Cast & Crew
Lee Van Cleef
Brokston, an influential Texas railroad speculator, offers to help lawman Jonathan Corbett with his bid to enter politics if Corbett captures Mexican outlaw Cuchillo, who is suspected of raping and murdering a young white girl. Corbett traces Cuchillo to a Mormon camp, to a ranch belonging to a sadistic widow, to a jail where he is in the custody of an uncomprehending sheriff, and to a brothel--but the wily Mexican escapes each time. When Corbett eventually captures Cuchillo, he is tricked into believing that he has been bitten by a snake and that he must untie Cuchillo so that Cuchillo can draw out the poison. Although Cuchillo now has the opportunity to kill Corbett, he leaves him unharmed, choosing only to make his escape. As Corbett begins to doubt Cuchillo's guilt, he is joined in his search by Brokston's son-in-law. When the two men trap Cuchillo in the desert, it becomes apparent to Corbett that the son-in-law is the real rapist-murderer and that Cuchillo was merely a witness to the crime. Forgetting his animosity toward the fugitive, Corbett allows the two men to attack each other. Cuchillo stabs his adversary in the forehead, and Corbett kills Brokston. Corbett and Cuchillo now part as friends.
Lee Van Cleef
Angel Del Pozo
Antonio Molino Rojo
The Big Gundown on Blu-ray
The Big Gundown (1966), Sollima's first spaghetti western, stars Lee Van Cleef in a rare heroic role as Jonathan Corbett, a dogged lawman without a badge who applies an unwavering sense of justice. Fresh off For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Van Cleef was an instant icon of the genre; the American posters even promoted the film with a reference to his Leone success: "Mr. Ugly is back." (Never mind that he was actually "the bad" man of the trio.) Sollima casts him as an unusual kind of hero who hunts down wanted men yet refuses to collect the bounty on their heads. His code is honorable (he literally hands a ragged band of outlaws a chance to go out shooting rather than face the rope) but unforgiving, an Old Testament angel as gunslinger passing judgment on the wanted men of his promised land of Texas. His lean features, windblown face, and hard, piercing eyes makes him stand out in the cast of Italian and European actors standing in for American settlers and Mexican peasants.
Brokston (Walter Barnes, another American import), a rapacious landowner and would-be railroad baron, wants to nominate Corbett for Texas Senator for his own ends. "I'm interested in Texas, not your personal profit," responds Corbett, who is more motivated by reports that a 12-year-old girl has been raped and murdered by a local Mexican named Chuchillo. When the local sheriff is too lazy to be bothered with a manhunt, he hits the trail alone while Brokston prepares the campaign for Senate, leveraging Corbett's quest as an election stunt.
Cuban-born Tomas Milian is Cuchillo, who gets his introduction in a scruffy desert camp dressed in course peasant clothes worn to rags, a dirty serape that looks like it was hacked out of a horse blanket with a dull knife, and simple sandals. He doesn't look much like a bandit let alone a brutal killer and master criminal. He's more con man and frontier rascal than hardened outlaw, as he proves in his clever getaway. If Van Cleef's Corbett is a humorless, unstoppable force, Milian's Cuchillo a wily, earthy trickster, a Bugs Bunny playing pranks on every escape along this merry chase through the southwest and across the border. He has a wicked sense of humor and an implacable survival instinct that gets a few unsavory types killed in the proverbial crossfire, most of them lured into harm's way by their own greed and guilt. In the corruption and cruelty of this world, that's just good clean dirty fun.
Sollima uses the landscape of Almeria, Spain, to create a spare, stripped-down portrait of the southwest frontier as a stark ocean of rock and sand, beautiful but hostile with the occasional oasis of dubious salvation (and a lovely prologue where death takes a band of outlaws in a wooded clearing standing in for Colorado), but he's not a stylist on the Sergio Leone level. Corbett and Cuchillo cross paths with a Mormon wagon train, a monastery, and an isolated ranch where the sexual pressure-cooker of a widowed owner and a crew of jealous ranch hands makes every visitor a target for their desires and frustrations, before tangling in a bordello and landing in a Mexican prison. But the episodes in this sun-blasted Odyssey through the desolate deserts of Texas and Mexico are petty tangles rather than operatic showdown, a bitter comedy where the jokes are on our childish desperado and stalwart tracker.
Most spaghetti westerns are built on the conflict between the rapacious figures of big business and political power and the common folk who stand in their way, figuratively or literally, with the mercenary gunmen becoming heroes merely by virtue of standing against the oppressors. The Big Gundown puts the power and the politics from and center and drops Corbett in the middle, a man with an unyielding sense of justice who slowly discovers that he's serving a corrupt master. Sollima and screenwriting partner Sergio Donati offer a pointedly political perspective of the corrupted American dream on the frontier in place of Leone's mythic approach or Corbucci's utterly mercenary take. Brokston's posse crosses the border like an invading army pillaging a local village in a treasure hunt where Cuchillo is the prize, a scapegoat for his latest scheme. Brokston's bodyguard, a German Baron with a mania for dueling, offers up the ideal of European culture (he plays Beethoven's "Für Elise" on the grand piano at one point) as nothing more than the claim of aristocratic privilege. His one desire on this American adventure is to hunt the only big game he has not yet faced: man. He recalls the Prussian officer, Captain Danette, played by Henry Brandon in Robert Aldrich's Vera Cruz, a film that in many ways was a template for the spaghetti western, but with an even more naked streak of cruelty and arrogance.
Whether the audiences noticed the politics is a fair question, especially in a genre as disreputable as the Italian western was in the 1960s, but politics was in the air in Italy as it was in film cultures everywhere and that kind of commentary was always easier to smuggle into pulp genres and violent films. But politics aside, it's one of the best spaghetti westerns of the genre. Van Cleef brings an ominous sense of stature to Corbett, a hero compromised by his blinkered perspective and obsessiveness, Milian practically bounds through the film as he makes Cuchillo an energetic, entertaining, unaccountably likeable jester, and the playful script is full of tangles and scrapes and clever twists on gunfights and showdowns. The icing on the cake is Ennio Morricone's score, which offers plenty of moods through its spare orchestrations and creatively weaves the piano line of Beethoven's "Für Elise" into the Baron's theme for his final showdown.
It's hard to believe that this film has never had a legitimate home video release in the U.S. until now. Grindhouse goes all out for its debut with a four-disc Blu-ray+DVD+CD Combo that features both the original English-language release version expanded with three additional scenes not seen in American release prints, and the complete Italian director's cut, which runs 15 minutes longer than the expanded American version (a complete list of cuts is listed in a DVD-ROM supplement on the DVD) and adds small but significant details to the film and adds to the complicated nature of the character of Corbett. The American version is mastered from a 2k digital restoration and these elements are used in the presentation of the Italian cut, which makes it relatively easy to spot the footage unique to this version (the drop in video quality is not dramatic but it is noticeable). Both version are presented on separate Blu-ray discs, with the DVD featuring the expanded American cut only. The final disc is a CD soundtrack with Ennio Morricone's score.
Also features interviews with director Sergio Sollima, co-writer Sergio Donati and star Tomas Milian, commentary by western film experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke, galleries of stills, trailers and TV spots, and a booklet with notes by Joyner and Gergely Hubai, who writes on the differences between the two cuts and on Morricone's score. The case features reversible art.
by Sean Axmaker
The Big Gundown on Blu-ray
Exteriors filmed in Spain. Released in 1968 in Italy as La resa dei conti; opened in Madrid in March 1968 as El halcón y la presa; running time: 107 min.
Released in United States 1966
Released in United States 1966