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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Italy > France > Spaghetti Western > The Great Silence (1968/Fantoma)

The Great Silence (1968/Fantoma)


Picture: C     Sound: C     Extras: C     Film: B-



Sergio Corbucci’s 1968 western The Great Silence, while containing unquestionably breathtaking visuals and an interesting premise of a mute gunfighter in the mold of Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name”, is nevertheless a small letdown.  It certainly has its share of great moments, but is sloppily directed throughout many points, while its standard runtime prevents it from sprawling into an epic, and developing the character of Silence a bit further.  Not that most spaghetti westerns require any back story at all where a relatively nameless hired hand is concerned - even when that person is the main protagonist.  However, Corbucci lets the audience in on enough of the characters past to further the necessity for revenge that it almost creates the need to know more about him.  Had this flashback been revealed at a more proper time later in the story or given more push further along in the plot, it may have sewn this thread more effectively.  As it stands, it is evidence to a quickly hewn plot structure over which was draped some exceptionally inventive ideas for a genre picture such as this.


Other bits convolute what would otherwise be the basic premise of a small town caught between the grasp of the bounty killers, Silence, and the bandits whose lives he is protecting.  The government’s presence and intent for new order is spoken of throughout, and in one rushed scene political figures are seen dispatching the rather aloof, but determined sheriff (played by Frank Wolff) to the town of Snow Hill.  His character is a bit too bumbling to be taken seriously, despite proving himself a good aim in a scene where Silence and the Sheriff take turns firing at potatoes which they launch into the air for target practice.  A similar scene occurs during For A Few Dollars More, where in much the same fashion, Manco and Colonel Mortimer take turns firing at one another’s hats - a way of proving to the audience that Lee Van Cleef’s character indeed was an even match for Eastwood’s own.  Here it does nothing, as the presence of Wolff’s character is watered down and seriously dampens the impact of much of the violence and despair seen in other parts of the film.  Other nods to Sergio Leone can easily be spotted throughout, but I won’t dissect them here, as many other spaghettis of this period “borrowed” even more liberally than the film in question.


Despite the detractors that I’ve brought up, as well as certain other inadequacies, such as poor pacing and lackluster editing, there are a number of things within this movie that do indeed make it worthwhile.  Among these you can include Klaus Kinski’s enthusiastic performance as Loco - a perfect counterbalance to Trintignant’s Silence.  They have combined to great effect, and are certainly a factor in this film’s staying power.  Another is simply the fact that this was lensed amid snow-covered backdrops - something that is a refreshing change from the desert locations natural for the genre.  It lends to a different kind of vastness - one that is bleak and inescapable, unlike the desert, where seemingly there is a chance of fleeing from destiny in any direction.


For this and more, I can recommend this film.  I must admit to it having grown on me over several viewings; but sadly, I can’t seem to shake off the nagging problems I had earlier specified - instead, I have merely learned to take the good with the bad and move on.


The film is presented in widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1.  Certain scenes toward the beginning of the movie having an odd effect, as if looking through a screen door.  These problems seem to be confined to some of the outdoor scenes where snow is rather prominent, so one can assume that this is a problem also present on the negative and are a result of how it had originally been shot.  Aside from this, the picture is fairly good, but not stellar. The sound is in its original mono as Dooby Digital and feels rather weak - especially when gunshots and other sound effects are present.


The disc is worthwhile for the film itself, but bonus content is rather sparse.  Included, however, is a strange alternate ending created for distribution in foreign markets, a theatrical trailer and video introduction by Alex Cox, director of the 80s cult favorite, Repo Man.  Cox also contributes a brief commentary over the otherwise silent alternate ending, as well as liner notes, which are by no means in depth or all that valid.  Regardless, it would have been nice if he or someone else could have provided a full-length commentary for the film and made this an even more intriguing package.



-   David Milchick


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