By the time that 1968 rolled in, the spaghetti western genre had already been firmly established by Sergio Leone, a director who single-handedly created a fresh new art form by skewing every prescedent ever set by the classic American western. In the mid-to-late 1960's, Italy became the epicenter of spaghetti western production as the films were quickly exported and distributed to a North American audience lusting for a fresh new film movement. So when Sergio Corbucci, (sometimes referred to as "the other Sergio"), released Il Grande Silenzio (The Great Silence) that year, audiences worldwide had already been exposed to the novelties of the Italo-Western. However, what Corbucci ultimately created with Il Grande Silenzio would reverberate for decades and, to this day, remain one of the strongest anti-Hollywood statements ever commited to celluloid.
Set amidst the snow-swept hills of Utah, the film follows Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a mute gunslinger hired by a local woman to hunt down the men responsible for the murder of her husband. Klaus Kinski plays the sadistic Loco, ringleader of the bounty hunters that Silence is after, delivering a magnificent performance as one of the most callous villains of all time. The violence rapidly escalates throughout the film until finally climaxing in one of the most shocking finales ever imagined.
Everything about this film is different; the setting is a barren and isolated frontier not unlike any other western we've seen, but Corbucci's decision to set the entire film on a brutal frozen landscape alone makes it a very tense and disturbing experience. Horses painfully trudge through the snow, many times collapsing from exhaustion, while guns constantly jam due to the temperature. Corbucci's camera direction is also, to say the least, sloppy. This, however, gives the film just the right touch of insanity required for such a radical western - sporadic zooming, shaky roaming shots, and rapid fire cuts during gunplay sequences are just some of the bizarre techniques used here. The utter carnage displayed is also executed in the typical Corbucci style - blood splatters against the white of the snow, innocent men and women are executed without any mercy, and the ending of the picture is one of the bleakest conclusions of all time. If Leone's films suggest that there is no redemption in the brutal and morally corrupt American west, Corbucci expands upon that with the suggestion that there is no redemption for humanity.
Ennio Morricone's underrated score for Il Grande Silenzio is both hauntingly beautiful and unequivocally original. Certainly one of his masterpieces.