Jonathan Corbett is a gunman so brave to have eliminated all the bandits of Texas. For this he is proposed for the candidacy to the Senate of the United States. In exchange he has only to support the construction of one railway line. Only after he accepts does he come to know that the Mexican Cuchillo has raped and killed a 12 year old girl. Corbett leaves on a long manhunt during which he gets to know his adversary better and discovers a variation on the crime for which the accused Cuchillo may not be as guilty as he first thought.Written by
Baldinotto da Pistoia, translated by Philip-12
Despite having played on US television over the years, the film never received a physical US release until 2013. See more »
At around an hour and twenty minutes into the movie there is a scene where a girl is carrying a tray with 6 glasses of which 5 are full and 1 is empty.
In the next shot however there are 7 glasses on the tray of which 3 are full and 4 are empty. See more »
Baron von Schulenberg:
When you are about to kill a man, what do you look at? I've asked this question of other men, and do you know what they always say? They look at his hands. I don't. I look at his eyes...
Baron von Schulenberg:
...because a moment before he moves his hand, his eyes betray him. And you can always read death in them: yours or his.
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The original Italian cut of the film is approximately 110 minutes (approximately 105 minutes PAL) and was distributed in several European countries theatrically and on video formats. However, upon its US and UK release (and possibly Japanese release), the film was cut down to approximately 90 minutes. While most of these cuts involved trimming down dialogue, some entire scenes were cut, such as Corbett in the Sherrif's office after killing the three criminals in the opening, Cuchillo and Corbett's visit to a Church, and Cuchillo in bed with his wife Rosita. While most of this footage is thought not to have been dubbed in English, a few scenes, such as the church scenes and Cuchillo/Rosita scene were dubbed in English for some markets outside of the US and UK. As of now, only the 90 minute cut has had any official distribution in the US, while a fan made DVD known as the "Franco Cleef Edition" has made the rounds in the US featuring the Italian cut with English language and subtitled Italian for the scenes in which English audio could not be obtained. See more »
At the 61st Venice Film Festival, Quentin Tarantino named THE BIG GUNDOWN not only his favorite Spaghetti Western but one of the all-time Top 5 Westerns!; ironically, though I knew of the film's reputation and had actually already missed out on it on late-night Italian TV due to a power cut, I was all set to give it another miss because I had intended to attend a screening of the latest film by nonagenarian Portuguese film-maker Manoel de Oliveira during which he was also to be presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award...but when, during a Press Conference, Tarantino singled out this one as being the film to see at the "Italian Kings Of The 'B'" retrospective (which he and Joe Dante were presiding over), I just had to be there - since, unlike most other titles at the Festival, it was reserved just that one screening!
The show, then, was delayed by an unattended bag left inside the theater from the previous screening which, incidentally, had been Ferdinando Baldi's Spaghetti Western BLINDMAN (1972) and, given the paranoid state of affairs post-9/11, this necessitated the intervention of bomb disposal units/dogs/soldiers/police before anyone could be allowed to re-enter the hall and the projection of the next film could proceed! If that wasn't enough, Joe Dante - who was present at the screening and my brother and I could overhear him waxing lyrical to his wife about the film's qualities - had to leave the theater after the first few minutes of the projection because, for some reason, English subtitles were not supplied with the only available print!
Anyway, let's get to the film itself: from the accompanying interview with director Sollima, I learned that the Tomas Milian role was originally intended for Gian Maria Volonte', who was to have played a much older "prey" - but then the characters' ages were reversed. As it turned out, this was the first film to feature Milian's "Cuchillo" Sanchez character - a wily Mexican peasant and a dexterous knife-thrower - which he reprised in RUN, MAN, RUN (1968; also directed by Sollima and whose R1 DVD courtesy of Blue Underground I ordered following this viewing, also because it's the only remaining title from the company's "The Spaghetti Western Collection" set I have yet to watch!). The original treatment (by Franco Solinas) was much more politicized but, even if this element was eventually toned down, it's still palpable in the film's critical depiction of the upper-classes - arrogant, duplicitous and perverse - vis-a'-vis the struggling and downtrodden but lusty (and, by extension, virile) lower classes.
Lee Van Cleef has one of his best roles ever as renowned bounty hunter (with an eye on a place in the Senate) Jonathan Corbett; to me, his relationship with Milian's character is one of the strongest ever to be established within the entire Western genre, and it's this that elevates the film above most non-Leone Italian efforts. Ennio Morricone provides one of his most eclectic and haunting scores that's weird and exhilarating at the same time, especially towards the end of the film when the song (ironically called "Run, Man, Run" and with a heightened vocal rendition by Christy to match!) - which is also heard over the opening credits - is reprised. In contrast to the operatic and baroque styles adopted by the other two Sergios - Leone and Corbucci, respectively - Sollima utilizes a much more sober, humanist and, ultimately, realistic approach.
The complexity of this film's script belies the general low esteem in which the genre is held (being episodic in nature, with Van Cleef and Milian meeting up with a plethora of diverse characters during the course of the manhunt; one of the most memorable scenes is when Van Cleef goes to look for Milian's wife, a feisty prostitute who verbally abuses her husband for having deserted her but then lashes out at Van Cleef when realizing his true intent, after which the latter is cornered by the entire local community!); indeed, at the time, these films were more authentic than the examples - the Western was then on its last legs - churned out by Hollywood...at least until THE WILD BUNCH (1969) came along!
I remember when the film was reviewed in a journal available outside the venue of the Venice Film Festival, it was described as having allegiances with the giallo genre - Milian is accused of being a serial rapist - but, having rewatched the film, this element isn't sufficiently stressed to make that connection! One of its more interesting aspects, however, is the reciprocated respect that passes between Van Cleef and Austrian bodyguard/ex-military officer/aristocrat/marksman Gerard Herter (whose character Sollima admitted to having based on Erich von Stroheim). This, in turn, gives way to a terrific extended climax: first, we see Milian duel with the real culprit of the crimes he's suspected of, then Van Cleef's stand-off with the Baron, and finally the confrontation between Corbett and the villainous railroad tycoon who appointed him to trail Milian in the first place. The cast also features a brief but striking turn by Nieves Navarro as a nymphomaniac rancher(!) and Fernando Sancho as a Mexican policeman who, hating the revolutionaries as much as the Americans, is content to let them cut each others' throat.
I'm surprised, therefore, that the film has still to make it to R1 DVD but I'm glad I picked up the R2 edition: the remastered print is beautiful and the film contains a 15-minute interview (though the video proved problematic initially) with Sergio Sollima that was highly engaging, informative and even funny (his quips about the highbrow Italian films of the time, the critics' darlings as opposed to the largely neglected genre offerings, is priceless!); in fact, I wish he'd done a full-length Audio Commentary for the film, as I really could have listened to him talk all day!!
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