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. For the similarly-named 2005 documentary film, see Into Great Silence.
The Great Silence
(Il grande silenzio)
Il Grande Silenzio Poster.png
Italian film poster by Giuliano Nistri
Directed by Sergio Corbucci
Produced by Attilio Riccio
Screenplay by Vittoriano Petrilli
Mario Amendola
Bruno Corbucci
Sergio Corbucci
English Version:
John Davis Hart
Lewis E. Ciannelli
Story by Sergio Corbucci
Starring Jean Louis Trintignant
Klaus Kinski
Frank Wolff
Luigi Pistilli
Mario Brega
Marisa Merlini
Vonetta Mc Gee
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Silvano Ippoliti
Edited by Amedeo Salfa
Production
company
Adelphia Compagnia Cinematografica
Les Films Corona
Distributed by 20th Century Fox Italia (Italy)
Les Films Corona (France)
Release dates
  • 19 November 1968 (1968-11-19)
Running time
105 minutes
Country Italy
France[1]
Language Italian
English
Box office ₤306 million (Italy)[2]
570,486 admissions (France)[3]

The Great Silence (Italian: Il grande silenzio), also known by its UK broadcast title The Big Silence,[4] 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, Klaus Kinski and Vonetta McGee (in her film début) alongside Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli, Mario Brega and Marisa Merlini.

Conceived by Corbucci as a politically-charged allegory inspired by the 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 2001, when it was made available on DVD by Fantoma Films and Image Entertainment. Controversial 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 performances of Trintignant, Kinski, McGee, Wolff and Pistilli, as well as the film's use of its snow-bound landscape, the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, the ending, and its subversion of various conventions of the Western film genre.

Plot[edit]

Henry Pollicut, a corrupt Utahn banker and justice of the peace, 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 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 Colt Single Action Army – 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 bounties, he takes Silence's Mauser from Pauline's hands. 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.

Alternative ending[edit]

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.[5][6] 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.[7] However, a version with Italian dubbing was eventually discovered, and has been translated into English by members of the Spaghetti Western Database fansite.[8]

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, before applying bandages to his wounded left hand. 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.

Cast[edit]

  • 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)
  • Maria Mizar as Blonde Saloon Girl
  • Marisa Sally as Black-Haired Saloon Girl
  • Raf Baldassarre as Sanchez (Bobo Schultz in Italian)
  • Spartaco Conversi as Walter, Leader of the Outlaws
  • Remo De Angelis as Fake Sheriff in Flashback
  • Mirella Pamphili as Saloon Girl in Flashback
  • Loris Loddi as Young Silence in Flashback (Uncredited)
  • Adriana Giuffrè as Silence's Mother in Flashback (Uncredited)
  • Emilio Messina as Gordon, Silence's Father 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)
  • Aldo Ralli as Al's Deputy (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)
  • Bruno Ukmar as Bounty Killer (Uncredited)
  • Mauro Mannatrizio as Bounty Killer (Uncredited)
  • Giulia Salvatori as Child on Sled (Uncredited)

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

According to Alex Cox, Sergio Corbucci conceived the concept of a Western set during a blizzard because he wanted to visit ski resorts within the Italian Dolomites to go on a skiing holiday while making a film.[9] The project was a co-production between the Rome-based production company Adelphia Compagnia Cinematografica and the Paris-based studio Les Film Corona.[10]

By 1967, having leading actors in Spaghetti Westerns performing in English was a growing practice because it was believed to allow international marketability. Prior to the film's production, Marcello Mastroianni gave Corbucci 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.[10] When Corbucci first met Jean-Louis Trintignant, who was hired for the leading role of the film by Les Films Corona after it was turned down by Franco Nero (who had previously played the title character of Corbucci's internationally successful Django),[4] 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.[11] At the time, Trintignant was known for his role in the critically acclaimed romantic drama A Man and a Woman.[10] Silence was Trinignant's only role in a Spaghetti Western.[12]

Casting[edit]

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.[10] 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).[10] Frank Wolff, usually known for playing serious or villanous characters, was cast against type in the semi-comical role of Sheriff Burnett.[10]

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Vonetta McGee on the Elios film set during the filming of The Great Silence.

