Continuing with my Spaghetti Western binge, I moved on to THE GREAT SILENCE, which, along with DJANGO, is probably Sergio Corbucci’s best-known film. The title has multiple meanings, starting with the fact that the hero, a gunfighter played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, is mute and is known only as Silence. He rides into a snowbound corner of Utah Territory where a community of outlaws is hiding out from a group of ruthless bounty hunters. Klaus Kinski, who could give Christopher Walken a run for his money in the Creepiest Actor Ever to Step in Front of a Camera race, plays the leader of the bounty hunters, who is known only as Loco, another instance of Corbucci giving a character a name that sums him up. Only I’m not sure Loco is really crazy. As Kinski plays him, he’s more like pure evil.
Silence is drawn into the clash between the outlaws and the bounty hunters when the widow of a man killed by Loco asks him to help her get revenge. The widow is played by American actress Vonetta McGee in her film debut. Another American in the cast is Frank Wolff, who made a lot of Spaghetti Westerns. (He was Brett McBain in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.) Wolff, looking a lot like Richard Boone in this one, plays an honest lawman who is also caught between the sympathetic outlaws (are they supposed to be Mormons? I don’t think it’s ever made clear) and Loco’s band of bounty killers.
As is fairly common in these films, there are some flashbacks that reveal how Silence became mute, but most of the story is a leisurely build-up to the final showdown between Silence and Loco. The acting is excellent all around. Kinski’s performance is actually a little understated. There’s not a lot of raving and scenery-chewing. Most of his evil comes through in his expressions. Trintignant is also fine as Silence, a part that has no dialogue whatsoever. And I really liked Wolff in this one. As in the other Corbucci films I’ve seen, the photography is great, and the snowbound landscapes are stunning. The Ennio Morricone score is okay, but not up to the level of his work for Sergio Leone.
All of which brings us to the famous – or infamous – ending of THE GREAT SILENCE. Well, it’s bleak, all right. But I’m going to part company here with what seems to be the consensus of opinions about this movie. While the ending is effective in that it’s a sucker punch the viewer doesn’t see coming, I also thought it felt forced. I felt like the so-called “happy ending” (which is also included on the DVD) was actually set up better by the earlier events in the film and made more sense. In order for the bleak ending to work, one plotline has to be left completely unresolved, and several characters have to act in ways opposite to how their characters have been established earlier in the film. I can’t get into specifics without spoiling the ending for those who haven’t seen the film, so I’ll just say that I understand why it’s famous, and I didn’t like it.
I liked the film overall, though. I’ve seen enough Corbucci movies now that some of his themes are becoming apparent, and they’ve all been interesting enough that I want to see more. Probably not right away, though. If you’re a fan of Spaghetti Westerns and haven’t seen THE GREAT SILENCE, you really owe it to yourself to do so.