The Great Silence [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (21st November 2021).
The Film

In the dying days of the Old West, bounty hunters have decided that dead is better than alive and are it is easier to round up several outlaws as corpses and collect a lump sum at once than to bring 'em back alive to stand trial. With word of a vote on a general amnesty during the next elections, the governor of Utah (Hercules Unchained's Carlo D'Angelo) sends ex-army man Gideon Burnett (Once Upon a Time in the West's Frank Wolff) to the mountain town of Snow Hill to put a stop to this practice as the town seems to be paying out a hefty amount of bounties, and the bounty hunters are waiting out the outlaws hiding in the hills as the winter becomes more unforgiving. The smarter among the "bounty killers" have taken to exploiting the desperation of the outlaws' loved ones to lure them back to be killed, and those left behind who have an appetite for vengeance turn to "Silence" (The Man Who Lies' Jean-Louis Trintignant), a mysterious man who only kills bounty hunters, and only in self-defense.

After whip-wielding sadist Loco (Aguirre, the Wrath of God's Klaus Kinski) holds her hostage to draw out and gun down her husband, the widow Pauline (Blacula's Vonetta McGee) sends for Silence (who happens to arrive on the stagecoach with Loco on the way to collect his bounty and Burnett whose horse has been stolen by the outlaws for food). Burnett makes it known right away that he disapproves of Loco's handiwork and banker/Justice of the Peace Policutt (Death Rides a Horse's Luigi Pistilli) taking a percentage of the bounty. Policutt, who financially forced Pauline's husband into a position where he had to steal and then paid Loco extra to hunt him down in order to possess her, warns Loco that Silence is there to kill him if he does not get to him first. Loco, however, is wise to Silence's modus operandi of picking a fight and then getting his opponent to draw first – Silence having already taken out Loco's buddy Charlie (Seven Blood-Stained Orchids' Bruno Corazzari) on behalf of the mother of one of the outlaws – engaging instead in hand-to-hand combat and trying to get stoic Silence to draw first; however, his men try to intervene and Silence kills them all before being shot in the back by Loco who is the arrested by Burnett.

Policutt tries to use his influence to arrange for Loco's release while stoking up fears among the townspeople about the outlaws, but Burnett intends to take Loco to the city jail and tells the townspeople to leave food on the outskirts of the village for the outlaws and they will leave them alone since they too are waiting on the amnesty vote. As Pauline nurses a badly-wounded Silence, Policutt and his henchman Martin (My Name is Nobody's Mario Brega) close in while Loco escapes from Burnett and rounds up his fellow bounty hunters to ambush the outlaws in a potential mass slaughter for profit.


Although director Sergio Corbucci is best known for his earlier spaghetti western Django – which sparked not only a whole spate of imitations (as well as retitlings of unrelated films) in the years following but also a big-budget pastiche by Quentin Tarantino with Django Unchained – it is The Great Silence that is Corbucci's true triumph in the genre, and the spaghetti western in his oeuvre that truly rivals any of the westerns of Sergio Leone or the best of Sergio Solimma (arguably Face to Face). The familiar elements of Leone are evident in the film, somewhat combining the two protagonists of For a Few Dollars More into a "man with no name" whose motives are uncertain until the childhood trauma is revealed in flashback that links the hero and one of the villains minus the musical trigger in what is otherwise one of Ennio Morricone's finest non-Leone western scores, but even Leone would never have dreamed up such a despairing finale; so much so that Corbucci first provided a more ambiguous recut and then a "happy ending" reshoot (a practice he with which he was not unfamiliar, having provided an extended afterward for Italian audiences for the finale of his earlier Minnesota Clay).

Without a word of dialogue, Trintignant builds his character upon the expository passages from other characters through his eyes and gestures while the dialogue of Kinski and Pistilli is paired down to the strategic; indeed, it seems as if verbosity is a liability, with Wolff's Burnett speaking out of turn with the governor, giving too much of himself away in casual conversation, and practically providing the means for others to set a trap to walk into for himself and the bandits when proclaiming his intentions to seek justice and pleading for tolerance from the locals. While the film's primarily female character is victimized, she and the other female characters – particularly saloon prostitute Regina (Bread, Love and Dreams' Marisa Merlini) and the mother of one of Charlie's victims – are more resilient than the norm, helping Pauline bury her husband in defiance of Loco (who wanted the body preserved in snow until he returned to claim it) and calling out usurer Policutt on paying out blood money. The aforementioned ending is deeply cynical but far more appropriate in tone than the expected happy or at least triumphant ending, and more so than the one Corbucci conceived for some versions.