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.[13]

Filming[edit]

Location filming began in late 1967[9] in 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.[10] 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.[10] 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).[12][10][14]

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.[12][10][14] For the daylight scenes, the Elios set was swathed in fog, to disguise the fact that the surrounding countryside had no snow.[15] Camera overexposure was also occasionally used to avoid continuity errors.[16] The film's costume designs by Enrico Job (the husband of director Lina Wertmüller) were influenced by hippie fashion styles, including mufflers, shawls, and outfits made of fur and leather; Corbucci was known for standing heavily against the hippie subculture.[12][14] Like other Spaghetti Westerns, the film was shot silent so that post-production dubbing could be performed in multiple languages.[15] 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.[11]

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.[15]

Post-production[edit]

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.[10] 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.[1]

Although Hart and Ciannelli's dub script remains relatively faithful to the original Italian dialogue, the meaning of numerous lines and scenes were changed; Ciannelli in particular frequently embellished the dialogue of films in the dubbing stage, such as Arizona Colt. 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".[12]

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 Technicolor/Techniscope presentation most Spaghetti Westerns were filmed in, The Great Silence was filmed in the standard European widescreen format and printed in Eastmancolor.[10]

Themes[edit]

Character and environment subversion[edit]

The Great Silence has been interpreted by various film critics and historians as a subversion of various conventions of the 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 stemming from authoritarian forms of capitalism, 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."[17] 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[18] contrasts with the opening title card of For a Few Dollars More.[10][19]

A key aspect of the film that differentiates its stylistic choices from other Westerns is its setting – a snow-bound Utah that contrasts with 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.[12][17]

Subversion of protagonist[edit]

Silence rides through a valley in a scene that is referenced in the opening of Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight.[20] Silvano Ippoliti's cinematography frequently relies on tonal contrasts between different areas of the landscape.[10]

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.[12][17][21]

Pauline's role[edit]

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.[12] 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.[17][21] 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."[12]

Deaths of protagonists[edit]

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. Killing sympathetic or leading characters was nothing new for Corbucci – he had previously allowed the title character of his second Western, Minnesota Clay, to be killed off.[12] However, the political context of the later film plays a major factor in the presentation of its thematic concerns. Alex Cox has explained that "Corbucci's widow, Nori, told [producer] Katsumi Ishikuma that her husband had the deaths of Che Guevera and Malcolm 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".[12][21]

In contrast to the deaths of leading characters in similarly countercultural 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.[17] Donato Totaro states that the film's title "is rich in possible meaning, suggestive not only of the great white expansive snow, the lead character's muteness, but the late 1960s political defeats that impacted Corbucci's mood that led him to make one of the grimmest Westerns ever made".[21]

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".[12]

Soundtrack[edit]

The Great Silence
TheGreatSilenceLP.jpg
Soundtrack album by Ennio Morricone
Released 1968
Recorded 1968
Genre Contemporary Classical
Length 34:43
Label Parade
Beat Records

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.[10][21] Following the original 1968 LP release by Parade, the album was re-released by Beat Records in 1978. The soundtrack was then reissued on CD, also containing five tracks from Morricone's score for That Splendid November, in 2005 and 2014.[22][23]

In reviewing Morricone's score for Electric Sheep Magazine, Robert Barry noted that the compositions of the film eschew "the soaring heroic melodies and pounding horse-hoof rhythms of the Leone films" and that the music closely resembles Morricone's own 1970s horror film soundtracks, Florian Fricke's music for Werner Herzog films, and modernist compositions by Luciano Berio and Pierre Boulez. He also noted that the use of solo violins (playing fifth intervals) and flutes are used as Wagnerian leitmotifs to distinguish his conflict within the society he is placed in.[24]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Ennio Morricone; all songs conducted by Bruno Nicolai

Side one
No. Title Length
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
6. "Immobile"   3:32
7. "Viaggio"   1:54
Side two
No. Title Length
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

Release and reception[edit]

Due to its graphic violence, The Great Silence was rated with an 18 certificate in Italy, limiting its domestic box office returns.[11] The film performed better in the French and West German markets, largely due to the presence of Trintignant and Kinski.[12] It has been reported that during a screening of the film in Sicily, one audience member fired a gun at the screen in anger over the film's ending.[11]

Proposed remake and English release[edit]

