The Film (5/5)
There must have been a law in 1960's Italy that if you were a director whose name was Sergio you had to make a classic spaghetti Western. Of course there was Sergio Leone with his legendary string of Spaghetti Westerns (The Dollars Trilogy, Once Upon a Time in the West), but we also have Sergio Corbucci who contributed such classic entries as Navajo Joe (on which a young Ruggero Deodato worked as an A.D.), Django, and the Great Silence. We then come to Sergio Sollima who directed 3 Spaghetti Westerns featuring Tomas Milian (Django Kill) as a Mexican bandit named Cuchillo the first of which is the Big Gundown. The Big Gundown outside of the films of Leone and Corbucci may very well be the greatest of all spaghetti westerns.
Genre cinema has always offered filmmakers a unique platform to air the viewpoints to the world in the guise of telling an interesting, usually fantastic story. Sollima's film is a very strong example of political subtext in a Spaghetti Western. Sollima was a member of the Italian Communist Party in the 60's, and the film certainly has those politics composed into it's very image. I stress image as Sollima has less interest in having his characters preach his viewpoint, rather than show it through character action. It's what his characters do, not what they say that is political, and in that regard Sollima offers a unique approach to political subtext in the cinema whereas even something like a George Romero or John Carpenter film will blatantly point out the message in dialogue.
This, of course, keeps the film from drowning in any possible pretensions, and keeps the film even in it's longer international cut a brisk and exciting time. The film is, of course, grounded by excellent lead performances by Milian and Van Cleef. Lee Van Cleef, comes into the role of Corbett with his trademark intensity and injects him with a stern determination that unwavers in the face of repeat failure. Milian on the other hand, offers a more dynamic performance that ranges from desperate and melancholy to comedic.
The direction from Sollima is certainly on the less operatic side of the spaghetti western, and has a more raw quality to it than something in the Leone mold. It does have some excellent and memorable set pieces including the duel between Cuchillo and Corbett toward the middle of the film. However, what really sets this film apart is the score by Ennio Morricone which outside of possibly his score for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly may be his finest musical contribution to the western genre, and actually may exceed that.
The film stars Lee Van Cleef (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, Escape from NY) as Jonathan Corbett a reknowned bounty hunter that is tiring of his profession. One afternoon at a wedding reception Corbett crosses paths with railroad mogul Brokston, who offers the chance to leave his hunting days behind and get into the national political scene where he can still do good for the people of Texas. Corbett is intrigued, but does not wish to sell out. He finds out at the same wedding that a lowly bandit named Cuchillo (Tomas Milian), raped and murdered a 12 year old girl. He quickly accepts the assignment to either capture or kill Cuchillo. Cuchillo is currently making his way to the Mexican border, and Corbett takes off in pursuit almost nabbing him on a few occasions, but never quite, and forming a strange relationship with the bandit in the process.
Grindhouse Releasing have issued the Big Gundown in a spectacular 2:35:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer that looks positively stunning. The fine detail in the transfer is excellent, colors are both bold and natural, and there is a nice grain structure present throughout the film.
Grindhouse presents Big Gundown with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that sounds just as good as the video looks. Ennio Morricone’s score comes through loud, clear, and with the prominence it deserves. The dialogue and effects are clean and clear. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
With a package like the Big Gundown Grindhouse Releasing proves why they are the Criterion of the underground. This set encompasses 4 discs that includes 2 Blu-ray's one for the American Cut of the film, one for the Italian, a DVD, and a CD of Morricone's excellent score. They have also loaded this set up with a substantial amount of extra features. The disc kicks off with a commentary track by C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke. This is followed by a nearly 30 minute interview recorded in 2005 with Sollima about the Big Gundown. We also get a nearly 30 minute interview with Tomas Milian called "Acting on Instinct" which is sort of a career overview with the actor, where he discusses his work over the years. Following on from that we get Tagliatelle in Los Angeles a 12 minute interview with the screenwriter of the film. There is an additional half hour interview with Sollima where he discusses the genre label, his work and more. After this there is what is referred to as a bonus interview with the screenwriter Sergio Donati that runs roughly 12 minutes. The disc is rounded off by stills gallery, trailers, and TV spots. There is also a 22 page booklet of liner notes.
The Big Gundown simply put may be Grindhouse's greatest ever release to date. It also maybe the greatest spaghetti western release since the inception of the Blu-ray format. The audio/video portion of the set is one of the finest transfers of a spaghetti western into HD, and the extras are elaborate, informative, and interesting creating what will be hailed as the defintive release of the Big Gundown. This is certainly one of the best releases of 2013, and comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.