Written by: Michael Den Boer on August 7th, 2005
Theatrical Release Dates: Italy, 1966, 1967 & 1968
Director: Sergio Sollima
Writers: Sergio Sollima, Sergio Donati, Pompeo De Angelis
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Tomas Milian, Nieves Navarro, Gian Maria Volonté, William Berger, Donald O’Brien, John Ireland, Luciano Rossi, José Torres
DVD Released: March 31st, 2005
Approximate Running Time: 107 minutes (The Big Gundown), 107 minutes (Face to Face), 121 minutes (Run Man Run)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: FSK 16
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono Italian, Dolby Digital German (All Three Films)
Subtitles: English, German (All Three Films)
DVD Release: Koch Media
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL (Germany)
Retail Price: $74.95
Sergio Sollima might as well be know as the other Sergio since his films never received that wide release and acclaim that two of his contemporaries Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci. Sollima made his first western The Big Gundown at the height of the Spaghetti western genre and he would direct his third and final western Run Man Run a few years later as the genre started its long agonizing demise. Lee Van Cleef had all but given up on acting before he agreed to due the role of Col. Douglas Mortimer in Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More. The Big Gundown would mark the first time he worked in a spaghetti western not directed by Sergio Leone.
The Big Gundown: 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.
Face to Face: Professor Brad Fletcher (Gian Maria Volonté) is leaving his job as a teacher and heading out west due to his poor health. Now in Texas Professor Fletcher crosses paths with fugitive Solomon ‘Beauregard’ Bennet (Tomas Milian) who takes him hostage. During the getaway Beauregard is injured and Professor Fletcher helps nurse him back to health. The two men form a bound and instead of going back home Professor Fletcher decides that he would like to join Beauregard’s gang “Bennet’s Raiders”.
Even though Tomas Milian returns for Face To Face this movie is not connected to Sollima’s The Big Gundown. Milian this time around plays the cold hearted thief and killer Solomon ‘Beauregard’ Bennet. While the Cuchillo character would only kill to protect himself the Beauregard character is a direct opposite who will do anything he has to survive. Overall this is another fine performance from Milian, but unfortunately it is overshadowed by Gian Maria Volonté brilliant transformation as Professor Brad Fletcher. Volonte who is often cast as villains or in roles of imposing individuals gets to play a character that is actually closer to his real life personality. Volonte is most remembered for his roles in A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Milian and Volonte make prefect foes for each other as the two characters that couldn’t be more night and day transform into what the other used to be. It is Volonte’s transformation that I found the most disturbing as he fully embodies the character he has created. One scene in particular involves Professor Fletcher who has become infatuated with a young woman named Maria who also happens to be one of the other men in Beauregard’s gang woman. Professor Fletcher is left behind while the rest of the gang go do a job and it while the other are away that he stumbles upon Maria who has just finished bathing in the river. He is overcome with desire as he chases her down and rapes her. It is at preciously this moment that we are introduced to the beast that used to be Professor Fletcher. Professor Fletcher who was once weak and frail now gains his thrill for life from the power he commands when he assumes control of Beauregard’s former gang.
Sergio Sollima expands his wings as a director with Face to Face as he enhances themes and visuals that he had original explored in The Big Gundown. The show piece of the whole is the bank robbery sequence in which every thing appears to fall in place perfectly until a young Mexican boy recognizes Beauregard which sets forth a fury of gun fire that ultimately kills most of the robbers and the young Mexican boy. What is most interesting about this scene is that instead of trying to escape or help his amigo’s he is most concerned about the young Mexican boy whose lifeless body lays’ in his arms. It is this moment of clarity in which Tomas Milian gives the strongest performance of his career as he mourns for the loss of this child. Overall Face To Face is the best of the three spaghetti westerns that Sergio Sollima directed.
Run Man Run: Cuchillo (Tomas Milian) is always down on his luck and after winning a sizable sum of money his is wrongfully arrested. While in jail Cuchillo meets Ramirez (Jose Torres) a Mexican revolutionary who years before secretly hide a $3,000,000 fortune. Ramirez has several men who want to know the whereabouts of his fortune like Cassidy (Donald O’Brien) a former sheriff, French secret agents Michel (Marco Guglielmi) & Jean-Paul (Luciano Rossi) and a gang of Mexican banditos. Ramirez on his death bed tells Cuchillo the location of the $3,000,000 and it doesn’t take long before Cuchillo becomes the next target as everyone jockeys for position in their quest fro the gold.
