You better watch out. Better not cry, sucker. Because this month we’re taking a look at seven examples of cinematic revenge — the bloodier, the better.
Part 6: The Great Silence
The Great Silence is a rather atypical film, both as a revenge film and a spaghetti western. The story concerns fictional Snow County where a blizzard has caused a food shortage, causing most of the local population to starve. As a result a great many folk have taken to stealing to survive, a greedy banker has labeled these people thieves and put bounties out for their arrest causing them to flee into the hills. A group of enterprising bounty killers have taken up residence in Snow County, hunting down the outlaws and killing them to trade in their bodies for bounties (which the banker is profiting off of, charging the US government an interest fee for money advanced to the bounty killers from his own bank.)
The worst of the bounty killers is Loco (Klaus Kinski), a despicable character who lies and manipulates to get outlaws to reveal themselves only to murder them in cold blood regardless of whether they come peacefully or not. As a way to stop Loco and his fellow bounty killers, the families of the outlaws enlist the aid of Silence (Jean-Louis Trintigant.)
Silence was only a boy when bounty killers murdered his mother and father; to keep him from talking about the incident they cut his throat which caused him to become a mute. Now he works as sort of a revenge-for-hire killer who only kills men in “self-defense”, which is to say that he provokes them to attack him so that he can legally cut them down with his Mauser C96 semi-automatic pistol.
Pauline (blacksploitation regular Vonetta McGee), the wife of one of Loco’s victims, hires Silence. Meanwhile Gideon Burnett (Frank Wolff) rides into town to be the new Sheriff and restore order to the region until the Governor can pardon the outlaws and abolish bounty killing. There’s an obvious trajectory to this but the movie veers off of it in the last third and that derailment of convention leads to an ending that may well be the most shocking of its type. The ending is amazing and I can’t even hint at its nature without risking the chance of giving something away.
It really is interesting to look at the plot and the way that the heroes are all law breakers and the villains are bounty killers. It brings to mind Django Unchained and the cavalier way in which Django and Dr. Schultz went about their murderous job, killing with reckless abandon and trusting the wanted posters as gospel truths. In that movie it excused our heroes’ misdeeds by making seemingly every other person in the world look like a sneering racist, but here it paints a much darker picture of bounty hunters. Perhaps The Hateful Eight, which Tarantino has said was inspired somewhat by this film, will tackle the other side of the story.
While I love many aspects of this movie, it falls into the pitfalls of a Sergio Corbucci movie. First of all, there’s not much for character: of course Loco is a captivating character and Sheriff Burnett as well, but all the others fall flat. It would be tempting to blame Silence’s titular characteristic for the weakness of his character but he’s really just underdeveloped, which makes his relationship with Pauline (developed but not particularly compelling) not really work. The other big problem with a Corbucci film is that though they have many great scenes and memorable set-pieces, the areas between those remarkable moments are often large wastelands of plodding narrative that seem to be killing time.
I also must register frustration with a certain point in the movie where a character is unable to shoot a gun because it is frozen, seemingly foreshadowing a moment later in the film. Sure enough, later in the movie a character digs a rifle out of the snow after it has been sitting for who knows how long, and it miraculously fires without incident.
I’m still on the fence about whether I think this movie is worth a second view or not. The Great Silence seems more interesting than good or entertaining. While I didn’t hate it, I found I didn’t love it either.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Previous Installments of You Better Watch Out!
Part 5: Rolling Thunder — Drew Dietsch
Part 4: Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 — Andrew Hawkins
Part 3: The Bride Wore Black — Drew Dietsch
Part 2: Orca — Shannon Hubbell
Part 1: Lady Snowblood — Travis Newton