BR: Big Gundown, The / La resa dei conti (1968)

July 24, 2014 | By


BigGundown_BRFilm: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent / Extras: Perfect

Label: Grindhouse Releasing

Region: All

Released:  January 28, 2014

Genre:  Spaghetti Western

Synopsis: A gunslinger with political ambitions helps a railroad baron hunt down a child-killer.

Special Features:  

Disc 1 [Blu-ray] – 95 min. Expanded U.S. version: Audio Commentary by spaghetti western scholars C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke / Mono Isolated Music & Effects Track / 3 Interviews: director Sergio Sollima (29:01) + actor Tomas Milian (29:49) + screenwriter Sergio Donati (12:02) / Bonus interviews: director Sergio Sollima “Struggles Against the Genre (27:54) + 2005 screenwriter Sergio Donati:(11:53) / Still Galleries: Production + US / French / Italian release / 2 U.S. And 1 Italian Trailers + 5 TV Spots / Filmographies / PDF files.

Disc 2 [Blu-ray] – 110 min. Italian release version: Isolated Stereo Music Track / Music Commentary Subtitle Track / Grinhouse Releasing Trailers.

Disc 3: DVD of Disc 1.

Disc 4: Expanded Audio CD of Ennio Morricone’s score.

Plus: Colour booklet with liner notes / Reversible Sleeve A




Regarded by some as the greatest spaghetti western few have ever seen (genre connoisseurs excepted), Grindhouse Releasing’s 4-disc set is another landmark release featuring the original, rarely seen longer Italian cut, the shorter Columbia edit for the U.S. market augmented with 3 previously cut scenes, and a multitude of extras that should sate fans who wanted even more than what was offered in prior Region 2 DVD releases.

Directed with great style and dramatic acumen by Sergio Sollima, The Big Gundown took advantage of Lee van Cleef’s newfound star status after his own turn in Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More (1965), and top screenwriter Sergio Donati managed to filter Sollima’s own leftist politics from didactic exchanges to subtext that feel like natural critiques on greed, corruption, suppression and ego; the political stances are still applicable today, making Gundown both relevant and more accessible than its Hollywood counterparts.

In fact, as genre historians C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke clarify in their fact-packed commentary track on Disc1, there isn’t really any Hollywood equivalent, simply because the tradition of working in politics, social commentary, and anti-fascist statements into a western were native to European films, if not Italy’s own brand of westerns. The historians are quite right in regarding the look, sound, and edginess of Italy’s westerns as being influential and transformative of a genre which, in Hollywood’s hands, had become quite stale by the mid-sixties. (They also posit a logical conclusion that as westerns waned on TV, their rebirth in darker toned, feature films seemed a natural evolution, as filmmakers exploited the increased freedom – especially in Europe – to play with the genre and test limits in content and tone.)

Being made prior to Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1968), Gundown is filled with not only fresh dramatic twists, but a scope and budget that make Sollima’s film as slick and sophisticated as some of Hollywood’s best westerns. It’s also ahead of the many lesser spaghetti westerns which followed in the coming years, where filmmakers regurgitated tropes and reused locations built from scratch for Leone and Sollima’s respective films.

Gundown’s story is both sophisticated and very risqué: Corbett, a Civil War vet / gunslinger with Senatorial ambitions (Van Cleef) is charged with hunting down rapist / killer Cuchillo (Tomas Milian) but he soon finds his political benefactor, railroad baron Brokston (Walter Barnes), may be culpable in some wretched dealings.

Donati’s script contains a twist which shifts audience sympathies, and Milian takes what could have been a one-note caricature of a slimeball and turns him into a likeable wretch (although it is amusing to watch the actor sometimes veering into physical comedy, crouch / climbing / scurrying with simian mannerisms).

Sollima also filmed several dialogue scenes which opened up characters, making even villains more human, and revealing their machinations and reasoning instead of acting as cold-blooded genre archetypes. Most of the fine details were whittled down or removed in the American release version, and even with three restored scenes, there’s still odd music edits that affect Ennio Morricone’s gorgeous score.

