director Sergio Corbucci
Considered one of the finest films in the Spaghetti Western grouping, Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence is indeed a very substantial work. Watching it today, it’s easy to see from whence Quentin Tarantino lifted elements of the first part of his recent film The Hateful Eight (2015) in his eclectic way as both homage and appropriation. It’s also easy to see why this film would be such a touchstone, a favorite of director Alex Cox (a big fan of Spaghetti Westerns) as well.
It stars Jean-Louis Trintingnant as the titular “Great Silence”, a variation on the “Man with No Name” figure of the style and genre. Here he’s the Man with No Voice, as his vocal cords were cut by ruthless bounty hunters, to silence him in reporting on the murder of his family. These heroes are usually “strong and silent” types, but he is absolutely muted, one of the first tips that Corbucci is twisting popular tropes in this film, eventually delivering something potentially utterly inverted.
I don’t know if it’s important to not know the ending before seeing the film, but I throw up a spoiler alert warning here if you haven’t seen the film or haven’t already read about its ending. It’s always fresher to see it if you don’t know where it’s going or how it’s going to turn out.
Because the ending is something that it’s almost impossible to omit in talking about the film.
The villain is the always eerie and villainous Klaus Kinski, the most ruthless of the bounty hunters in the corrupted system in the Utah mountains. In collaboration with the local banker, Kinski and his kind hunt the impoverished “outlaws” and bring them in dead for money, profiteering in one of the last moments of the Wild West. And in this film, the West is won by the criminals.
The ending of the film brings the bloody death of “Silence” and the widow Pauline (Vonetta McGee), shot down in the street, irredeemably murdered, justice tossed aside. It’s this pessimistic finale that cements the picture, a bleak criticism of Capitalism and the free market. (It was also apparently a reaction to the deaths of Che Guevera and Malcolm X for Cobucci.)
There is a lot more to the film, but I’ll leave it at that. A “must see” for fans of the genre.