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THE GREAT SILENCE Blu-ray review by Roy Frumkes

(Film Movement) 1968. 1 hr 45 mins.

Supplementals: Intro by Alex Cox. English and Italian dialogue tracks. 1968 doc – ‘Western, Italian Style.’ Two alternate endings. Pamphlet insert with an essay about the film.

Directed and Co-written by Sergio Corbucci. Music by Ennio Morricone Cinematography by Silvano Ippoliti. Art Direction by Riccardo Domenici.

With: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Klaus Kinski, Frank Wolff, Vonetta McGee.

THE GREAT SILENCE was originally released on DVD by Fantoma Films, a niche DVD company determined to bring out both rare and classic titles in pristine condition from their San Francisco office. Fantoma was a wonderful organization, which, among many worthy projects, restored and released the films of Kenneth Anger. Their release of the Corbucci film was stellar, but the Film Movement release is on BluRay, which didn’t exist for Fantoma, so time and technology have made it a title worth up-dating.

The 50th anniversary restoration is glorious, capturing the finest details of the images, the sound mix, and the complex Morricone score. Gifted ham Klaus Kinski delivers one of his better performances in Corbucci’s snow-swept mise-en-scene (which I imagine had to have influenced Tarantino’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT). Vonetta McGee, who was an important figure in the 70s Blaxploitation genre (BLACULA (1972), THOMASINE AND BUSHROD (1976), acquits herself well here a few years earlier. I met Ms McGee while she was on her promotional tour with boyfriend/director Max Julien, and I found both of them to be friendly and informative. I particularly enjoyed his reaction when I brought up Hollywood tough guy William Smith. Responded Julien, "Bill Smith is the only guy in Hollywood can take Jim Brown!)

The film is grim. When a Sergio Leone film grows dark, usually something cinematic and compelling, or humorous, brings you back up. Conversely, when something in this film seems light-hearted, the director hastens to drag you back into the abyss. It has the most bitterly upsetting denouement of the entire Spaghetti Western genre. Two other endings are included, one of them stridently upbeat, reminding me of the unused ending of Luis Bunuel’s LOS OLVIDADOS. Students sit in stunned, desolate silence when I show the director’s cut to classes. But the distributor, fearing the worst, had Bunuel shoot a slightly happier ending which, fortunately, was no longer considered necessary after the film copped the big award at Cannes. Corbucci wasn’t as lucky. Despite the existence of the happier, even jovial ending, no distributor in the US would touch it.

As with the original release, Alex Cox is on hand to lend historical and aesthetic validity to the Blu-ray, and there is a spiffy, informative pamphlet inside the container.

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