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
(Il grande silenzio)
Il Grande Silenzio Poster.png
Italian theatrical poster
Directed by Sergio Corbucci
Produced by Attilio Riccio
Written 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
Adelphia Compagnia Cinematografica
Les Films Corona
Distributed by 20th Century Fox Italia (Italy)
Fantoma Films (US)
Release dates
  • 19 November 1968 (1968-11-19)
Running time
105 minutes
Country Italy
Language Italian
Box office 570,486 admissions (France)[2]

The Great Silence (Italian: Il grande silenzio), or The Big Silence, is a 1968 revisionist Spaghetti Western film directed and co-written by Sergio Corbucci.

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 an black woman (Vonetta McGee in her film début)[3] trying to avenge her husband, a murdered outlaw. They are set against a group of ruthless bounty hunters, led by Loco (Klaus Kinski).

The film is 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.[4][5][6][7] 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 takes place in the snow-filled landscapes of Utah prior to the Great Blizzard of 1899, and was filmed on location primarily in the Italian Dolomites.


Henry Pollicut, a corrupt Utahn banker, has Gordon, a man with evidence against him, and his wife murdered by two bounty killers. Fearing that Gordon's son will give them away, one of the killers slices his throat, rendering him permanently mute. Years later, the son, armed with a Mauser C96, extracts 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, a significant portion of the community, mostly Mormons, is forced to steal in order to survive. Pollicut, seeking to make a profit, places prices on these thieves’ heads, attracting the attention of a gang of bounty killers led by the sadistic "Loco". As Loco and the killers 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 that he can kill them in self-defence.

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. After James' burial, Pauline writes to Silence, requesting that he kill Loco on the condition that he will be paid $1000. Meanwhile, the newly-elected Governor of Utah, hoping to have order maintained before the passing of 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 the next day. Learning of Silence’s arrival, Pollicut unsuccessfully tries to convince Loco to kill him.

Pauline attempts to sell her house to Pollicut, who states that he will accept the offer on the condition that she becomes his mistress – his reason for forcing her husband into becoming an outlaw. Pauline bitterly refuses, and admits to Silence that she would willing sleep with him as payment. Silence leaves for the saloon, finding Loco there, and attempts to provoke him into drawing. Knowing that he is too slow compared to Silence, Loco proceeds to severely beat him, before Silence eventually fights back. Angered, Loco attempts to shoot him in the back, 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 encounter the bandits again, and Burnett advises them to go to Snow Hill. The pair 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 remaining members of his gang to confront Silence. Determined to take Pauline by force and extract vengeance against Silence, Pollicut attempts to rape her as his henchman, Martin, tortures Silence by burning his right hand. Silence overpowers Martin, burning his face, and kills Pollicut when he attempts to shoot him. Loco and his gang arrive to look for Silence, just as the outlaws then appear at the edge of town to collect the provisions. Deciding to use them to draw out Silence, the gang herd the bandits into the saloon, and capture Pauline as she spies on them. Loco tells Pauline to have Silence duel with him – if Silence wins, the outlaws will be set free; if Loco wins, they will be killed.

Pauline tries to convince Silence that the duel is a trap. Ignoring Pauline’s pleas, Silence stands outside the saloon. A killer shoots his left hand, greatly impairing his speed and marksmanship. Loco then stands in the saloon’s doorway, ready to face the weakened Silence. As he begins reaching for his Mauser, Loco reaches for his Peacemaker – but as Silence draws, another wounding shot is fired. Loco fires a final shot 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 then ride out of Snow Hill into the morning sun. A closing title card reveals that Loco’s actions resulted in public condemnation of bounty hunting, and a memorial was erected in Snow Hill to honor those who died by his greed.

Alternate Ending[edit]

Due to the bleak nature of the original finale, Corbucci was forced to shoot an alternate "happy" ending for the North African market, where Spaghetti Westerns were popular, but had to have an upbeat conclusion. 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.[8] 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.[9]

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 hands off, revealing an iron glove that he used for protecting his burnt right 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. Reunited as a romantic couple, Silence and Pauline see Burnett and the outlaws off.



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.[10]


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.[11] The Hungarian progressive rock band Yesterdays wrote a 20-minute 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.

The film has influenced the works of Quentin Tarantino, who has paid homage to the film in Django Unchained and the upcoming The Hateful Eight.[12][13]



  1. ^ "Il Grande Silenzo". British Film Institute. London. Retrieved November 11, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Le Grand Silence - Box Office Jean Louis Trintignant 1969". Box Office Story. Retrieved October 5, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Vonetta McGee obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  4. ^ "Essential Top 20 Films". Spaghetti Western Database. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  5. ^ "Alex Cox's Top 20 Favourite Spaghetti Westerns". Spaghetti Western Database. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  6. ^ "Howard Hughes' Top 20". Spaghetti Western Database. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Quentin Tarantino's Top 20 favorite Spaghetti Westerns". Spaghetti Western Database. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  8. ^ "DVD review at". Retrieved 2006-10-29. 
  9. ^ "The Great Silence – The Alternative Ending". Retrieved 2015-09-26. 
  10. ^ "The Great Silence review at". Retrieved 2006-10-29. 
  11. ^ The Spaghetti Epic 3
  12. ^ Edwards, Gavin (December 30, 2012). "Quentin Tarantino: my inspiration for Django Unchained". The Guardian (London). Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Wait, Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight Might Be A Comedy". Cinema Blend. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 

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