Under the Radar

Home Video: 'The Great Silence'

Jean-Louis Trintignant in "The Great Silence" (Film Movement)

It's the 50th anniversary of Sergio Corbucci's spaghetti western masterpiece "The Great Silence" and it's just been reissued on Blu-ray and DVD in a beautiful new 2K transfer. Starring French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant as "Silence," the film is incredibly dark with Trintignant's mute anti-hero squaring off against Tigrero, an especially black villain played by Klaus Kinski.

Of particular interest here is Silence's broomhandle Mauser C96, a semi-automatic pistol introduced in 1896. Everyone in the movie is confused by Silence's rapid-fire gunplay, something that would make sense since Corbucci's movie is set in 1896. His first-to-market weapon is far more powerful than anyone else's Colt revolvers or Winchester Yellow Boy rifles.

Unless you're a huge Italian western fan, you probably only know the trilogy of movies Clint Eastwood made with director Sergio Leone ("Fistful of Dollars," "For a Few Dollars More" and "The Good, The Bad & the Ugly"). Westerns were a huge business in Europe in the 60s and most movies set in late 1800s America were actually shot in Italy or Spain.

Like many of those flicks, American Civil War veterans all spoke Italian to each other while they worked out uniquely American vendettas and conflicts. Corbucci really wanted Trintignant for this film but the actor didn't speak Italian. Solution: the lead character here is mute and Silence conveys everything with his eyes.

"The Great Silence" takes place in the winter and the movie's visuals are an obvious influence on Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful 8." Corbucci devotee Tarantino used the master's film "Django" as inspiration for his own "Django Unchained."

With digital distribution, cheap international phone calls and home video formats, it's easy to forget how culturally divided the world was in 1968. Legend has it that Clint Eastwood wanted to to an American remake of "The Great Silence" and convinced Fox studio head Daryl F. Zanuck to buy rights before the mogul had seen it. Zanuck allegedly hated the film and it never really had American distribution back in the day.

One warning if you're new to real spaghetti westerns: most Italian location shoots didn't fool with on-set sound recording. The cinematography may be beautiful and the action may be spectacular, but the dialog was all looped in post production. It's like watching a dubbed movie even if the characters are speaking their first language.

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