Thursday, December 3, 2015

THE GREAT SILENCE (1968)



When asked to name a great spaghetti western most people will undoubtedly reach for an entry in Leone’s “Man with No Name” trilogy. After all, all three rank amongst the greatest westerns ever made, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is considered one of the greatest films ever made, period. But there is a spaghetti western that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Leone’s trilogy. That film is Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence.
     Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignat) is a mute gunslinger with a grudge against bounty hunters. He hunts them down and kills them; to stay clear of the law, he prompts them to draw their gun first before he shoots them. That way, it is seen as “self-defense” and the law can do nothing about it. Loco (Klaus Kinski) is a bounty hunter who’s willing to kill anyone so long as he is paid for it. He knows about Silence and his methods. The two convene in the small town of Snow Hill which is lorded over by Henry Pollicut (Luigi Pistilli), along with the new sheriff Gideon Burnett (Frank Wolff). Silence is hired by Pauline (Vonetta McGee), the wife of a man Loco was paid to kill, to kill Loco. Sheriff Burnett wishes to maintain law and order and see things through properly. Burnett arrests Loco but is killed by Loco while escorting him to the state penitentiary. Loco and his group return to Snow Hill for a brutal final showdown with Silence and a band of outlaws that were sent to Snow Hill by Sheriff Burnett for provisions. Will Silence make it out alive?
     Kinski delivers one of his best performances as Loco, portraying him as calm and collected as opposed to the wild-eyed maniac we’re used to seeing Kinski turn his characters into. One particularly tense scene involves Silence tossing a match, then a cigar into Loco’s drink in an attempt to get him to draw. Kinski just looks at him as if to say, “Is that the best you’ve got?” before revealing to Silence that he
knows about his methods and will not draw. Pistilli is great as the sleazy store owner/justice of the peace/landlord Henry Pollicut. He’s a cocky bastard through and through, and he knows he’s a cocky bastard. The worst kind. I practically cheered when he got his comeuppance, yet was disappointed because it wasn’t enough.
     But while Kinski and Pistilli turn in great performances here, the crowning achievement is Trintignat. He agreed to play in this under the condition that he didn’t have to learn any lines. Whether it’s because he felt such films weren’t worth the effort, or because he wanted to show that truly great acting could be found in such films is anyone’s guess. Point being, he outshines them all. Every facial expression, every movement, every breath conveys the emotions perfectly. It’s the mark of a truly great actor.  
     And speaking of great, the setting fits the film marvelously. Going against the grain, The Great Silence is set in the snow-covered Utah mountains, adding a deliciously bleak atmosphere to the film. You can almost feel the loneliness of characters as you see them riding alone through the snow, and can almost hear their cries of desperation in the wind. In fact, everyone in the film looks and acts like they are one step away from the noose, or just bidding time until the grave swallows them. While pockets of happiness might be found here and there—in the arms and bed of a beautiful woman, in a few dollars earned, a shot of whiskey, a fine cigar—the whole film just oozes existential angst leading, naturally, to the film’s inevitable conclusion.
     All in all, The Great Silence deserves to be more well-known, at least as much as Leone’s trilogy. I’d even rank it above Corbucci’s more popular Django which, while entertaining, doesn’t quite reach the levels of cinematic beauty The Great Silence offers. Put Clint Eastwood aside for a moment, get off your ass, and watch it. You won’t be disappointed.
You didn't like The Great Silence? Kinski begs you to reconsider.

No comments:

Post a Comment