• Big Gundown, The



    Released by: Grindhouse Releasing
    Released on: December 10th, 2013.
    Director: Sergio Sollima
    Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Tomas Milian, Nieves Navarro, Luisa Rivelli, Fernando Sancho
    Year: 1966
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    The Movie:

    (by Horace Cordier)

    There is a duel, buried about two thirds of the way through Sergio Sollima's brilliant spaghetti western THE BIG GUNDOWN when Tomas Milian's slippery Mexican bandit and thief Cuchillo is finally given a chance to face down the man who has caused him untold misery. The mediator who has brought the two face to face offers the unarmed Cuchillo a gun. But the shoeless peasant shakes his head slowly and requests a knife instead. It is in this strange and surreal moment - matched to a classic Morricone musical set piece - that Sollima shows his true sympathies. Cuchillo may be a thief and a petty criminal. But he is also a man of the people. A hippie revolutionary with a quick wit and a playful nature. But he has little use for the cold and mechanized industrial world. He is the earth. And if he's going to hurt you he's going to do it with the tool of a craftsman. A blade. Something that can be honed by hand and become an extension of the body. The gun is the way of the cold capitalist oppressor.

    THE BIG GUNDOWN may be the greatest political spaghetti western ever made. What makes it so remarkable is that it avoids the pedantic at every turn. There are no long drawn out speeches padding the run time in between shootouts. Even in its longer (and vastly superior) Italian cut with more care given to characterization the pacing never suffers. But Sollima has a hell of a lot on his mind. An actual practicing communist at the time of the film's making Sollima was about as far removed from your average half-baked Hollywood leftist of the era as it was possible to be. But the hectoring just isn't there. He's going to make his point about capitalism but damn it he's going to entertain the hell out of you at the same time.

    Highly skilled Texas lawman Corbett (Lee Van Cleef in sterling form) is first seen in a showdown with three bandits he has managed to outfox by getting to their criminal rendezvous first. When offered a chance at a duel or the hangman's noose the three confess to being out of bullets. Corbett cordially provides the three outlaws with one bullet - each. Of course we know what the end result will be but we also learn that Corbett plays fair. Even at the risk of his own life. He has ethics.

    But Corbett, ethical and courageous as he is, is the nail to the capitalist hammer of local industrialist/railroad baron Brokston (Walter Barnes). Brokston has a problem and he'd like Corbett to solve it. For reasons he's a bit murky about he would like Corbett to track down and kill Mexican peasant Cuchillo who is wanted for the despicable crime of killing and raping a 12 year old girl. Corbett is a great believer in the American ideals of truth and justice and accepts the job. Brokston also offers to help get Corbett elected a US senator. Interestingly while the lawman finds that idea quite appealing, he makes a point of saying he can't be bought BUT at the same time has no questions at all about Brokston's interest in the crimes of a lowly Mexican bandit.

    The bulk of THE BIG GUNDOWN is focused on Corbett's cross country manhunt for Milian's bandit. But while Sollima clearly sees Corbett as a tool of the capitalist oppressor, he never deprives the character of either his humanity or charisma. Corbett may not be asking questions but he is no fool either. As things start to eventually add up Corbett will actually start to embody those ideals about justice he cares so deeply about. And though Cuchillo is more Sollima's preference will be taken advantage of - whether by machinating lonely widows on ranches or sleazy Mexican law enforcement. But the bandit is nobody's victim either.

    One of the greatest strengths of the film is its unforgettable characters. Van Cleef has never been more intimidating and intense and Milian delivers a playful yet rich performance tinged with sadness. Milian can look like a lost dog one minute and merry prankster the next. His shoeless, dirty and colorful bandit makes a terrific contrast with Corbett's suited and booted and impeccably armed gunman. Near the end of the film when evil capitalist Brokston starts to prepare a posse to go deep into Mexico gunning for Cuchillo's blood he gives an amazing speech about his twin passions - hunting big game and making money. Brokston also has one of the most arresting characters in the spaghetti western universe at his side - Austrian bodyguard Baron von Schulenberg played by Gérard Herter. The Baron, with his monocle, specially designed in Europe pistol and holster getup, close cropped haircut and oddly polite but bloodthirsty manner (upon meeting Corbett he inquires as to how many men he has killed in duels) is deliciously over the top. When these various factions work out their "differences" it won't be something easily forgotten.

    Simply put, THE BIG GUNDOWN is the greatest spaghetti western not made by the "other" Sergio. It contains interesting and thought provoking ideas, great action set pieces and career highlight performances. It is also beautifully shot making fantastic use of natural vistas. It has one of Morricone's best scores. Long may it astound and entertain audiences.

    Essential.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    (by Ian Jane)

    Both versions of The Big Gundown (more on that below) arrive on Blu-ray transferred in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 2.35.1 and to be blunt, as both versions look more or less the same in terms of quality, they look great. Detail is very strong and colors look nice and natural here. There are no problems with compression artifacts to note and the image is clean and crisp without looking to have been artificially boosted or sharpened. There’s no evidence of noise reduction to note nor is there any obvious edge enhancement. Film grain is plentiful but never particularly distracting while flesh tones look lifelike and natural throughout. This is a wonderfully film-like transfer that leaves little room for complaint.

    Audio chores are handled by DTS-HD 1.0 tracks and again, the disc scores high marks. Dialogue is crisp and clear and clean, always easy to follow and always properly balanced. Morricone’s fantastic score has excellent depth and clarity and there are no issues with hiss or distortion. Range is about as good as an older mono track can offer. The US expanded cut is in English, the longer director’s cut in Italian. Both tracks provide optional English subtitles that are easy to read and free of any obvious typographical errors.