When The Great Silence was screened for Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox to see whether the film could be released on the American market, he was reportedly "offended" by the ending, and refused to distribute the film in the United States. 20th Century Fox did, however, distribute the film in Italy and several other markets. The company also considered a remake of the film starring Clint Eastwood, which eventually evolved into a largely unrelated project by Universal Pictures, Joe Kidd.[9][12][25] The Great Silence made its British premiere on BBFC's Moviedrome block on August 26, 1990 under the title of The Big Silence, where the film was introduced by Alex Cox.[26] Under license from the film's current exhibition rights holder, Beta Film,[27] its first US theatrical release took place in 2012, when an English-dubbed 35 mm film print owned by Swiss film library Kinemathek Le Bon Film was toured in cinema screens across the country.[9][28] A German-dubbed, English-subtitled print was also screened from November 14 to 25 that same year at the Brisbane International Film Festival.[29]

Critical reception[edit]

Although The Big Silence is [Corbucci's] best film, it has never been shown publicly here or in the United States. It's easy to see why. The film, like most Italian westerns, is incredibly bleak and pessimistic; but worse, it has the most horrible ending of any film I've ever seen ... The beginning of The Big Silence is a little ragged, but bear with it. Once you're aboard the stagecoach with Trintignant and Klaus Kinski - who plays the politest murderer out west - you're in for an amazing ride. The music is by Ennio Morricone: it's a great and very unusual score.

—Alex Cox in his introduction to The Great Silence on Moviedrome, 1990[26]

Despite its troubled release history, The Great Silence has been widely acclaimed by critics and audiences, and has appeared on numerous lists of the best Spaghetti Western films compiled by audiences, filmmakers and historians. Alongside Django, it is usually regarded as Corbucci's best film and one of the best Spaghetti Westerns not to be directed by Sergio Leone.[30][31][32][33] The film has also achieved an 89% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes based on 6,639 polls with an average rating of 4 out of 5.[34] Time Out gave the film a mostly positive review, writing, "While Django remains the erratic Corbucci's best picture, this slightly later spaghetti Western does well by an inventive set-up, which has unusually heavy snowfalls on the US-Mexican border ... between the bullets there's engaging stuff from the two stars and an unmistakable chill in the air".[35]

Film critic Leonard Maltin praised the film, awarding the film 3 1/2 out of a possible 4 stars. In his review he wrote that The Great Silence is a "brutal, bleakly beautiful spaghetti Western filmed on stark locations in the Dolomites, with one of the most uncompromising and unforgettable finales ever filmed".[36] Kyle Anderson of Nerdist News described the film as Corbucci's "most artful and daring" Western, one that "pushes the genre to new levels and creates a story unlike anything people were used to, even though it's likely more historically accurate". He concluded his review by stating that "If you're looking for a good time on a Saturday night, I'd say this movie is not what you want, but if you're looking for a dark, violent, thoughtful, and well-made film, look no further".[37]

Glenn Erickson of DVD Talk spoke less enthusiastically about the film, but felt that it was a good Spaghetti Western nonetheless. Although praising the locations, as well as the performances of Kinski and Trintignant, Morricone's score, the realistic approach to the story and Silvano Ippoliti's cinematography, he felt that the characterizations were lacking, adding that Corbucci's direction often "drifts and falters" and lacks the "operatic grandeur" of Leone's films. Erickson also expressed that the film's ending was unsurprising given the nihilistic nature of the rest of the film, but noted that he would have been more shocked by it had he seen the film upon its 1968 theatrical release.[38]

In his directorial analysis of the film, Alex Cox, a longtime proponent of the Spaghetti Western and Corbucci in particular, described The Great Silence as "Corbucci's tightest, most relentless Western; his best and his bleakest. It's shot in his trademark messy, over-edited, jerky-zoom style, and its telephoto close-ups are frequently out of focus. Yet it is incredibly beautiful". He voiced praise for Ippoliti's strategy of "shooting through things" (a marked improvement over his work on Navajo Joe), the tight script, the strong female characters and the tragic nature of the ending, rooted in Corbucci's pessimism towards the deaths of radical political leaders. Performance-wise, he described Sheriff Burnett and Regina, the film's equivalent of the "cute/funny" characters that had appeared in Corbucci's earlier Westerns, as "tolerable" due to their senses of dark humour and morality, and praised McGee, Pistilli and Brega's performances in their respective roles. Cox also felt that Kinski's Loco was the actor's finest appearance in a Western, and that Trintignant's performance, which might have seemed doll-like in the hands of actors such as Franco Nero, John Phillip Law and Terence Hill, was pulled off "flawlessly. His character's moral quandary, and decision to sacrifice himself, are perfectly conveyed". Noting that Corbucci seemed proud of The Great Silence - "a great work, a great Spaghetti Western, a great Western, a classic of transgressive cinema" - Cox believes that Zanuck's withholding of the international release and its poor domestic performance were key factors in the decline in quality of Corbucci's output following its release.[12]

