Sunday, February 17, 2013

Il grande silenzio (The Great Silence) (1968)

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles's harddrive.

So maybe you heard about that big blizzard that hit the Northeast America/Canada last weekend? Yeah. We were very much snowed in, which was fine with us, and Miles decided a snowy western he'd read about on Nuts4r2 would be a good way to honor the day. The Great Silence stars hunky Frenchman Jean-Louis Trintignant as a mute gunman, known as "Silence" because that's what he leaves in his wake. Though unbeatable as a marksman, he only shoots in self defense, often knocking off his enemies' thumbs so they can't raise a gun against him again. He's asked to aid a group of well-meaning outlaws hiding out in the Rockies, who are under attack from vicious bounty hunter Loco (Klaus Kinski), but complications arise due to the fucked up nature of 19th-century laws in this country.

Man, this movie was unexpected in a lot of ways, and I'm glad I went into it without knowing too much about it. While grounded in typical western conventions- bounty hunters, anti-heroes, damsels in distress, horsies- the film stands out for its sobering view of politics and class structures during the "Wild West" period. All of the characters bend the law to their own will, and nobody really acts illegally except for the bounties that Loco mercilessly (but lawfully) shoots down. This twisted view of the law is at times almost playful in the hands of the gleefully sadistic Klaus Kinski, but the dark nature of frontier life in the nineteenth century for anyone without wealth or status- and the corrupted system that allows for it- is very clearly communicated. The ending (the real ending, not the tame one they filmed for certain markets) is bleak as hell, and I really appreciated that. Despite its "spaghetti" elements in voice dubbing and too-cool-for-school protagonist, the film as a whole felt remarkably realistic. Corbucci's use of the Italian Dolomites to substitute for the blizzardy Utah Rockies results in gorgeous landscapes and a convincing atmosphere, and I was even fooled by the shaving cream-infused town set! It looked super real! Plus everyone wore nice warm-looking fur coats, it was very swanky.

The grisly story and general sparseness are buoyed by a fantastic cast. I must now admit that this is my first Klaus Kinski movie (I'm obviously behind on a few Herzogs), and he was creepy as fuck and it definitely works, he's just so self-satisfied and unshakable, it's unnerving. Plus he's got the LAW on his side. And a hideous face. Truly hideous. Jean-Louis Trintignant, on the other hand, is a goddamn BABE, and I was instantly taken in by his expressive eyes and pouty, unspeaking lips. I also really liked Vonetta McGee, whom I'm ashamed to say I didn't even recognize (I'd seen her in Blacula) and at first took her for a dark-skinned Italian actress given the context. She's a really beautiful woman and though her role is mostly passive she has this great fierceness in her manner. Plus I think it's cool that this movie has an interracial relationship and no one makes a thing of it! It's just two super attractive people getting it on, and I loved it. I guess what I'm getting at here is, has anyone made a porn of this movie? Well?

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I think another western that deals with moral ambiguity would be good, maybe The Searchers.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Alex,

    Brilliant review as usual.

    I'm really pleased you found this one worth a watch. Kinski's in a fair few Spaghetti Westerns with probably his most famous mainstream western appearance being opposite Clint Eastwood in Leone's For A Few Dollars More... which is worth a watch.

    Thanks so much for linking back to my blog in your review... and thanks to Miles and yourself for reading it.

    All the best to you.

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  2. Nuts4r2: Thanks so much. I still need to see both "Dollars" films, I'm so behind on westerns in general but I know it! And no problem, I'm glad you wrote about this film so that we knew to check it out!

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  3. I just mini-reviewed classic westerns for a marathon in July. I didn't like it quite as much as you did, Sergio Corbucci's Django (1966) and Companeros (1970) I prefer, and found to be a bit more entertaining.
    Though The Great Silence has great sense of place/atmosphere, with a killer opening theme by Morricone. Kinski’s menacing performance is what stayed with me the most.
    I like Corbucci's style, how visual his films are, could almost watch them as a silent film, and still be able to follow the plot.

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