French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant stepped into the title role of what is considered by some to be the greatest spaghetti western of all time, Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence (a.k.a The Grand Silence). Trintignant stars as Silence, your typical spaghetti western avenger, only this time with a twist—his vocal chords have been cut out (hence the name Silence—get it?). The action takes place in and around a bleak, snow covered mountain town that happens to be the hunting ground for a gang of sinister bounty hunters lead by Tigero—or Loco, depending on which version you see—played to psychotic perfection by Klaus “I had sex with my mother” Kinski. These “officers of the law” prey on the outlaws that live in the surrounding region, setting up a clear role reversal that totally subverts the tradition western archetypes of good guys and bad guys. Silence joins sides with the outlaws to protect them from the merciless bounty hunters. But since the outlaws are technically the criminals, and the murderous bounty hunters are technically the law, there seems to be little hope in this brutal deconstruction of traditional storytelling conventions. The film ends on an incredibly grim note as the “good guys” gun down the hero.
The Great Silence is one of only a select few spaghetti westerns that I have watched multiple times, obsessively studying and analyzing it. Over the years, I have begun to see that this is in fact the best film directed by a man responsible for some of the greatest movies in the spaghetti western genre. Django and Compañeros are certainly classics in their own right, but The Great Silence surpasses those films on many levels, just as it surpasses pretty much every film within the genre—except for maybe Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. That said, the film is not an easy pill for some people to swallow. The first time I watched The Great Silence it left me a feeling somewhere between depressed-as-hell, and sick-to-my-stomach. Corbucci pulls no punches with this one, and he delivers those punches full-force with his cynical view of the world.
The Great Silencedoes much more than turn the genre on its head, replacing the typical dusty, desert locations of so many other spaghettis with a snow-covered wasteland, or literally silencing his hero, who represents the oppressed masses. No, The Great Silence is a decimation of all the sacred conventions of traditional westerns, and Eurocentric folklore with its notions of good and evil, seemingly inspired by Arthur Penn’s convention-defying Bonnie and Clyde. And even then, there is more to the film. This is, more than anything, an attack on a society that is so corrupt that the keepers of law and order are the villains. Corbucci’s Marxist-esque message is quite simple: the law serves only to protect the rich and powerful—the bourgeois class of morally corrupt elitist. If you are part of the Proletariat—the poor and disenfranchised—justice and quality are beyond your grasp; and you are likely to become a victim of the system designed to “protect and serve.” This message results is one of the most depressing and politically profound endings in film history.
Read this review and others in BadAzz MoFo’s Book of SPAGHETTI WESTERNS.