The Great Silence has influenced the works of Quentin Tarantino, who described the film as his favorite "snow Western". He has paid homage to the film in Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight.[20][39][40][41] Robert Richardson, the cinematographer for The Hateful Eight, noted that he and Tarantino studied The Great Silence's photography to get an understanding of the intimacy Tarantino wanted to achieve in the film. Upon being asked what his favorite Western films where, he responded with "I do love The Great Silence, because Quentin turned me on to it and I love the cinematic nature of that, in the snow. But I'm going with Peckinpah['s The Wild Bunch] if I've got to pick one".[42]

Home media[edit]

Fantoma Films and Image Entertainment released The Great Silence on DVD on September 4, 2001, with their release being the film's first appearance on the American market.[43] The release used an English-language print that was digitally remastered by Zoetrope Aubry Productions, presented in 1.66:1 letterboxed widescreen, with the only audio option being a Dolby Digital Mono mix of the English dub. The DVD's special features consist of a video introduction to the film by Alex Cox, the alternative happy ending (with optional commentary by Cox), and the English version of the film's trailer.[44][45] Fantoma reissued the disc on January 27, 2004. Glenn Erickson felt that the transfer on Fantoma's DVD was "reasonable but not great" due to the transfer having washed-out colours despite being clean from damage. Erickson also felt that the English dub "still plays as artificial and false, and detracts mightily from Kinski's performance" despite praising the voice acting itself.[38]

In the UK, Digital Classics also released their first DVD of the film in 2004; this release includes the English dub alongside the Italian track with English subtitles, the trailer and the alternative ending, but lacks Cox's introduction and commentary.[46] Australian distributor Beyond Home Entertainment's release, issued on June 15 of that year,[47] is identical to Digital Classics' initial release.[16] On October 19, 2009,[48] Digital Classics issued a new release of the film, using a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, featuring both the English and Italian tracks, English subtitles and the special features from Fantoma's DVD. All three of these releases are currently out of print.[49]

Musical impact[edit]

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.[50]