In Run Man Run Tomas Milian reprises the role of Cuchillo who he had previously played in The Big Gundown. It is almost like he had never stepped out the Cuchillo’s shoes as he never misses a beat and this time around even makes the character more endearing. Run Man Run is clearly Tomas Milian’s show as he steals just about every scene that he is in. My favorite moment with Cuchillo in Run Man Run would have to be the scene when the two French agents tie Cuchillo up to the windmill and torture him. Even in moments of despair like this one Cuchillo is always able to worm his way out with nothing more then a few cuts and bruises. Donald O’Brien stars Cassidy a former sheriff who is in search of his pot o gold. I have never really been a fan of Donald O’Brien whose acting always felt wooden and in Run Man Run he once again seems to be doing things by the numbers in an uninspired way. Playing one of the two French agents is brilliant character actor Luciano Rossi who made a career playing some of skuzziest characters. Even though Rossi’s screen time in minimal his is always a delight to watch.
Sergio Sollima goes out in epic fashion with his final spaghetti western Run Man Run as each location and action set piece top the next right up to the delirious conclusion. Run Man Run is an unofficial sequel to Sollima’s as both films include the Cuchillo character. Run Man Run is the most political of Sollima’s spaghetti westerns and overall it lacks the depth of Sollima’s pervious film Face to Face, still the film is a lot fun. Over the course of these three films Sergio Sollima’s direction improves drastically with his most refined work being Run Man Run. It is a shame that he abandon the spaghetti western just as he was hitting his stride creatively. Of course if would be criminal not to mention the contribution of composer Ennio Morricone who crafted three unique and brilliant films scores that rival his work in “The man With no Name” series.
The Big Gundown is presented in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The colors are nicely saturated as they remain lucid through out. Flesh tones look natural through out and grain is kept to a minimum. The black levels look very good for this release especially during daytime or lighter scenes. The image isn’t as sharp during darker or nighttime scenes. Close ups and medium range shots offer an exceptional amount of detail while I found some of the wider angle shots to be a little to soft at times. Print damage is minimal as it is limited so minor instances of specs of dirt. Overall this transfer is free of artifacts or compression problems and edge enhancement is kept to a minimum. Koch’s transfer for The Big Gundown is the best looking English language version currently available on DVD. Face To Face is presented in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The colors are in great shape as they look vivid through out. Flesh tones look healthy and grain is kept to a minimum. The black levels remain constant as there is an exceptional amount of detail present in every frame. The image during darker or nighttime is solid as objects and individuals are easy to make out. Close ups and medium range shots have some noticeable edge enhancement. The edge enhancement present on this release is very minor and never becomes distracting or gets in the way of enjoying the filming. Print damage is minimal as it is limited a couple scratches or specs of dirt. There are no problems with artifacts or compression. Overall this transfer is the best looking of the three included in this set. Run Man Run is presented in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This is the most colorful of the three transfers and flesh tones also look dead on. The Black levels are strong and details look sharp through out. There are no problems with artifacts or compression and edge enhancement is minor. This transfer looks like it was transferred from a NTSC source and most likely Blue Underground’s region 1 Run Man Run DVD, because there is some noticeable ghosting that is most evident during scenes involving movement and action. Overall Run Man Run offers the sharpest image and the most colorful of the three films included in this set.
