This bleak Spaghetti western from 1968 ranks among Corbuccis’ finest and yet, it is also one of his most controversial in which evil triumphs over good in a truly shattering finale. Klaus Kinski is perfectly cast as a ruthless bounty hunter trying to track down several persecuted outlaws hiding in a snow-swept landscape. Meanwhile, Jean-Louis Trintignant as mute gunslinger Silenzio has his own agenda in siding with the outlaws and for getting even with the bounty hunters…

After a violent start set amid an icy landscape in which Silenzio (Trintignant) shoots down some trigger-happy individuals we’re initially left in the dark as to who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, especially because minutes later another shootout follows and this time round it’s another group of cowboys who kill one of the individuals who ambushed Silenzio. Things soon became clearer after it emerges that the little frontier town of Snow Hill – the year is 1898 by the way – is pretty much cut off thanks to a blizzard and louse Henry Pollicut (Luigi Pistilli) takes advantage of the situation by declaring some of the local residents as outlaws simply because they are reduced to stealing food in order to feed their families and survive. Pollicut even goes so far as to place a price on the head of each wanted man which in turn attracts a particularly nasty piece of work called Loco (Kinski) and his not so merry men of bounty hunters. When one of the wanted outlaws, Middleton, decides to leave the hideout to return to his young wife Pauline (Vonetta McGee in her screen debut) it doesn’t take long for the bounty hunters to track him down and shoot him dead. Oh, and claiming the reward of course!

While all this is going on the newly appointed and somewhat clumsy Sheriff of Snow Hill, Gideon Burnett (Frank Wolff), is on his way to town in order to take up his new post when some of the outlaws in hiding steal his poor horse, if only for food! Aimlessly stomping about in the snow he is finally rescued by a passing stagecoach travelling to Snow Hill, how’s about that for some luck? Also in the coach are Silenzio and Loco, the latter traveling to Snow Hill to take up negotiations with Pollicut, naturally. When freshly widowed Pauline hears of the arrival of the mute and mysterious gunslinger she approaches him with the proposal of hunting down and killing the murderers of her husband for a big reward – as it later turns out, Pollicut had simply put a reward on Middleton’s head because he fancies Pauline – fat chance! When Silenzio enters the saloon in order to provoke Loco he is instead beaten savagely by the ruthless bounty hunter and the only reason why Silenzio isn’t beaten to a pulp altogether is due to Burnett’s intervention who puts Loco under arrest and plans to take him to a prison in Nevada. It is a decision which Burnett will come to regret…
Pauline takes in the wounded Silenzio to her home and a romance ensues. In a flashback scene going back to his childhood we discover why Silenzio is mute and why – as an adult and expert marksman – he’s now after Pollicut, Loco and the rest of the bounty hunters. Soon, the dirt piles up sky-high in more ways than just one and the same goes for the body count. The finale (which we won’t give away altogether) is unexpected and shocking because the baddies literally get away with murder – there are no heroes or winners here!
The producers forced Corbucci to film two alternate endings (both end on a more positive note) in order to keep cinemagoers happy when the snow-themed western was released around Christmas time. However, it is the original ending which was shown in Europe and presumably in the United States as well – as an allegory on the corruption of the human mind only this ending works.
Jean-Louis Trintignant delivers a truly outstanding performance as the mute gunslinger on a mission, all the more impressive as Westerns weren’t his usual forte. Klaus Kinski of course is near perfect as a bounty killer without a shred of humanity and Kinski, an unpredictable psychopath off screen as much as on screen – gives one of his best performances in a Western. Interestingly, his character’s name Loco only appears in the English-language version. In the original Italian version his character is called Tigrero (Little Tiger) which is much more suited to his temper.
The film’s bleak theme is counterbalanced by a suitably atmospheric score, courtesy of Ennio Morricone, while Silvano Ippoliti’s magnificent cinematography captures a real sense of the threat and danger the frozen landscape throws at those unlucky enough to encounter it.

IL GRANDE SILENZIO (THE GREAT SILENCE) is released on Blu-ray an in a glorious 2K restoration for the first time in the UK. The Limited Edition set (3000 copies only) features slipcase, reversible poster and a set of lobby cards. Bonus material on the Blu-ray is manifold and includes various audio options, audio commentaries, alternative endings, Alex Cox on Corbucci, Interview with Italo-Western expert Austin fisher, Western Italian Style – docu from 1968, trailers, stills galleries and collector’s booklet.