Corbucci's staging and technique are sloppier than that of Leone, with future Tinto Brass cinematographer Silvano Ippoliti (Caligula) favoring handheld photography and fluid pans with focus that wavers sometimes deliberately and sometimes with the adjustment of the zoom lens along with stocking diffusion that washes out the snowy landscapes into blinding whiteness cut through by cloaked figures on horseback that are difficult to distinguish from one another (deliberately so in the case of the mother offering her son's horse as payment to Silence cutting to a shot of a figure on horseback who comes into focus as Loco while Silence arrives instead on the stagecoach). Morricone's score largely downplays the choir vocals in favor of a simple melody that seems to mirror the emotional warmth of the film's love scene amidst the physically cold atmosphere. Corbucci seems to have peaked with The Great Silence, with his subsequent westerns – from the bigger budgeted The Mercenary to the more comic Companeros – failing to match it or his earlier efforts, and much of his subsequent directorial filmography composed of more generic action and comedy films.


Although picked up by Twentieth-Century-Fox, The Great Silence was unreleased in the UK and US theatrically – see the extras for the rumors and explanation – with the Brits getting their first view from a cut BBC TV broadcast in the nineties while Americans first saw it on Fantoma Films' 2004 DVD (the same non-anamorphic master was used for Eureka's DVD in the UK). Both were framed at approximately 1.66:1, the standard European ratio for much product of the time; however, the end credits cite the film as "schermo panoramico" which – along with the "wide screen" designation in the English version of the closing credits – was used to specify a wider aspect ratio; and, indeed, German film historian Mike Siegel notes that 35mm prints were hard-matted to the wider 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

Beating Film Movement to Blu-ray was TC Entertainment in Japan with a 1080i60 encode from a master presumably struck for European television followed by a 2017 German edition from AL!VE just ahead of the 2018 fiftieth anniversary restoration through German world rights owner Beta Film; as such, it utilized an earlier master with different framing and a warmer bias. Film Movement's US 2018 Blu-ray did utilize the new 2K restoration in the correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio, as does Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen edition. The 1.85:1 framing loses nothing on the top, gaining a sliver on the bottom and slightly more on the left side of the screen. The resolution is such that the weave of the various stockings stretched over the lenses are quite evident on the wide end of the zoom, as is the substitution of shaving foam and cotton for snow in some insert shots, while revealing newfound textures in skin, coarse clothing, and every strand of hair well-delineated when the focus of Ippoliti's camera is tack sharp (which it is not always by design, as with the extremely shallow depth of field during the love scene between Trintignant and McGee). Grain is heavy, especially in the low-lit interiors but it no longer looks like "machine noise" or over-sharpening of the older non-anamorphic DVD transfers. The opening and end credits are in Italian.


While the German edition was not English-friendly, the Film Movement release offered the Italian track in a lossless encode but the English dub in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0. Eureka offer English and Italian tracks in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 mono. The Italian track has obviously undergone some cleanup during the restoration while the English track seems to have come from a poorer source with dialogue always understandable but sound effects and music sounding more muted and low hiss apparent in the silences. The Italian track is recommended but the English track was supervised by Lewis E. Ciannelli and features familiar vocal talent including Mel Welles, Carolyn De Fonseca , Ted Rusoff, and Edward Mannix. English subtitles are provided for the Italian track.


The film is accompanied by three commentary tracks. The first is an audio commentary by author Howard Hughes and filmmaker Richard Knew who note the use of the snowy Dolemite mountains in contrast to the usual parched Almeria, Spain locations for spaghetti westerns, note Ippoliti's filtration work in the exteriors, Morricone's atypical western score – particularly among his own subset of the genre – and how the film riffs on several other spaghetti westerns that came before it: most notably For a Few Dollars More visually and inverting it by making the outlaws the innocent and the bounty hunters the villains.

In the second audio commentary by filmmaker Mike Siegel – who also recorded a German-language track for the 2017 German edition – the Sam Peckinpah biographer provides as much analysis of the film as he does production anecdotes, distribution history, and technical information. Having some experience with the Arriflex cameras of the period, he suggests that Ippoliti's filtration work was not to diffuse the highlights on the highly-reflective snow during the daylight exteriors but to keep the front lens element from freezing, and also points out some of the aforementioned sloppiness including some visible support rigging during a stunt and even some passing skiers in the background of the first shot of the opening credits (also noting that the small viewfinder of the Arriflex cameras would have been useless during such long telephoto shots). He reveals that the concept of a mute gunman came from Italian star Marcello Mastroianni who confided to Corbucci his desire to do a western but that he was uncomfortable speaking English, and the latter suggested a mute protagonist would solve things. Corbucci obviously remembered this when French producer Robert Dorfmann (Le Cercle Roughe) approached him about a Trintignant vehicle. Siegel dispels the rumor that the film was withheld from distribution by Clint Eastwood who supposedly bought up the rights because he wanted to remake it as Joe Kidd; noting instead that Fox's Daryl F. Zanuck simply despised the film which had been presold to the studio for English-speaking territories.

