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The Weekend Western: The Big Gundown December 9, 2007

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Westerns , 1 comment so far

When a Mexican peasant is accused of the rape and murder of a 12 year old girl, Brokston, a powerful businessman, sends Jonathan Corbett after him. Corbett is an ex-lawman with political ambitions and Brokston has offered to aid him in becoming senator.

There’s a lot more to Sergio Sollima’s first spaghetti western than the usual revenge and/or greed motivations favoured by the genre. Political corruption and the ability of men of wealth and power to buy the law rather than be governed by it, with social status not evidence deciding who is guilty, all adds depth to this action packed western.

The film stars Lee Van Cleef as Jonathan Corbett, a fictional character who shares the same sort of legendary status as Davy Crockett. Swapping one Sergio for another, Van Cleef gets to show a little more humanity than he does in Leone’s films, with Corbett a more traditional hero type than anyone in Leone’s west.

Tomas Milian makes his first appearance as the Mexican fugitive Cuchillo, a part he would return to two years later in Sollima’s Run, Man, Run. Milian’s highly animated acting style suits the character, whose mouth is almost as quick as his wits. It feels like Sollima had a soft spot for the character and its not surprising that it was Cuchillo he decided to return to for the sequel.

The plot may be a little more developed than usual but it doesn’t take anything away from the action. Right from the first scene, where Corbett confronts some outlaws, Sollima shows he knows how to orchestrate an exciting action sequence. There’s a terrific panning shot just before the gunplay starts that allows the viewer to see what Corbett sees but the bandits can’t, namely a corpse hanging from a tree. It’s the first of several top notch shootouts, each one better that the last, culminating in a chase sequence that leads to three gunfights (well one’s a gun vs. knife fight) which bring the film to a memorable conclusion.

Along with Van Cleef, Milian and Sollima there’s another person who’s instrumental (pun intended) to the films success. I’m talking about the maestro himself, Ennio Morricone, who gives the film an epic feel as well as a catchy theme song. Morricone’s music compliments Carlo Carlini’s cinematography, showing the majesty of the western landscape as well as the pettiness of the humans who cross it.

The version I watched was the English language cut featured on the Japanese DVD. There is some pretty choppy editing at times and while it doesn’t render the film incomprehensible it did leave me wanting to see the longer cut that’s featured on the German DVD release as part of a Sollima box set that also includes Run, Man, Run and Face to Face. I’d almost always opt for the longer cut of a film but was put off by the lack of English audio on the German DVD, it just didn’t seem right to have Lee Van Cleef speaking Italian but I’ll probably pick it up now out of curiosity and a desire to see Face to Face, the only Sollima western I’ve yet to watch.

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