Also known as: Il grande silenzio (Italy), The Big Silence (UK)
Release Date: November 19th, 1968 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Written by: Vittoriano Petrilli, Mario Amendola, Bruno Corbucci, Sergio Corbucci, John Davis Hart, Lewis E. Ciannelli
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Jean Louis Trintignant, Klaus Kinski, Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli, Mario Brega, Marisa Merlini, Vonetta Mc Gee
Adelphia Compagnia, Cinematografica, Les Films Corona, 20th Century Fox, 105 Minutes
Sergio Corbucci is the lesser known Sergio between himself and Leone but he was also an accomplished spaghetti western director. I’ve been a huge fan of his film Django for years. I haven’t ventured too far into his catalog outside of that though. Not until recently anyway.
I’ve wanted to watch The Great Silence for quite some time. It is hard to track down and actually wasn’t even released in the United States until ten years ago on DVD. No store I have ever been to has sold it. I was able to find it on Amazon but my previous attempts at buying it always showed it as “out of stock”. In any event, I finally got my hand on it.
The Great Silence is epic. And that isn’t an overstatement, as I hate casually throwing the word “epic” around. From what I’ve seen from Corbucci, this is his magnum opus – even more so than the near perfect Django.
The film takes place in Utah but was filmed in the Italian Dolemites, giving it a distinct look in comparison to the typical spaghetti westerns of the era. The landscape is lush with forests, mountains and snow. It is a complete departure from the desolate and barren wastelands of Leone’s films.
The film stars French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant in his only western role. He plays the silent hero simply called “Silent”. A man who, as a boy, had his throat slit – rendering him permanently speechless. He seeks revenge over the corrupt officials and bounty killers who murdered his father and took his voice.
The always sinister German actor Klaus Kinski plays the head bounty killer Loco (Tigrero in the original Italian language version). Kinski is chilling in this film and I would put this in the upper echelon of his superb performances.
The film also features a slew of other well-known spaghetti western actors and it is also the debut of Vonetta McGee, who would become more famous for being featured in several well-known blaxploitation films a few years later.
The Great Silence is actually an anti-western, as it establishes several common tropes in the genre and then turns them all on their head. It takes social and political risks unlike any other film of its time. The film in certain respects was inspired by the deaths of Malcolm X and Che Guevara, as noted by the director himself.
Stylistically, it has gone on to inspire several films after it. It is hard to see this film and not notice the environmental and tonal influences that helped to give life to Quentin Tarantino’s most recent film The Hateful Eight. In fact, between this film and Django, Corbucci has been a huge influence on Tarantino’s critically acclaimed work over the last few years.
The Great Silence isn’t perfect but it is damned good. It is probably the best spaghetti western not directed by Leone and is as good as some of his work. In fact, it makes me want to explore Corbucci’s catalog even deeper.
Also, the score by Ennio Morricone is great and adds a level of authenticity and a superb musical quality to the movie.
If you are a fan of the spaghetti western genre and haven’t seen this or added it to your collection, you really need to.