Morricone's music was sampled and remixed by Thievery Corporation for the album Morricone Rmx.[51] The grindcore band Cripple Bastards released an album with the film's Italian title.[52] Anima Morte also recorded a version of the main theme for the 2010 compilation album Cani Arrabbiati - Opening Themes ... A Tribute.[53]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Il Grande Silenzo". British Film Institute. London. Retrieved November 11, 2012. 
  2. ^ Fridlund, 2006
  3. ^ "Le Grand Silence - Box Office Jean Louis Trintignant 1969". Box Office Story. Retrieved October 5, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b The Great Silence (Alex Cox discusses The Great Silence) (DVD). Los Angeles, California: Fantoma Films. 1968. 
  5. ^ "THE GREAT SILENCE - TRAILER". YouTube. Retrieved 2015-11-07. 
  6. ^ The Great Silence (Original theatrical trailer) (DVD). Los Angeles, California: Fantoma Films. 1968. 
  7. ^ "DVD review at dvdtimes.co.uk". Retrieved 2006-10-29. 
  8. ^ "The Great Silence – The Alternative Ending". Retrieved 2015-09-26. 
  9. ^ a b c d "Alex Cox intro for Corbucci's THE GREAT SILENCE". Vimeo. Retrieved November 20, 2015. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Hughes, 2009
  11. ^ a b c d Giusti, 2007
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Cox, 2009
  13. ^ "Vonetta McGee obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  14. ^ a b c The Great Silence (Alternate "Happy" Ending with Commentary by Alex Cox) (DVD). Los Angeles, California: Fantoma Films/Image Entertainment. 1968. 
  15. ^ a b c Run, Man, Run (Western, Italian Style) (DVD). Los Angeles, California: Blue Underground. 1968. 
  16. ^ a b "The Great Silence (Grande silenzio, Il) (1968)". Michael D's Region 4 DVD Info Page. Retrieved 2015-10-31. 
  17. ^ a b c d e "Turning the Western on its head: Simple subversion in Sergio Corbucci's The Great Silence (1968)". Offscreen. Retrieved 2015-10-28. 
  18. ^ 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. 
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ a b "THE HATEFUL EIGHT - Movie References". Vimeo. Retrieved March 26, 2016. 
  21. ^ a b c d e "The Great Silence: Guns, Morality and Death". Offscreen. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  22. ^ "Il Grande Silenzio". Discogs. Retrieved 2015-11-06. 
  23. ^ "Il grande silenzio / Un bellissimo novembre". Soundtrack.net. Retrieved 2015-11-06. 
  24. ^ "The Great Silence: Mute Melody". Electric Sheep Magazine. Retrieved 2016-08-16. 
  25. ^ ""LE GRAND SILENCE", 1968". Blogspot. Retrieved November 28, 2015. 
  26. ^ a b Cox, Alex (1990). Moviedrome: The Guide (PDF). BBC. 
  27. ^ "The Great Silence". Beta Film. Retrieved 2016-08-16. 
  28. ^ "The Great Silence". MovieMorlocks.com. Retrieved 2016-08-16. 
  29. ^ "Brisbane International Film Festival 2012". WeekendNotes. Retrieved 2016-08-16. 
  30. ^ "Essential Top 20 Films". Spaghetti Western Database. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  31. ^ "Alex Cox's Top 20 Favourite Spaghetti Westerns". Spaghetti Western Database. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  32. ^ "Howard Hughes' Top 20". Spaghetti Western Database. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  33. ^ "Quentin Tarantino's Top 20 favorite Spaghetti Westerns". Spaghetti Western Database. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  34. ^ "THE GREAT SILENCE (IL GRANDE SILENZIO) (1968)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2016-02-05. 
  35. ^ "The Big Silence, directed by Sergio Corbucci". Time Out.com. TJ. Retrieved 16 June 2016. 
  36. ^ Leonard Maltin (2 September 2014). Leonard Maltin's 2015 Movie Guide. Penguin Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-698-18361-2. 
  37. ^ "Schlock & Awe: The Great Silence". Nerdist News. Retrieved 16 August 2016. 
  38. ^ a b "The Great Silence". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2016-04-27. 
  39. ^ Edwards, Gavin (December 30, 2012). "Quentin Tarantino: my inspiration for Django Unchained". The Guardian. London. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  40. ^ "Wait, Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight Might Be A Comedy". Cinema Blend. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  41. ^ "The Movies That Influenced The Hateful Eight". YouTube, IGN. Retrieved March 26, 2016. 
  42. ^ "Robert Richardson on the Ultra Panavision Experience of 'The Hateful Eight'". Variety Magazine. Retrieved August 16, 2016. 
  43. ^ "Fantoma Films presents The Great Silence (1968)". digitallyOBSESSED!. Retrieved 2016-08-20. 
  44. ^ "DVD Compare - The Great Silence". DVDBeaver. Retrieved 2016-04-27. 
  45. ^ "Sergio Corbucci's The Great Silence". Fantoma. Retrieved 2015-10-28. 
  46. ^ "The Great Silence". The Digital Fix. Retrieved 2016-08-20. 
  47. ^ "The Great Silence, (Grande silenzio, Il) [Region 4]". Fishpond. Retrieved 2016-08-20. 
  48. ^ "The Great Silence [DVD] [1968]". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2016-08-20. 
  49. ^ "Great Silence (The) AKA Il Grande Silenzio AKA The Big Silence (1968)". Rewind @ dvdcompare.net. Retrieved 2016-08-20. 
  50. ^ "THE SPAGHETTI EPIC (DIVERS) Volume Three - The Great Silence (Musea Compilation)". Musea Records. Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  51. ^ "Morricone Rmx". Discogs. Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  52. ^ "Il Grande Silenzio". Discogs. Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  53. ^ "Cani Arrabbiati - Opening Themes ... A Tribute". Discogs. Retrieved 2015-10-29. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Cox, Alex (2009). 10,000 Ways to Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western. Oldcastle Books. ISBN 978-1-84243-304-1. 
  • Fridlund, Bert (2006). The Spaghetti Western: A Thematic Analysis. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-2507-5. 
  • Giusti, Marco (2007). Dizionario del western all'italiana, 1st ed. Mondadori. ISBN 978-88-04-57277-0. 
  • 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. 

External links[edit]