Theater Thoughts



Reviewer: John Carpenter

Released by: Grindhouse Releasing
Blu-Ray Release date: 12/10/2013
Region Free
Expanded U.S. Cut – 95 Mins; Director’s Cut – 110 Mins/Rated R
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16×9: Yes

Jonathan Corbett (Lee Van Cleef) is the best bounty hunter in the land.  He is quickly setup as a loner who has the morals of a sheriff, but the freedom of an outlaw.  This is why railroad tycoon Brokston (Walter Barnes) wants Corbett.  With the lure of political success, Brokston asks for Corbett’s help.  He wants the stone-faced bounty hunter to track down a man named Cuchillo (Tomas Milian).  Evidentially, Cuchillo raped and murdered a young girl and Brokston feels he should die for these crimes.  This places Corbett hot on Cuchillo’s tail, but this is no open and shut case.  Corbett quickly finds out that Cuchillo isn’t going to go down easy, setting up a lengthy pursuit with plenty of pitfalls.

The Sergios (Sollima and Donati) set up a tasty triangle of characters from the beginning.  To say this is a cat and mouse game between Corbett and Cuchillo is not only an understatement, but a disservice to the low key genius of Baron Von Schulenberg (Gérard Herter).  Viewers already know Corbett is a hard ass after his encounter with a trio of thieves in the opening scene.  A quick introduction to the Baron proves that this skilled, six shooting master has more in store than some facetime during a wedding reception.  His triumphs are noted and there is no way the Baron gets benched for the remainder of “The Big Gundown.”  This does open the door for a marquee matchup between the well-crafted Corbett and the crafty Cuchillo as they travel across the land.  There couldn’t be a better pair of actors in the lead roles than Lee Van Cleef and Tomas Milian.  Van Cleef brings his usual intensity to the role of Corbett.  He is confident and seems to be ten steps ahead of everyone around…except Cuchillo.  Milian paints Cuchillo as a wily character whose street smarts are genius.  Just when it seems Corbett is about to wrap things up, Cuchillo almost mockingly slips through his fingers.  As “The Big Gundown” continues, these characters who seemed to be polar opposites appear to have more in common than anybody could have imagined.  It makes for a well-balanced story that is captivating and energetic from beginning to end.  “The Big Gundown” is indeed one of the best Italian westerns out there and deserves a spot next to any of Sergio Leone’s best westerns.

The 2.35:1, anamorphic widescreen image on both cuts of “The Big Gundown” are exactly how a western should look.  Grindhouse Releasing holds on to the film roots with a nice layer of grain, producing a vibrant, warm 1080p picture that does have a slight flicker at times.  The finer points in dress patterns and background décor maintain a high level of detail regardless of where they are in the frame.  Stagecoaches look weathered, horse saddles look worn and individual threads can be seen on clothing at times.  Color are sharp and well defined with solid black levels throughout.  This is a delightful transfer that feels updated without losing the essence of a late 1960s film.  Along with this stellar picture is a fairly aggressive DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track.  Even being limited to the front field, gunshots, dialogue and Ennio Morricone’s iconic score all share the space well.  None of these elements dominates over the other, though music and effects are turned up a notch in the sound department.  Sounds are deep and fill the front sound field with vibrancy.  The audio/video is a fine one-two punch from Grindhouse Releasing – regardless of which cut is playing.

Grindhouse Releasing doesn’t do anything half-assed.  Disc One of this four disc Collector’s Edition has a ton of extra features.  In addition to the sweet sounding Mono English language track, this disc also has a “Music and Effects Only Track” and Audio Commentary by C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke.  The music and effects only track is exactly what one would expect, but the commentary is certainly worth your time as well.  Their chemistry is a tad bumpy at the beginning, but these two diehard fans quickly find a nice groove and deliver one interesting fact after another.  They talk about the scenes that have been added back into the movie, give outstanding information on nearly every person who pops up onscreen (both the characters AND the actors), locations and numerous other aspects of the feature.  The track turns into a very organic feeling conversation about “The Big Gundown” and westerns in general.  It is encyclopedic in nature, but never gets boring.  This is a top notch audio commentary.

