The Big Gundown - 4 Disc Collector's Edition Blu Ray/DVD Review
Following the decline of the popular peplum (sword and sandals movies), the international success of Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy kicked off another new rage in popular Italian genre cinema: the Western. One of the many journeymen directors to follow Leone's lead was Sergio Sollima who had previously worked in the spy genre. His 1966 masterpiece The Big Gundown was his very first entry into the territory of wild west storytelling. What clearly separated Sollima from the rest was a more political minded aim. From the outset, he had a message he wanted to convey within the Western stories he told. A lifelong fan of these films since his childhood, Sollima deeply respected them and instead of treating his work as mindless pulpy action adventures there was something more he wanted to bring to them which makes his productions particularly important.
Actor Lee Van Cleef was a veteran of American Westerns and TV shows but usually cast in supporting roles. Yet in Italy following his work under Sergio Leone he became a massive icon and star. In The Big Gundown he plays Jonathan Corbett, a wily, lightning fast on the draw bounty hunter. When we first meet him he is waiting for three outlaws who don't realize they've ridden right into his trap. As one of their pals swings from a noose nearby, Corbett announces he isn't the man they expect but the very bounty hunter who is supposed to be behind them on the trail. After dispatching all three in a Mexican standoff, Corbett is invited to a gathering at the home of Mr. Brokston (Walter Barnes) a rich industrialist. While enjoying the festivities, he's approached by Brokston who suggests that he run for the Senate and also join him in his endeavors taking over The West and constructing a new railroad system. Corbett has no reason to relent and accepts Brokstons generous offer right away. Soon after the agreement, two men arrive at Brokston's home with shocking news that a 12 year old girl has been raped and killed by a dangerous bandito named Cuchillo "The Knife" Sanchez (Tomas Milian). Brokston hears this and knows just what to do. He gives Corbett an official tin badge and hires him to get Cuchillo since he's an expert on such matters. With no questions asked, Corbett quickly jumps into action and sets off to find the scoundrel.
His hunt begins in a small village where Cuchillo is resting but due to an error he loses him and manages to only grab a lookalike. He next discovers Cuchillo bathing at a small pond with a 14 year old girl. With what Corbett already knows about his past dirty deeds this just enrages him even more. He confronts the bandit but doesn't expect the young girl to shoot him in the back assuming he is a robber. This gives Cuchillo enough time to escape and he arrives at the ranch of a beautiful young widow (Nieves Navarro) who lives with a gang of brutish cowhands. Cuchillo inquires about some food and work and manages to help get an angry bull into the farm's pen to show what he is capable of. His reward for this task is the widow's arousing affections but immediately afterwards he's sadistically whipped by her thugs. Cuchillo finds himself stuck in The Black Widow's twisted web. Luckily, Corbett arrives not long after and indirectly saves him. Once again, through his cunning, Cuchillo gets free from the situation and Corbett is left in a blazing shootout with the widow's men.
As Corbett continues to follow and learn more about Cuchillo riding through the sunny deserts, Mexican border towns and on treacherous trails, he slowly begins to suspect something isnt quite right with the seemingly straight forward mission Brokston sent him on. His many years as a bounty hunter have taught him to be an observant detective as well as a super fast gunslinger. He can see that while Cuchillo may be a rebellious rascal he also could be on the run since he's not truly guilty of the heinous crime he was accused of. In addition, Corbett may just be the pawn in a shady game of life and death that the young knife throwing outlaw has been attached to without any prior knowledge.
While Van Cleef is excellent as the steely eyed, staunchly determined Corbett, the film really belongs to the daring and entertaining thespian Tomas Milian whose colorful, expressive performance as Cuchillo is anything but the standard. Milian's way of bringing a plethora of humor, charm and wit to what on the page would be just another "Mexican bandit", is what gives the film so much energy and life. A detail that gives Cuchillo an even more unique status in the movie is his expertise with knives. He is not the usual skilled sharpshooter like most other popular characters we've seen in the genre.
It was important to Sergio Sollima that he tell a classic tale of a rich corrupt politician vs. a poor misunderstood peasant/scapegoat within an action-adventure story. It was his way of addressing the age old subject that he being Italian knew quite well living under the dictatorship of Mussolini during World War II. This film would share more with Leone's opus Once Upon A Time in The West than the Eastwood pictures. Each focus on the modernizing of the West and the corrupt, rich businessmen that manipulated and used the poor which has always been part of society and politics in general.
