A small, snow-covered mountain town becomes a bloody battleground when a gang of cunning bounty killers are hired to apprehend religious outlaws hiding in the outlying wooded hills. Preferring to bring them in dead rather than alive, Loco the leader of the bounty killers quickly butts heads with the new sheriff concerning the ruthless methods he employs to collect bounties and his disrespectful transportation of bodies.
When a new gunslinger comes into town, Loco and his boys discover that this is no ordinary hired gun but the legendary Silence; a mute gunman with almost supernatural speed and aim. Turns out Silence was hired to kill Loco by a widow grieving the loss of her outlaw husband, gunned down by the wily bounty killer. Knowing full well Silence will find a way to pick a fight and provoke a gun battle, Loco taunts Silence with his intention to resist any and all provocation.
As the mute gunman blasts his way through bounty killers in an effort to call out Loco, outlaw bodies continue dropping. A massacre is about to take place in the small town of Snowhill as tempers on all sides flare and hammers begin clapping. Can the just overcome justice? Can the righteous overcome law?
When asked what my favorite Spaghetti Western is I usually place Corbucci’s Django at the top of my list but truth be told The Great Silence is far superior; it’s a mesmerizing masterpiece overflowing with Roman violence and French nihilism. Corbucci isn’t interested in presenting us with “good” or “bad,” instead he introduces characters with very real human flaws such as greed, lust and the thirst for revenge. These men with their deep emotional scars, and monetary motivations, use the laws of the land to oppress religious freedom and justify murder. There’s obviously more lying beneath the surface of this film for those interested in sharpening their analytical chops.
If Django’s theme was mired in the muck and mud, The Great Silence’s theme was buried beneath the frozen snow. Perhaps I’m looking too hard but it would appear to me that Corbucci’s film portrays the snow almost as a living entity, as if it were a character witnessing the atrocities of Snowhill. The film’s locations combined with the snow (actually shaving cream) and fog created a sense of isolation and an atmosphere of dread-inducing stillness.
French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant (Questi’s Death Laid an Egg) is perfect as the infamous Silence, a character that mocks the “silent anti-hero” stereotype of Spaghetti Westerns by being mute! Speech isn’t the only thing Trintignant resists, he also carries a Mauser pistol with detachable wooden stock instead of the traditional six-shooters or repeater rifles used in pretty much all Westerns. To say he was different from other Spaghetti Western bad asses would be a slight understatement.
I won’t say much about the finale but it was incredibly dark and depressing; I was angry and saddened as the film ended on a reflection so powerful it’ll remain with you long after the film is over. Forget hand-holding, Corbucci lops hands off at the wrist. I cannot recommend this film enough, seek it out and add it to your collection.