THE GREAT SILENCE

1968; directed by Sergio Corbucci; written by Mario Amendola, Bruno Corbucci, Sergio Corbucci and Vittoriano Petrilli; 101 mins

[SPOILERO!]

Bleak is the word! In Sergio Corbucci‘s atypically snowbound Spaghetti Western, the faces are scarred and severe and the landscapes are endless and lonely. Filmed in the Italian Dolomites, watching it on a bitterly cold evening was perhaps not the wisest option as Silvano Ippoliti‘s bitingly beautiful cinematography is matched by Corbucci’s ice-cold outlook.

Set in the Utahn mountains of 1898, the isolated town of Snow Hill is beset by hardship and a faction of it’s denizens have gone rogue, capturing and robbing any wayward travellers and killing their livestock for food. In response, the local JP, Henry Pollicut, has hired a band of cut-throat bounty killers, fronted by the amoral Loco, to kill any and all of the outlaws. To control all of this, the State Governor has decided to offer amnesty but first sends honest but unlucky Gideon Burnett to be their sheriff and reestablish law and order. Riding right into the middle of all this is mute gunslinger, Silence, a man with a brutal past, dubious intentions and dangerous modern weaponry.

Conceived as a response to the assassinations of such revolutionary leaders as Malcolm X and Che Guevara but filmed in the snow so he could have a skiing holiday aswell, if one’s to be cynical, one could say that this is a typical middle class leftist’s whinge. The thing is, though, that Corbucci’s intentions and the sheer force of his depressed ideas seep through every pore of this movie. Like all the best satire, this story still rings true as the capitalistic Bounty Killers slaughter their way through the stricken populace under the eye of the authorities, who seek appeasement through oppression. Loco is a Barrientos, a George Wallace or a Tony Blair whilst Silence is the eternal martyr who fights, even in the most hopeless situations, to do what he believes is right.

Even the love scene between Silence and the widow, Pauline, is given a sense of fatality with Ennio Morricone‘s score at once swelling with romanticism but undercut by a mournful tone that compliments… well, basically every other aspect of the film! Production designer, Ricardo Domenici‘s snow-capped hellhole towns are the halfway point between Carlo Simi‘s work for Leone and the news headlines, whilst Lamberto Marini‘s makeup has every actor adorned with scars and abrasions that mark out their abusive lives.

Those scars do decorate well-chosen faces, though, as mentioned at the beginning. To have the wild-eyed, Teutonic features of Klaus Kinski* (then, a rising star) and the chipped looks of Jean-Louis Trintignant alongside Italian western regulars Luigi Pistilli, Frank Wolff and Mario Brega, renders this film so European that they make this a Wild West that may as well not be. The DVD had default subtitles so I reverted to the dubbed version (as all Spaghetti Westerns should be viewed) because otherwise it felt weirdly un-Western. Here, even the beautiful people have faces that cannot hide the misery and hardship of their fleeting, vulnerable and often bloody lives.

*By the way, here’s the German version of the above trailer.

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