The Big Gundown comes with two audio options the films original Italian language track and a German dubbed language track. Both tracks are presented in a Dolby Digital mono and for this review I listed to the Italian language track. The audio has a muffled distorted effect to it that at times becomes annoying. The effects and music sometimes overpower each other instead of complementing each other with a more evenly balanced mix. The dialog sounds thin at times, still it is always easy to follow and understand. Despites these set backs the audio is free of any other sounds defects like crackling or hissing. The German track is in better shape of the two audio tracks provided for this release. Two subtitle options German and English have been included for this release. The English subtitles are easy to follow and understand. Face To Face comes with two audio options the films original Italian language track and a German dubbed language track. Both tracks are presented in a Dolby Digital mono and for this review I listed to the Italian language track. The effects and music sound evenly mixed as the dialog sounds crisp and always to understand. There are no problems with hiss or distortion and the audio mix for this release is the best sounding of the three included. Two subtitle options German and English have been included for this release. The English subtitles are easy to follow and understand. Run Man Run comes with two audio options the films original Italian language track and a German dubbed language track. Both tracks are presented in a Dolby Digital mono and for this review I listed to the Italian language track. The dialog sound razor sharp and the action sounds’ robust through out. The effects and music sound evenly mixed. There are no problems with hiss or distortion. Overall Run Man Run is about on par with the audio mix for Face To Face. Two subtitle options German and English have been included for this release. The English subtitles are easy to follow and understand.
Each of the four films comes with the original Kino trailer for each of the films and they are all in German with no English subtitles. The bulk of extras included for this set are included on a fourth DVD. The main extra on this DVD is a fifty six minute interview/documentary with director Sergio Sollima who discusses a wide range of subjects including the films he worked on and the actors he worked with as well as Sergio Leone, Ennio Morricone and Akira Kurasawa. Unfortunalety this extra is in Italian and has only been given German subtitles. The remaining extras are broken down into three sections one for each film. Extras for The Big Gundown include a brief two minute segment that shows locations used in the film how they look then and now. Other extras include a gallery of posters and lobby cards that play’s like a featurette as music from the film plays in the background. Rounding out the extras is a section that includes the U.S. trailer, Italian trailer, the original German trailer & its re-mastered version, the original International trailer & its re-mastered version and an alternate U.S. opening credits sequence. Extras for Face To Face include a brief two minute segment that shows locations used in the film how they look then and now. Other extras include a gallery of posters and lobby cards that play’s like a featurette as music from the film plays in the background. There is also a segment devoted the comic book version of the film that was made in Germany and music from the film accompanies clips from the book. Also included are two sixteen minute segments of the film on 8mm in black & white that are framed at about 1.66:1 instead of the films original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. These two 8mm segments are also in German only with no English options. Rounding out the extras is a section that includes the U.S. trailer, German trailer, a trailer without any text less and an alternate opening credits sequences including the opening German credits with & without text as well as the opening U.S. credit sequence. Extras for Run Man Run include a brief two minute segment that shows locations used in the film how they look then and now. Other extras include a gallery of posters and lobby cards that play’s like a featurette as music from the film plays in the background. Rounding out the extras is a section that includes the U.S. trailer, German trailer and the opening U.S. credit sequence. Also included on the bound fourth DVD is a collection of trailers for spaghetti western titles also available from Koch.
The Sergio Sollima Italo-Western box set is housed in a slip case that holds a digi-pack case that holds the three movies and the bonus DVD. A thirty two page booklet that gives an overview of the films and the various cut that befallen these three titles through the years. The text for this booklet is in German only. Also included as part of this package is a 252 page hardback book “Leichen Pflastern Ihren Weg: Italo-Western Lexicon” that is about the size of a DVD case. The first part of the book is an interview with Sergio Sollima who was interviewed by Mario Marsili. The remaining 230 pages contain synopsis and technical credits for hundreds of spaghetti westerns. The book in printed on high quality paper and it contains hundreds of rare film posters and lobby cards in color. The book ends with a glossary that lists original and alternative titles for the films included in this book. Even though all the text is in German it is an extremely informative and valuable resource that every spaghetti western fan should own. Koch’s Sergio Sollima – Italo-Western Box Set collects for the first time ever Sollima’s three westerns The Big Gundown, Face to Face & Run Man Run in their original aspect ratio and uncut with English subtitles. Pervious releases of The Big Gundown have been cut by twenty or more minutes while the other two films in recent years have fared better with Face To Face being released uncut in Japan and Run Man Run being released uncut in the U.S. by Blue Underground. This set is beautifully packaged and all three films are essential viewing for anyone who has any interest in the spaghetti western genre, Highly Recommended.
The Big Gundown Koch’s Region 2 DVD
Face To Face Koch’s Region 2 DVD
Run Man Run Koch’s Region 2 DVD