Released in 1968 in Europe THE GRAND SILENCE (IL GRANDE SILENZIO) was directed by acclaimed Italian filmmaker Sergio Corbucci.
Corbucci was born on December 6th,1927 in Italy. Most of his movies have the reputation for containing copious amounts of violence, but at the same time his films were intelligent and groundbreakingly inventive examples of Italian cinema and in future years influenced several young directors both in Italy and outside of that country. He is probably best known for his work within the Italian or Spaghetti western genre. But he was at home within any genre, several his action films contain social criticism of left-wing politics as Corbucci never hid the fact that he was a communist. The art direction he employed within his films was mostly apocalyptic and surrealistic which became one of the film-makers trademarks and examples of his black humour and quick wit. Corbucci began his career in film in the Sword and Sandal days of Italian cinema, or Peplums as they are so often referred to these days and it is probably true to say that he learnt his craft from many Hollywood film directors that had travelled to Italy’s Cinecitta to work on the big budget Biblical epics during the 1950,s and 1960,s. He learnt his craft working as an assistant director on a handful of these productions and then decided that he would contribute several examples of the Sword and Sandal variety to the genre. These included SON OF SPARTACUS, which although was nothing remotely like the original SPARTACUS, was an enjoyable adventure romp which introduced some quirky but interesting touches.
In 1965 he directed MASSACRE AT GRAND CANYON, which was a spaghetti western of sorts, by this I mean it certainly belongs to the genre, but really contained none of the trademarks that we now so readily associate with the Italian produced sagebrush sagas, which can also be said for movies such as GUNFIGHT AT RED SANDS etc. In the same year he worked on MINNESOTA CLAY again an Italian western, but one which still contained many of the clichéd trademarks of the Hollywood produced western and starred an American actor Cameron Mitchell in the lead role. the film was also sadly overshadowed by the success of Sergio Leone’s first foray into the western arena, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS.
In 1966 Corbucci began to shape the style and blueprint of the western all’Italiana with RINGO AND HIS GOLDEN PISTOL which was one of the earlier real spaghetti westerns, containing a gimmicky storyline, but still having some connections with the Hollywood version of the western. It was DJANGO an ultra-violent western that he also filmed in 1966 that was to be the directors first major break into the commercial film market, the movies leading actor was Franco Nero who was to be the leading figure in many of Corbucci’s later movies.
The film became an instant hit in Italy and also a cult film throughout Europe, it was and still is notorious for its scenes of violence and also the amount of killings it contained, which led to it being banned in the UK for some 20 years, receiving its first screening on the BBC as part of a series of films introduced by Critic and filmmaker Alex Cox. In many ways it was a more brutal version of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. With Ku Klux Clan and Mexican bandit’s taking the place of the Rojo’s and the Baxter’s and the mysterious Django character being stuck in the middle playing both sides off against each other. In the same year Corbucci directed NAVAJO JOE, another ultra-violent example of the genre which was a vehicle for the young American actor Burt Reynolds, but it was the success of DJANGO that put Corbucci firmly on the filmmaking map, after this success Corbucci went onto become a director in demand and made numerous other westerns during the period from 1966 through to 1971 that remain to this day original and iconic examples of the Spaghetti genre.
THE GREAT SILENCE which was perceived to be so violent that it too was banned from several countries was one of these and is now considered to be the directors most accomplished example within the genre of the western. The movie had two endings shot, one being happy and upbeat where the good guys triumphed, and everyone lived happily ever after, the other being more down to earth gruesome and dark, with the villains being the ones who walked away from the shootout at the end of the movie. Other westerns that Corbucci directed include, A PROFESSIONAL GUN, HELLBENDERS, THE SPECIALIST, COMPANEROS, BANDA J AND S and WHAT AM I DOING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE REVOLUTION. Corbucci became the most successful director in Italy after Sergio Leone. When the genre of the Italian western had run its course and the ideas for the genre had been explored fully and exhausted by filmmakers, Corbucci concentrated mostly upon comedies which was a genre that he also excelled in. These movies often starred the singer/actor Adriano Celentano. It has been said that Corbucci’s contributions were not important examples of Italian cinema at the time of them being produced, but over the years he has become an extremely significant and highly regarded figure within the world of film making. Sergio Corbucci died on December 1st, 1990.