    The extras on the first disc, which contains the US expanded cut of the movie, kick off with an audio commentary courtesy of western film experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke. This is a pretty thorough dissection of the film and it’s different versions that explains how and why those different versions came to exist in the first place and which puts all of the film’s politics into context. The duo also discuss who did what on the film, the involvement and background of the different cast and crew members involved in the production, shooting locations, the film’s score and quite a bit more. It’s well paced and interesting, fans of the film should appreciate the amount of research these two obviously did to prepare for this.

    Additionally we get a twenty-nine minute interview with director Sergio Sollima who talks about how this project came to be and what it was like working with the two leading men cast in the picture. He shares some interesting memories from the shoot and shares his appreciation of not only what Milian and Van Cleef brought to the movie but what Morricone was able to do to enhance mood and excitement with his score. He also talks about the film’s script, what was changed when he took the reins, and more. Also on hand for an interview here is leading man Tomas Milian who speaks for half an hour about working on the picture, how he got his start as an actor, what it was like working in action and western pictures and how he feels about the movie. Screenwriter Sergio Donati appears for a twelve minute discussion about writing this picture, what it was like working with Sollima on the film, some of the themes that run through the picture and his thoughts on the finished product. Sollima appears for a second interview, this one clocking in at twenty-eight minutes, and this one is more of a career overview in which he talks about dealing with some of the different actors that he used throughout his career and his thoughts on Spaghetti Westerns in general. Last but not least, we also get a second interview with Sergio Donati that runs twelve minutes that provides some insight into how Spaghetti Westerns have changed in the public eye, having once been viewed as low brow entertainment and how they are now regarded as influential and important films.

    Rounding out the extras on Disc One are five separate still galleries, three different theatrical trailers, five TV spots, filmographies for Sergio Sollima, Thomas Milian and Sergio Donati, an isolated score and effects track, animated menus and chapter selection. If you pop the disc into your DVD-Rom drive you’ll also find a PDF that breaks down the differences between the versions of the film, and if you look around on the disc’s menus you’ll find an Easter Egg that plays a trailer for Run Man Run.

    The extras on the second disc, which contains the director’s cut the movie, contains an isolated score and an interesting trivia track that plays as a subtitle stream and offers up all sorts of facts and figures relating to the film, with an emphasis on Morricone’s work on the picture. Also on the disc are trailers for An American Hippie In Israel, Corruption, The Swimmer, Massacre Mafia Style, Gone With The Pope, Cannibal Holocaust, Ice House, Poor White Trash 2, Cat In The Brain, The Beyond, Cannibal Ferox, The Tough Ones, Pieces, and last but not least, I Drink Your Blood. Menus and chapter stops are included on this second disc as well.

    As this is a Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack, the third disc in the set is a DVD version of the ninety-five minute U.S. expanded cut of the movie which replicates the extras on the Blu-ray version of that cut of the movie. Also found in the set is a fourth disc which contains the entire Morricone score for the movie. The track listing is:

    Run man run / La vedova / Titoli di testa / La corrida / Dopo la condanna / Primo deserto / La condanna / La resa / La resa dei conti (seconda caccia) / Arriva Cucillo / Coro dei mormoni / Secondo deserto / Titoli di coda (la resa dei conti) / Corri uomo corri / Arriva Cucillo (versione lunga) / La resa dei conti (titoli – reprisa) / Primo deserto (Jonathan Corbett) / La vedova (il ranch) / Primo deserto (arriva Corbett) / La resa dei conti (square dance nuziale) / Primo deserto (il morso dei serpente) / La resa dei conti (Rosita) / Primo deserto (perso nell’imboscata) / La resa dei conti (mariachi) / Run man run (titoli finale)

    If that weren’t enough, inside the keepcase is a full color booklet of liner notes that contains an essay entitled Sergio Sollima’s Political Gundown by C. Courtney Joyner, an essay on the two cuts of the movie called Cutting To The Chase: The Tale Of Town Gundowns by Gergely Hubai, an essay on the film’s score entitled Six Shooter Symphony: The Music Of The Big Gundown by Gergely Hubai and a quick write up on the cover art prepared for this release. The cover art insert is reversible, featuring the Blu-ray release art on one side and an alternate La Resa De Conti Italian one sheet option on the flipside. All of this fits inside a slipcase cover and this release is limited to 3,000 pieces worldwide.

    The Final Word:

    The Big Gundown receives a truly definitive Blu-ray release from Grindhouse Releasing. The transfer is excellent, the extras are both comprehensive and informative and both cuts of the movie are included, as is the soundtrack. The movie itself is one of the finest Spaghetti Westerns ever made, and anyone with even a passing interest in the film or the genre owes it to themselves to add this one to their collection.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!






















































    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      Nice review, Horace! The longer version here is said to look quite different to the German release; I'm very happy with the German disc owing to the inclusion of the English language track for the longer Italian domestic cut of the film, but this certainly looks like an otherwise satisfying release.
    1. Clive Smith's Avatar
      Clive Smith -
      I was tempted, but I've already got the German disc too... and at least it'll match the SABATA and DEATH RIDES A HORSE ones I've got on order.
    1. Richard--W's Avatar
      Richard--W -
      Useful review, Ian. Mine got mailed Tuesday and is due Saturday. Under the circumstances looks like I'll be keeping both editions. Was this film worth the $100 total I spent on it? No, not by a long shot. But at least I didn't spend the money all at once.