All of these interviews are in Italian with English subtitles.  The first is “Sergio Sollima Remembers The Big Gundown” (29:02). Recorded in Rome, 2005, Sollima quickly confesses to being a lifelong fan of the western genre.  It is with this passion that he pushed forward with his career and eventually “The Big Gundown.”  Sergio Corbucci helped usher in the notion that Italian Westerns could indeed be legit, not needing an element of camp to succeed.  This was huge for Sollima and sets up the final twenty minutes of his interview very well.  “Tomas Milian: Acting on Instinct” (29:48) was recorded in Miami, 2001.  You just have to love how confident Milian is.  He knows who he is as an actor and a man, allowing him to deliver the perfect performance for the perfect reaction.  This is a very blunt and honest interview, allowing Milian to explain his process and how he approached each role as a unique experience.  With clips and stories from all over his filmography, this sitdown with Milian feels very autobiographical and will delight his longtime fans.  “Tagliatelle in Los Angeles: Sergio Donati Interview” (12:03) was filmed in San Francisco, 2013.  He discusses working with Sollima and his impressions of “The Big Gundown” in this all too quick interview.  Fortunately, Donati returns for another interview with “Sergio Donati Bonus Interview” (11:51).  This is an earlier session with the writer, recorded in Rome, 2005.  A decade younger and in a more relaxed setting, we hear about the three Gialli films Donati wrote back in the day.  He laughed off Sergio Leone wanting to transform Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” into a western before realizing how great the idea actually was.  This was a turning point for Spaghetti westerns and put them on the map as films that should be taken seriously.  “Sergio Sollima: Struggles Against Genre” (27:55) brings us back to Rome, 2005 and expands upon the topic of Italian westerns and their relevance in the world of film.  The term ‘Spaghetti Western’ makes Sollima sick.  He didn’t want a satire on American westerns, he wants a solid Italian equivalent.  This is a man who obviously loves American western movies and this interview really taps into that passion.

The disc also includes Production Stills (20 images), U.S. Promotional Material (40 images), Italian Promotional Material (10 images), French Promotional Material (30 images) and Various Promotional Material (20 images).  These will scroll automatically or you can use your remote to pause or skip ahead to the next image.  Next up is the U.S. Theatrical Trailer A (2:14), U.S. Theatrical Trailer B (2:14), Italian Theatrical Trailer (3:56) and five TV Spots (2:06) which can be viewed individually or stacked on top of one another.  Keep pushing forward and you will find Filmographies for Sergio Sollima, Tomas Milian and Sergio Donati, some disc credits and information on how to access the DVD-ROM material found on Disc Three.  An Easter egg can be accessed from the main page and reveals a trailer for “Run, Man, Run” (3:41).

The second Blu-ray contains the Original Italian Version of “The Big Gundown” which is titled “La Resa Dei Conti.” And runs about fifteen minutes longer than the extended US version of the film.  The special features include a Stereo Ennio Morricone Isolated Music track and some optional “Music Commentary” subtitles.  These subtitles are a unique way to provide what is essentially a running commentary throughout the feature.  Though it is specific to Morricone’s wonderful score, this track is very informative and does touch on other aspects of the film.  Along with the Music Only track, this is an excellent addition to the disc and should be experienced by all fans.  The disc also includes Grindhouse Releasing trailers for “An American Hippie in Israel” (3:02, Review HERE), “Corruption” (1:50, Review HERE), The Swimmer” (2:46), “Massacre Mafia Style” (2:19), “Gone with The Pope” (2:01), “Cannibal Holocaust” (1:58), “Ice House” (1:39), “Poor White Trash 2” (2:14), “Cat in The Brain (1:58), “The Beyond” (3:27), “Cannibal Ferox” (2:47), “The Tough Ones” (3:30), “Pieces” (0:33) and “I Drink Your Blood” (2:48).

Disc Three is a DVD version of the Expanded U.S. Cut.  All of the extra features from the first Blu-ray have been ported over as well.  The aforementioned DVD-ROM content contains “Cutting to the Chase: The Tale of Two Gundowns” and “Columbia Pictures Editing Memo.”  The first article gives a detailed rundown of the differences between the U.S. and Italian versions of “The Big Rundown.”  The ‘Editing Memo’ is a scanned copy of a 1969 letter from Harvey Kagan about the cuts made for television distribution.  The fourth disc is a CD containing Ennio Morricone’s wonderful soundtrack.  There are twenty-five tracks on this CD, so it should provide some great background music for those who just can’t get enough of “The Big Gundown.”  The set also includes a reversible cover and a nice, full color booklet with three articles and a track listing for the CD.  The articles included are “Sergio Sollima’s Political Gundown” By C. Courtney Joyner, “Cutting to The Chase – The Tale of Two Gundowns” By Gergely Hubai and “Six Shooter Symphony – The Music of THE BIG GUNDOWN” also by Gergely Hubai.  Each article is just different enough to add insight to the feature without feeling redundant.

The best advice I can give (besides BUY THIS NOW) is to watch the Director’s cut for the feature and the U.S. Expanded Cut for the extras.  This will help explore Grindhouse Releasing’s wonderful set without feeling terribly redundant.  This is easily a must own release.  It not only has a great film to help sway doubters over to Italian westerns, the release serves as a mini-film school with its wealth of extra features.  There are good Blu-ray releases and there are great Blu-ray releases – “The Big Gundown” from Grindhouse Releasing is an example of a truly superb Blu-ray release.  There are two beautiful cuts of this movie, numerous extra features, a soundtrack and some other nice details.  Those who don’t already have this sitting proudly in their collection need to buy a copy from Diabolik DVD (LINK). Not having Grindhouse Releasing’s “The Big Gundown” in your collection not only means you are missing out on an excellent Italian western, you are simply fucking up in life.  That’s right!  This release is indeed that good. Buy it before the Limited Edition run dries up.

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