Today The Big Gundown falls into the category of an overlooked cult classic for most but longtime fans of the Spaghetti Western genre regard it as a well known essential that belongs right up at the top of the list with the films of Leone and Corbucci (Django). It features one of the coolest opening intros (rivaling The Good The Bad and The Ugly) amazingly beautiful, bold cinematography by Carlo Carlini and the set costumes and production design by Carlo Simi are truly spectacular. Many of the buildings and sets seen in the movie are still standing today almost 50 years later. The supporting cast including Walter Barnes (High Plains Drifter), Fernando Sancho (Minnesota Clay, Sartana) and Antonio Casas (The Good the Bad and the Ugly) round out the excellent production with solid performances.
The Big Gundown is easily one of the best Italian Westerns ever made due to its tightly directed/staged scenes, a genius score by Il Maestro Ennio Morricone featuring the booming title song sung by Christy (Danger Diabolik, OK Connery) and an idea that goes above and beyond the usual genre tales. Thanks to Grindhouse Releasing, film enthusiasts and Spaghetti Western fans alike can now appreciate the movie in all its magnificence.
BONUS! ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK CD - 25 Tracks Included.
LINER NOTES by C. Courtney Joyner & Gergely Hubai
Blu Ray Review
Picture: Presented in (2:40:1) - The new 2K Digital High Definition Restoration is gorgeously vibrant with bright colors, deep dark contrasts and no artifacts. The image sparkles as if it was freshly developed in a lab yesterday. A simply stunning presentation of this late 60s Italian Western classic. A++
Audio: 95 Min Cut: DTS 2.0 MONO - English /Music and Effects Only Track | 110 Min Cut: DTS 2.0 Italian /Morricone Score in STEREO.
Subtitles: English (on 110 Min Cut/Music Commentary)
SPECIAL FEATURES (spanning 2 Discs)
Grindhouse Releasing has included a restored 110 Minute Italian Language version of The Big Gundown that features scenes not previously seen before. These lost pieces of information ultimately help broaden the stories overall impact and give various characters more screentime. By using the Music Commentary Track on the 110 Min. Italian Language Disc you will be given details on the amazing score by Ennio Morricone as well as each of the uncut and extended scenes.
Audio Commentary with Western Film experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke - An in depth discussion on all the angles and history of The Big Gundown with two avid genre scholars. Fans and newcomers will learn all the ins and outs of this Spaghetti Western classic.
PRODUCTION STILLS (US, Italian, Various Countries)
2 US TRAILERS, ITALIAN TRAILER
5 TV SPOTS
Sergio Sollima: Remembers The Big Gundown and Struggles Against Genre - The lauded Italian director gives two lively, frank interviews explaining his directorial career and time working on The Big Gundown. One of the main points he focuses on has to do with the term “Spaghetti Western” which he considers a slight against the more serious “Westerns All'Italiana” he believes his films belong to. A controversial and intriguing position on the genre that will ruffle some feathers.
Tomas Milian: Acting on Instinct - A graduate of New York City’s The Actors Studio, the Cuban born Milian developed a very popular following through his acting in Italian Westerns (Tepepa, Companeros) and Polizios (Emergency Squad, Cop in Blue Jeans) throughout the 60s and 70s. In more recent years he co-starred in films like Steven Soderbergh's Traffic (2000) and Andy Garcia's The Lost City (2005). He is a precursor to modern actors like Johnny Depp who use free improvisation and unusual inspirations to create the characters they become. Milian is very much an unsung hero of his generation's cinema that needs more appreciation. Thanks to this release, fans can see him talk about his life as a actor, the special points of view on his art with the same heartfelt exuberance he brought to all his films. Like Sollima, Milian also addresses his disdain for the term "Spaghetti Western" since he takes the films seriously not as merely cheap knockoffs.
Sergio Donati - Tagliatelle in Los Angeles & A Bonus Interview - The prolific writer who worked on such genre classics as For A Few Dollars More, The Good The Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon A Time in the West gets two candid interviews where he speaks about the differences of working with various producers including Dino DeLaurentiis, Carlo Ponti and Albert Grimaldi. He also explains his formative years in Italian cinema, the radical changes within the country’s once booming movie industry and the goals he and Sergio Sollima set out to accomplish with their first collaboration on The Big Gundown.
FINAL WORD: When it comes to classic international cult cinema Grindhouse Releasing always does an exceptional job. They take the films they've acquired very seriously for the many film fans that expect the very best. Other home video companies should seriously take notes and follow suit because this is how its supposed to be done! The Big Gundown is the latest gift Grindhouse Releasing/Box Office Spectaculars have presented to movie lovers. We just want to thank them for their efforts and highly recommend purchasing both this and all their other products as well. (they’re perfect for Xmas gifts!).
Reviewed by Pete R. - 12/9/13
(Special Thanks to Bob Murawski at Grindhouse Releasing)