The Big Gundown (1966)

La Resa Dei Conti

poster for The Big Gundown

Ok, today it’s ‘The Big Gundown’ (1966), from the third Sergio of Italo-Westerns… Sergio Sollima. This is another one I had to get on eBay, because it’s not available in the U.S. As with many of these movies, often they are edited beyond belief when they make it to the U.S. I watched the ‘Franco Cleef’ restoration version. Apparently, Cleef took six different versions of this film, to edit it into a (mostly) English version that matches the Italian version, which is ten minutes longer. More on that in a minute.

This movie stars two of the biggest names in the genre - the hawk-eyed Lee Van Cleef (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Sabata, Death Rides a Horse and many others), and Tomas Milian (Companeros, Four of the Apocalypse, Django Kill! and many others).

three bullets

Although not a ‘Zapata Western’, it takes place around the time of the Mexican Revolution. Van Cleef is lawman/bounty hunter Jonathan Corbett, a quick shot who is hired by a wealthy capitalist named Brokston (Walter Barnes) to hunt down a Mexican peasant named Cuchillo (played by Milian) who has allegedly raped and murdered a 12 year old girl. Corbett pursues Chuchillo catching him and losing him several times over the course of the film, as he slowly starts to realize that something is not right. It turns out Cuchillo witnessed the said crime, committed by someone else that Brokston is covering up for. There’s a great knife vs. gun showdown at the end.

There was some great stuff in this film, and some not-so-great. The great - Van Cleef, of course. The man has some serious screen presence, regardless of the film’s quality, and he has made his share of bad ones. He’s definitely at the top of his game in this one. Tomas Milian, who usually has a knack for over-the-top overacting, plays it good as Cuchillo, much more subdued than usual. Even as the antagonist, he is very likeable, and the interplay between him and Van Cleef makes for a good screen partnership. The cinematography in this film is what makes it worth watching, whether it be the great camera angles, or the amazing landscapes. There are many who worked on this film that were also involved in the great Leone projects: Carlo Simi, Sergio Donati, Alberto Grimaldi, and of course, Ennio Morricone, who provides a fantastic score for the film. Milian would reprise the Chucillo role, albeit a bit more lighthearted, in Sollima's follow-up, Run Man Run.

The not-so-good: the script. The writing and dialogue is often simplistic to the point of ridiculous. It’s what kept this from being in the non-Leone top tier of the genre for me. Other than that, it’s definitely a visually striking film, to say the least.

Now, more about this ‘Franco Cleef’ restoration. As stated on the DVD, when this was released in the U.S., the editors did a horrible job, not only cutting out over 10 minutes, but by not bothering to even record English dialogue for the film in some parts, leaving out whole sentences (while you’d still see them talking on screen). What Cleef did was, using 6 different versions availble to him, put together an English version, and where there was missing dialogue, he either reconstructed it using other sounds from the film (quite flawlessly), or put back in the original Italian dialogue with English subtitles. Unfortunately, it makes it a bit strange to watch, especialy towards the beginning, when you’ll have a conversation going on where it switches back and forth between Italian and English several times. It does it less over the course of the film, but it was still a bit disjointed. Unfortunately, there was no English subtitle track if you just wanted to watch the all-Italian version. Cleef also replaced a lot of the music with versions from CD, so the music sounds fantastic. He did some serious cleaning up of the sound and the picture. The colors are quite vibrant, too, which makes the breathtaking scenery that much better to watch. There is also a Koch Media version out there, but I haven't seen it.

ADDENDUM: As I was moving things over from the old review site to the new, and have seen close to 30 spags since seeing The Big Gundown, I'd like to add that Sollima is definitely one of the better directors of the genre, with each of his three westerns showing more style and craft as they progressed. Face to Face is my favorite Sollima film, but in hindsight, The Big Gundown is most certainly one of the better films out there.

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