, as part of the Colossus Project, a musical project set up by the Finnish Progressive Music Association to encourage bands and musical artists to musically interpret the film and other Spaghetti Westerns. The songs were released on the album The Spaghetti Epic Volume Three - The Greatest Silence.
Morricone's music was sampled and remixed by Thievery Corporation for the album Morricone Rmx. The grindcore band Cripple Bastards released an album with the film's Italian title. Anima Morte also recorded a version of the main theme for the 2010 compilation album Cani Arrabbiati - Opening Themes... A Tribute.
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- The Great Silence.
Closing title card: The massacres of 1898, year of the Great Blizzard, finally brought forth fierce public condemnation of the bounty killers, who, under the guise of false legality, made violent murder a profitable way of life. For many years there was a clapboard sign at Snow Hill which carried this legend: MEN'S BOOTS CAN KICK UP THE DUST OF THIS PLACE FOR A THOUSAND YEARS, BUT NOTHING MAN CAN EVER DO WILL WIPE OUT THE BLOOD STAINS OF THE POOR FOLK WHO FELL HERE.
- For a Few Dollars More. 1965.
Opening title card: Where life had no value, death, sometimes, had its price. That is why the bounty killers appeared.
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- Edwards, Gavin (December 30, 2012). "Quentin Tarantino: my inspiration for Django Unchained". The Guardian (London). Retrieved September 15, 2015.
- "Wait, Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight Might Be A Comedy". Cinema Blend. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
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- Hughes, Howard (2009). Once Upon A Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers' Guide to Spaghetti Westerns. I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd. ISBN 978-1-85043-896-0.
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- The Great Silence at AllMovie
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- The Great Silence at The Spaghetti Western Database (SWDb)