A third audio commentary by director and Spaghetti Western aficionado Alex Cox is not new in the sense that it was not recorded exclusively for the disc but live at the Hollywood Theatre, Portland where the 2018 restoration was screened courtesy of Film Movement. He reveals that Corbucci wanted to make Django in the snow but it was not in the budget; whereas the success of that film allowed for Corbucci to shoot where he could go skiing on the weekends (bringing his entire family with him on the shoot). In discussing Corbucci's career, he notes that the director did not take the genre seriously until after Leone's success – Cox also credits Corbucci with recommending A Fisful of Dollars' inspiration Yojimbo to Leone – and that his only motivation for making more of them was money. Cox does indeed suggest that Corbucci preferred the mainstream to the artistic, and that the downturn in the quality of his work following The Mercenary was less important to the director than going where the money was.

Also new to the release is "Austin Fisher on The Great Silence" (14:28), an interview with the author of "Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema" in which he notes how the film reflects the bleak outlook on society of Corbucci who was neither rightwing nor leftwing, seeing authoritarian figures as corrupt, the respectable as hypocrites, and revolutionaries (particularly hippies as illustrated by the fringe gang of youths in The Specialists). Noting the practice common to Italian genre cinema of replication with minute innovation, he traces the archetypal characters not only through the Hollywood western and Italian western but also through Corbucci's prior westerns including the corrupt banker and the naοvely idealistic sheriff (along with other films in which Pistilli and Wolff played similar characters).

Cox on Corbucci (14:46) in which filmmaker Alex Cox retreats to his hut to discuss the film in a poncho. He covers Corbucci's career, including his friendship with Sergio Leone and how they were both inspired by Akira Kurosawa's Yojimo to make westerns, and his desire to set Django in the snow. The most interesting aspect of the discussion is his recollection of inquiring with the French distributor as to the lack of US or UK release dates for the film owing to Clint Eastwood allegedly convincing Fox's Darryl F. Zanuck to pick up the film for a remake only for the producer to detest the film, and Cox's supposition that the suppression of the film made him more cynical.

Western, Italian Style (38:01) is a 1968 documentary narrated by actor Frank Wolff on Italian westerns, looking at the influence of Leone's Dollars films on other films including their titles (and how other successful westerns created buzzwords that figured into the titles of subsequent films), the influence of spaghetti westerns on Italian culture with western weddings and a visit to a nightclub showcasing cowboy music act John and Wayne, dubbed interviews with Enzo G. Castellari (Any Gun Can Play) and Corbucci, as well as an overdubbed one with Trintignant during a lengthy visit to the set of The Great Silence. While informative, this is more of a puff piece played for levity. The documentary was previously featured on Blue Underground's Blu-ray of and the Koch Media German DVD of Bruno Corbucci's Shoot, Gringo... Shoot!.

Two alternate endings were shot for the film: the "Happy" Ending (2:01) in which the "cavalry" rides in just in time, and an "Ambiguous" Ending (4:31). The former is accompanied by an optional audio commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox recorded for the 2004 American DVD. The disc also includes the Italian theatrical trailer (3:38), an English-language theatrical trailer (3:43), and a trio of still galleries ported from the German release – as was the practice with Eureka's set – "Filming Silenzio" (10:15), "Promoting Silenzio" (9:17), and "Silenzio in Pictures" (6:53).


The first pressing of 3,000 copies comes with an O-card slipcase, a reversible poster featuring the film’s original artwork, a set of four facsimile lobby cards, as well as a collector's booklet featuring new writing by Western expert Howard Hughes. The first essay "Freeze Frame: Sergio Corbucci's Western Masterpiece" provides a rundown on the origins of the production, casting, locations, the score, and the film's distribution. "The Wild Ones: The Spaghetti Westerns of Klaus Kinski" focuses exclusively on Kinski's work in the genre. The booklet also includes the text of Cox's entry on the film in the Movidrome Guide.


Although difficult for all but the most driven English-speakers to see until the early nineties, The Great Silence is no lost masterpiece. It is a masterpiece, but its influence can be seen in subsequent European and Hollywood westerns up through The Hateful Eight.


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