The original Italian cut – running 15 mins. longer – is more substantive and satisfying, and the Italian dubbing of Italian, Spanish, and American actors is overall excellent. Historians Joyner and Parke single out areas in the U.S. cut where Columbia did their trimming, and describe the edits not as a hack job (which it wasn’t) but an attempt to tighten pacing and perhaps remove details that added to the mystique or greyness of certain characters. (Further details of the changes appear in the set’s fat booklet, plus a blow-by-blow account in a pair of .PDF files archived on both BR and DVD: an extension of Gergely Hubai’s booklet essay, and the second a memo outlining edits for the theatrical and U.S. TV versions.)

Also on Disc 1 is an isolated mono music & effects track, with Disc 2 featuring an isolated stereo score track, and Disc 4 a CD of the 25 track / 53 mins. expanded soundtrack album released by GDM / Legend in 2012. (The cue order flows from the non-chronological stereo soundtrack master to previously unreleased score and source music tracks, some in stereo and others slightly tweaked from their mono states.)

Morricone’s main theme is downplayed in the film’s first half until the ‘manhunt’ sequence, where Morricone brings together all the grunts and throaty effects with vocals, chorus, and a variety of percussion and a substantive amount of brass as weasel Cuchillo is chased by a posse through a cornfield. Once he bolts for the mountains, Morricone brings in a few rock elements – electric guitar and drums – that are more than reminiscent of his music for Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik, released the same year, and also featuring a title track sung by Christy.)

In the follow-up cue, his interpolation of a classical piece adds extra tension to the duel between Corbett and pompous German duelist Baron von Schulenberg (Gerard Herter), and there’s a gorgeous Mormon choral track that underscores the arrival of the religious settlers, passing through a less than content township early in the film.

In the commentary, Joyner and Parke point out several actors who would recur throughout westerns directed by Leone and other directors, including stunning (and often underrated) Nieves Navarro (often billed as Susan Scott), who plays the sadistic widow encountered by Cuchillo and Corbett, and who had previously appeared in the primordial spaghetti westerns A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo in 1965. (Navarro would also appear in Adios, Sabata before switching to giallo and erotic films in the seventies.)

Both edits of Gundown are presented in clean mono and stunning HD transfers, flattering the sumptuous compositions and fast yet elegant camera movements by Carlo Canini (Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis, Autopsy).

The bonus DVD featuring the expanded U.S. cut (Disc 3) replicates the extras on Disc 2. Fans will be delighted the interviews were curated from Koch and Blue Underground sources, and the bonus interviews expand on a few topics, including an hysterical recollection of bellicose Sergio Leone in an Easter Egg on Disc 2.

In their respective interviews, director Sollima reflects very smartly on the spaghetti western genre and the themes woven into Gundown, whereas Donati recalls his entry into film via Leone, collaborating with Sollima on Gundown and Face to Face (1967), and breaking away from further collaborations after the writer felt Sollima had become too reliant on didactic storytelling.

In his own interview segment, Tomas Milian recalls his career which began in NYC at the Actor’s Studio before migrating to Italy, where he starred in several ‘serious’ dramas before gaining fame in westerns and crime thrillers.

Disc 1 also includes a bevy of international trailers, TV spots, radio spots, and assorted publicity materials, and the fat booklet provides a great overview as to why Gundown is (quite rightly) a great film, and the peculiar reasons for the different edits and its release history. Like Grindhouse’s Corruption (1968) set, Gundown includes reversible sleeve art – another detail in one of the best special editions released this year.

Although Donati wouldn’t be involved with the follow-up film, both Sollima and Milian reunited for Run, Man, Run (1968), of which the trailer appears as an Easter Egg on Disc 1.

Sollima’s career included peplum, spy, western, and crime films, plus episodic TV, including the classic Sandokan (1976). Donati, whose writing career began with a trio of giallo novels and several uncredited scripting for Leone, has maintained a prolific career in multiple genres, including Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Orca (1977), Holocaust 2000 (1977), Man on Fire (1987), and later TV productions.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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