The Great Silence 1968 movie

The Great Silence – A distant, forgotten Italian Western gem

For those who are superficially familiar with the Western genre, movies by masters such as Sergio Leone or John Ford, are often continually cited, forgetting the magnificent middle ground of so many other directors, such as Sergio Corbucci and this forgotten 1968 masterpiece of his, The Great Silence.

I do not want to say that no one knows Corbucci, especially after Quentin Tarantino‘s entertaining Django Unchained; I bet many ran to see the original starring Franco Nero by this great Italian director.

However, although Django is a terrific character, I have always remembered more fondly the mysterious Silence from this strange and sad story, another ruthless gunslinger mute since childhood because of the thugs who killed his family.

Once he grows up, Silence becomes one of the country’s most dangerous and efficient bounty hunters, famous for mowing down his opponents with his unerring Mauser C96 pistol.

Everyone also knows that he is a lonely man with no friends or women until he ends up in the desolate town of Snow Hill, a handful of log cabins on the edge of a large forest near the frontier.

Unfortunately, small as it is, no town is ever safe from human greed, so everyone fears the ruthless Henry Pollicut, a jackal who plunders other people’s property after wiping out the rightful owners by putting a bounty on their heads.

For the first time, Silence becomes a hero, trying to protect the beautiful widow Pauline from the interests (not just money) of Pollicut, who has had her husband killed by the violent Loco and his band of jackals.

But in the harsh reality of that ruthless world, being a hero does not bring glory and fame but ends up putting the gunfighter on an irreversible path of death and injustice.

A director and style to remember

Sergio Corbucci, beloved and idolized by the most careful cinema aficionados, never fully achieved the international success aura of other Italian directors such as Sergio Leone, Dario Argento, or Federico Fellini.

His experience ranges in different movie genres, from crime to comedy, although his greatest successes were the new Italian-style westerns such as The Great Silence from back in 1968.

One of the intriguing aspects of Sergio Corbucci‘s movies is the juxtaposition of comedy and romance with darker, more violent scenes; something reminiscent of Leone‘s famous film with Clint Eastwood, where funny irony would abruptly shift to a violent, darker tone as swiftly as the characters would draw their guns.

Again, for example, in Once Upon a Time in the West, the law of men gives way to the law of the strongest, or, better yet, who pays the biggest pack of thugs.

It is a metaphor for changing American society that is perfect for the isolation and desolation of the rural settings of these locations in the mountains of Abruzzo, Italy, where Corbucci directs the movie and recreates in his way the cold forests of Utah in the late 1800s.

As a dream becomes a nightmare, the blinding white of snow collides with the bright red of blood, and the silence of nature (and the protagonist) resonates louder than the Colt 45s of the savage bounty hunters.

Not surprisingly, the simple, brutal violence of these characters struck the producers so profoundly that they wanted to back down, but Corbucci successfully imposed his vision against the happy ending push at all costs.

It is not always good to be stubborn, although a true artist should not give in when he believes it to be right. Besides, why work so hard if you can’t fully realize your dream?

The Thousand Faces of Silence

One of the remarkable talents of Italian directors, exemplified by Corbucci, was their ability to bring out the best in the actors they worked with.

Let’s begin with the protagonist, Jean-Louis Trintignant, who may not be a towering acting figure but is perfect in the introverted and complex Silence role.

A gunslinger who lives only one way, following the strict code of honor he imposes on himself; for example, he never attacks first but provokes the enemy until pushing him to retaliate.

Yet he is not invincible either, and we can already see the first cracks in his seemingly impenetrable armor when he decides to defend the widow, played by the beautiful Vonetta McGee.

A stunning black woman, strong and proud, was another unusual character for that era; indeed, let us remember The Great Silence came out in tumultuous 1968, a period of great social contrasts of which we see the reflections in this movie as well.

Personally, my favorite character remains Klaus Kinski, a cinematic face that was iconic for these low-budget productions; a face whose savage determination makes him an extremely efficient human predator in command of a pack of equally merciless wolves among whom stands out Mario Brega, another name familiar to Italian-style Western lovers.

The violent arm, however, has the brains of the capitalist and profiteer played by Luigi Pistilli, a man for whom business and blood are the same, ready to make money on the suffering of anyone at the cost of throwing him out on the street or even getting him killed.

As a counterbalance, we have the character of the sheriff, played by Frank Wolff, who is even comical when he tries to enforce the law; how funny it is to be honest in a lawless town like Snow Hill.

We do not know if the inspiration for this story is real, as it appears in the captions at the end; indeed, it is a Western that, like Sergio Corbucci, manages to carve out a unique and irreplaceable place in a genre teeming with competition, a historic feat for what was only one of many small Italian productions of that period. Excuse me, but that alone is by no means small.

The Great Silence 1968 movie
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