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It seems oddly fitting for the cold season that I decided to look into one of the lesser known (but no less praised than any Sergio Leone film) Spaghetti Westerns, The Great Silence. Though I know it only from the trailers for the most recently released 4K restoration, I was intrigued just by seeing the images of ultra violence and the frozen landscape that breathes loneliness into the film’s setting and atmosphere.
Watching these trailers, however, makes me realize that despite the heavy influence Leone played upon Quentin Tarantino, The Great Silence‘s director Sergio Corbucci was obviously the puppeteer secretly pulling the strings inside Tarantino’s head when he started to make movies. Corbucci’s work on the Django films was nothing short of spectacular, with Tarantino’s decision to basically make a sequel to said movies saying a lot about the power Corbucci had upon the Pulp Fiction director’s subconscious. That’s not even half of what makes the movie worthwhile as a film to see though. With its grounded influence from what was happening in the world at the time, particularly the death of revolutionaries like Malcolm X and Che, The Great Silence appears to offer a promising take on the corruption and capitalism destroying anything worthwhile instead of giving power back to the people and destroying the evil that lives within the hearts of greedy men.
The film also fills a gap in my perspective of what was missing from Western films around the time. It has a dark tone that sets humanity up to be attacked and bruised with grim realism, with blood and guts spilling from wounds and bullets flying across the screen when the gun fights erupt between the characters. What strikes me as a strange set up within the movie though is the way the main character, Silence, has to wait for those he hunts down to shoot first before he draws his guns and executes his kills. He also provokes most of the folks he is hunting down and trying his best to keep the law off his back, even though he is simply taking out bounty killers for folks who want revenge for their family members who died at the hand of these same killers. Silence also has others explain on his behalf that the reason why he even waits for someone to shoot is to be able to claim self defense (though I’m not sure if if you could provoke someone to shoot first and be found entirely free of guilt event back then). Still, it’s interesting to see how he intimidates those he chases down by doing nothing and saying nothing.
As I gather more from some of the reviews and other international trailers, it becomes clearer to me that The Great Silence is a sort of remake of Yojimbo (not unlike Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars), with a silent yet noble hero making his way through the world just trying to make ends meet while still somehow doing right by those who hire him to avenge their loved ones. Knowing about these parallels gives me hope that the movie will be stunning in its storytelling since it apparently borrows influence from one of Japan’s greatest storytellers, Akira Kurosawa. The fact that A Fistful of Dollars was also made around the same time breaks a lot of ground for me as well. Two different directors in the same genre taking source material they both loved and creating two very similar but dramatically different stories pushes me to see the movie even more. It’d be interesting to pinpoint the various differences between the two movies in their unique retellings of Kurosawa’s classic.
While my final thoughts will probably come boiling down to which film is the better adaptation, I don’t think I’m gonna be able to choose between the two. A Fistful of Dollars is a major influence on movies in general and it’s sad to see that The Great Silence remains relatively unknown outside Western fan circles, but I like to think that Corbucci’s film will be vindicated in some small part if I end up liking it more than its iconic, rival Spaghetti Western.