The Great Silence is a western shot in Italian by Sergio Corbucci (Django), but given the frozen snowy locale, one is hesitant to describe it as a “spaghetti western,” notwithstanding a typically evocative music score by Ennio Morricone.

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The Great Silence is a western shot in Italian by Sergio Corbucci (Django), but given the frozen snowy locale, one is hesitant to describe it as a "spaghetti western," notwithstanding a typically evocative music score by Ennio Morricone.

How about... gelato western.

Yet, the movie proves to be a bitter treat indeed, with a tale of a mute gunslinger known as "Silence" (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who makes a bloody living guarding a community of outlaws against the rapacious intrusions of merciless bounty hunters.

Chief among these "bounty killers" is the aptly named Loco, played by Klaus Kinski. In harvesting the miscellaneous poor souls who fall in his path, Loco shoots the husband of Pauline (Vonetta McGee), who duly swears vengeance. She entreats Silence to kill Loco. Unfortunately, Silence abides by strict noble-gunslinger rules. He does not shoot anyone who doesn’t draw first.

So, there ensues something of a standoff between the two, as Loco resolves to keep his cool. But even the intervention of a new and fundamentally decent sheriff (Frank Wolff) can’t prevent the inevitable showdown.

Originally released in 1968, The Great Silence is one of the inspirations for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, and not just because they both happen to feature music by Morricone. Tarantino clearly borrowed much from this film, including tension-filled stagecoach rides and the presence of lots of dead bodies handily frozen in snow to facilitate bounty collection.

More importantly, the films share a bracingly bleak worldview. In Tarantino’s movie, it wasn’t so much good guys versus bad guys as it was bad guys versus worse guys.

Trintignant is very much a good guy here, albeit in the Clint Eastwood tradition from Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy. It is a point of interest that, where Eastwood’s character was a man of few words, Trintignant utters no words whatsoever.

Truth be told, Kinski’s is a more interesting character, and the German actor has great fun with the role, making Loco soft-spoken and restrained, counter to his name.

But it’s the end of the movie that distinguishes The Great Silence from most — but not all — Italian westerns. It is simply, breathtakingly bleak. Released in 2018, at a time when Hollywood films so rarely opt for the downbeat ending, it feels positively exotic.

But of course, 1968 was kind of a banner year for downbeat movie endings: Planet of the Apes, Rosemary’s Baby, Night of the Living Dead, Hell in the Pacific, Madigan. They’re all films that might make you feel gobsmacked and shell-shocked when leaving the theatre.

Sigh. They just don’t make ’em like they used to.

randall.king@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
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In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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