Written by: Michael Den Boer on December 6th, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: Spain / Italy, 1966
Director: Sergio Sollima
Writers: Sergio Donati, Sergio Sollima, Tulio Demicheli, Fernando Morandi, Franco Solinas
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Tomas Milian, Luisa Rivelli, Fernando Sancho, Nieves Navarro
BluRay released: December 10th, 2013
Approximate running times: Running Time: 95 minutes (Expanded U.S. Cut), 110 minutes (Director’s Cut)
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English (Expanded U.S. Cut), Dolby Digital Mono Italian (Director’s Cut)
BluRay Release: Grindhouse Releasing
Region Coding: Region Free / NTSC
Retail Price: $39.95
Synopsis: John Corbett (Lee Van Cleef) is a bounty hunter and a gun for hire. A businessman named Brokston (Walter Barnes) hires Corbett to track down Cuchillo Sanchez (Tomas Milian) a Mexican peasant who is accused of raping and killing a twelve year old girl. Brokston the shrewd businessman he is uses Corbett’s ambition to become a politician by offering to fund Corbett’s political future if he captures Cuchillo. It doesn’t take long before Corbett finds Cuchillo only too lose him time and again due too Cuchillo’s trickery.
Lee Van Cleef takes everything he has learned working with Sergio Leone and incorporates these things into his role as Jonathan Corbett. The character is well defined and has a lot of depth due mostly in part to Van Cleef’s dead on portrayal of a thinking man’s bounty hunter who never becomes victim to a quick trigger finger. His role in The Big Gundown is similar in many ways to Clint Eastwood’s role in “The Man With no Name Trilogy” as he is a man who lets his actions do most of the talking. The Big Gundown is one of Lee Van Cleef’s defining roles as an actor.
Tomas Milian plays Cuchillo a Mexican bandito who is also a master knife thrower. Cuchillo has a knack for getting himself out of some slippery situations and his knife throwing skills help him time and again. Milian has made a career out of playing eccentric characters like Cuchillo who is many ways might just be the bastard cousin of Eli Wallach “Tuco” from the monumental spaghetti western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. An interesting scene that immediately comes to mind when I think of the Cuchillo character in the scene where he is forced into the ring with a wild bull that he is too trap with nothing but his bare hands to defend himself from the bull. It is this scene that perfectly captures the essence of the Cuchillo character and his fearlessness even against insurmountable odds.
Nieves Navarro (Death Walks at Midnight) know to most euro-cult fans as Susan Scott who starred in several key giallo’s during the early 1970’s stars in The Big Gundown as a widow who runs a ranch in the middle of nowhere. Her character is all about being in control and she uses her body to get the men on the ranch to do whatever she wants them to do. There is an interesting clash in the film when Cuchillo and Corbett both spurn the advances of this black widow like woman. Both men have other objectives that are more important to them then satisfying this women’s carnal lust. Cuchillo also uses her power over the men who work for her against her as he makes them jealous as Corbett is spending some quality one on one time with her while they have to wait outside and guard Cuchillo. Sex is prevalent them that runs through out the film as it is the main thread that holds the story together whether is be the widow’s sexual frustration or Cuchillo who is wanted for raping a twelve year old girl. Director Sergio Sollima handles this subject with grace and dignity as he never makes it salacious.
Spaghetti westerns are know for their use of beautiful landscapes and The Big Gundown is a movie that is always on the run as it moves from one picturesque local to another. The cat and mouse game between Corbett and Cuchillo is very effect and Sollima manages to build just enough tension with each near capture and escape.
The Big Gundown is an expertly crafted story that was co-scripted Sergio Donati who was a frequent collaborator of director Sergio Leone. Some of the feel of the story echoes Leone’s previous spaghetti westerns that were made before The Big Gundown. Overall despite being the most traditional of the three westerns that Sollima directed The Big Gundown is still easily one of the genre’s stronger efforts.
Disc one a (dual layer Blu-Ray) which contains the 95 extended U.S. cut of the film. This disc comes with two audio options, a DTS-HD mono mix in English and music & effects audio track.
Extras on this disc include a insightful audio commentary with C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke, five image galleries, three trailers, five T.V. spots, filmographies for Sergio Sollima, Thomas Milian and Sergio Donati and five interviews, the first interview is with director Sergio Sollima (29 minutes 2 seconds – anamorphic widescreen / 1.33:1 aspect ratio, in Italian with English subtitles), the second interview with actor Tomas Milian (29 minutes 48 seconds – anamorphic widescreen, in English), the third interview with screenwriter Sergio Donati (12 minutes 3 seconds – anamorphic widescreen, in Italian with English subtitles), the fourth interview with once again with Sergio Sollima (27 minutes 55 seconds – anamorphic widescreen, in Italian with English subtitles) and the fifth interview is a second interview with Sergio Donati (11 minutes 51 seconds – anamorphic widescreen, in Italian with English subtitles).
Disc two a (single layer Blu-Ray) which contains the 110 minute directors cut of the film. This disc comes with two audio options, a DTS-HD mono mix in English and a stereo track for Ennio Morricone’s score. Also included are two subtitles options, English and a music commentary track option in the form of subtitles. Rounding out the extras for this disc are trailers for other titles also available from Grindhouse Releasing.
This release offers up two versions of the film and both versions are presented in a 1080 Progressive that has been sourced from a brand new 2k digital restoration. Colors look nicely saturated and accurate, flesh tones look healthy, black and contrast levels look consistently great throughout. Details look crisp, especially close-up shots which often look razor sharp. The sourced used is in great shape, there are no issues with compression or edge enhancement. Overall this transfer is one of the best that I have seen to date for a Spaghetti western that has made its way to the Blu-Ray format.
On the audio front the audio mixes included with this release all sound clear, balanced and robust when they need too. And just like the transfer the audio mixes have been cleaned up and there are no issues with background noise or distortion.
Topics discussed by Tomas Milian include the actors’ studio, how he came to Italy for a play and left forty years later, his work within the Spaghetti western genre and various other films that he worked. Topics discussed by Sergio Donati include Sergio Sollima, The Big Gundown, how he got involved in screenwriting, Sergio Leone, film critics and Italian cinema. Topics discussed by Sergio Sollima include the Spaghetti western genre and how he got involved in the genre, The Big Gundown and Ennio Morricone.
Disc three a (dual layer DVD) that includes all of the contents that are present on disc one of this set.
Disc four is a CD that has Ennio Morricone’s score for the film. Music often plays an integral part in the Spaghetti western genre and the inclusion of Morricone’s score is a much welcome addition to this already stacked release.
Other extras include DVD-Rom contain which includes a text essay about the differences between the two versions of The Big Gundown and memo’s Columbia Pictures sent out in regards to the cut’s they wanted to make to U.S. release for the film. Rounding out the extras is a slipcover, a reversible cover art and a twenty four page booklet that contains four essays about the film and those involved in making it. Overall The Big Gundown gets exceptional release from Grindhouse Releasing that is sure to be at the top of most critics best of the year lists, highly recommended.