IL GRANDE SILENZIO, is for me personally one of the great Italian made westerns, everything about the movie is polished and it is in my humble opinion probably the best non-Leone made western that has been produced within this genre. Unlike so many Italian made westerns THE GRAND SILENCE a French-Italian co-production was filmed in Italy in the Dolomites and not in Spain, it is set in a snow-covered landscape rather than an arid and dusty one or the mud laden location as in Corbucci’s DJANGO.
The cast is impressive with the lead being taken by French actor Jean Louise Trintignant who plays the part of mute gunfighter named Silence. The movie also starred Klaus Kinski who as always was excellent as the villain LOCO the leader of a band of bounty hunters. The love interest was provided by actress Vonetta McGee who made her debut in the movie. Plus, there were some familiar faces in the form of Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli and Mario Brega. Trintignant’s character is pitted against Loco and his killers as he defends a group of outlaws who are hiding out in the hills and a vengeful widow played convincingly by McGee.
Corbucci not only directed the film, but co-wrote the story and screenplay, it is said that the story was inspired by the deaths of both Che Guevara and Malcolm X. The story is set just prior to the Great Blizzard of 1899 in Utah State USA. The movie was distributed in most places by 20th Century Fox, but received a luke warm reception upon its release, but like so many of the directors films, its popularity grew and it has attained cult status.
Like DJANGO it was refused a cinema release in America, and did not receive an actual release in the States until 2001, when the DVD was made available. Eleven years after the release of the DVD THE GREAT SILENCE got its theatrical premier and was then re-released in 2017. The movie is a bleak and somewhat unforgiving one, that is dark and violent but at the same time because it is so well directed and purveyed by the cast it comes across as sheer perfection within this at times quirky but interesting genre of films. The musical score too is impressive, Ennio Morricone’s rather soft and highly themeatic approach also supports and elevate the films storyline, and again we have the scenario where a softer sounding soundtrack is instrumental (forgive the pun) in making the moments of violence even more shocking and affective.
The composers opening credits theme in-particular is soothing and calming RESTLESS theme accompanies Trintignant as we see him riding through the snow-covered landscape as the credits appear on screen. Strings, Choir and percussion combine to create a haunting melody that is given various outings throughout the movie in differing arrangements. Apart from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and GIU LA TESTA. IL GRANDE SILENZIO is probably one of Morricone’s more melodically themed scores for a western and considering the amount of violence and bloodshed within the movie the score works well with the desolate and unwelcoming snow filled locations, there is a easy sounding persona to many of the compositions within the score and as always Morricone fashions haunting and attractive melodies that linger in the listeners mind long after they have finished listening to them. There are also some interesting chorale performances via Alessandroni’s flawless IL CANTORI MODERNI, who’s performances bring an almost celestial sound to the work, Alessandroni also performs Sitar within the score, which is an unusual instrument for a western soundtrack, but this is the genius of Morricone we are dealing with, Sitar, harp and choir combine at times to create stunning fragments of themes that are a delight.
Don’t get me wrong there are an equal amount of raw and savage sounding pieces within the score, but it is the fragility and melodious moments that attract and make an impression. The score was released on LP and then given a re-issue also on vinyl as a special collector’s edition in the BEAT records Gold Series. The score then made it to compact disc and finally was re issued with a few extra moments of music.
Henry Pollicut is a corrupt banker and a self-appointed justice of the peace in Utah. Pollicut has a man and his wife killed by Bounty Hunters and to prevent their son telling anyone they cut his throat making him mute. Years on in 1898 the boy has grown into a man and is a gunfighter who is known as Silence. Pollicut is still around and Silence works with the community and a group of men with bounties on their heads against Pollicut and the unsavoury characters in his employ. It is an interesting plot and one that has many twists, turns and ups and downs, but I have always found it to be a rewarding watch. Looking at the film’s alternate endings, I personally prefer the one that allows good or at least the antihero of the piece to triumph and looking at these endings there is also I think a link with Sergio Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, with Silence’s metal gauntlet maybe being a reference to the stranger’s metal breast plate. An interesting western well directed with solid performances and a great musical score.