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Fantoma Films presents
The Great Silence (1968)

"They call him Silence, because wherever he goes, the silence of death follows."
- Pauline (Vonetta McGee)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: November 30, 2001

Stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Klaus Kinski
Other Stars: Vonetta McGee, Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistalli
Director: Sergio Corbucci

Manufacturer: American Zoetrope
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (extreme violence and gore, sensuality, brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:45m:21s
Release Date: September 11, 2001
UPC: 014381112320
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AB+C- C+

DVD Review

The Spaghetti Western was often a bleak affair. Heroes were hardly heroic, life was cheap and betrayal lurked on every side. This sensibility had an enormous effect on American films in the years that followed, such as The Wild Bunch; the nihilistic influence can still be felt in such recent films as Reservoir Dogs. While Sergio Leone is the acknowledged master of the genre, Sergio Corbucci outdid even Leone in this utterly grim and bleak look at the American West.

Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a mute gunslinger with a hatred for bounty hunters, makes his way to Snow Hill, Utah Territory, in the last years of the 19th century. There, bounty hunters hold the town in a reign of terror. Many otherwise law-abiding citizens have been driven into the hills to live as bandits; their exact crime is unspecified, but given the Utah site and some of the oblique references, it is apparently Mormonism. Most notorious of the bounty hunters is the vicious, sadistic and cocky Loco (Klaus Kinski). After he kills the husband of Pauline Middleton (Vonetta McGee), Loco is targeted by Silence. A series of betrayals and extreme bloodlettings set up a climactic confrontation between the two men, with the lives of the 'outlaws' in the balance.

The tone of the picture is unrelenting. A mother early on leads her son to give himself up for a fair trial, only to watch him be gunned down in front of her. The hero is mutilated in the regular tradition of Corbucci's films, and he also in turn mutilates, shooting the thumbs off of bounty hunters so that they can't hold a gun. The local justice of the peace is in cahoots with the bounty hunters, since as the town banker he also gets a cut of the bounty money. The honest sheriff (Frank Wolff) is quickly tricked and murdered by Loco. Even Silence's technique of provoking a fight, then shooting the intended victim as soon as he draws, is morally questionable at best. The women come off fairly well, but the men on both sides are ethically contaminated, if not outright degenerate.

Kinski, as usual, is intense, though here the intensity is leavened with a fair dose of cruel humor. His Loco is an unforgettable character who kills for money, but one suspects that if there weren't bounty money, he'd do it for laughs. Trintingnant has a difficult time with a completely wordless part; when that is tied together with his emotionally controlled portrayal, it's hard to develop much sympathy for him. Vonetta McGee (later costar in Blacula and Repo Man) here makes a big impression in her first screen role; the wronged wife seeking revenge would eventually develop into a cliché in later films such as Unforgiven, but it is presented here with intensity and fire.

The violence is extreme, and the blood and gore copious. Combined with the grim tone, the film takes its rightful place among the very best Westerns, whether made in Italy or America.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The nonanamorphic 1.66:1 picture is taken from the original negative, and for the most part looks quite good. There is some obvious combing in a few spots early on, and there are a few sequences that exhibit extreme grain. Color is vivid, and black levels are for the most part excellent. The interiors shot in low light (the grainiest scenes) lack good black levels, however. There is occasional frame damage, but overall this looks fine considering it was a low-budget Italian production from over 30 years ago.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 English mono has loads of hiss and noise that distracts the listener. Oddly enough, the hiss and noise abruptly cease altogether a few minutes from the end of the film. Dialogue comes through fine, although much of the picture is quite badly dubbed. Ennio Morricone's score sounds fine, though there is occasional distortion and the range is rather on the limited side.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Alternate Endings
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:01m:44s

Extras Review: Director Alex Cox (Repo Man and Sid and Nancy) is obviously heavily influenced by this picture and has a strong attachment to it. He not only provides a nice set of liner notes, but has a 05m:28s video interview featurette discussing the film and its making. One wishes that this were longer.

In addition to a theatrical trailer, the alternate "happy ending" for North African and Asian countries is included; it can either be viewed silently (no audio track is known to survive), or with a commentary from Cox.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

An unrelentingly grim and bloody Western, this picture features some fine performances and a good transfer. It's too bad the sound wasn't cleaned up a bit, but still very worthwhile viewing.


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