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Film / The Great Silence

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The Great Silence or Il grande silenzio is a 1968 Italian spaghetti western directed by Sergio Corbucci. It is considered Corbucci's greatest film and has a reputation for being one of the bleakest westerns ever. It plays with a lot of western tropes, such as the usual protagonist of few words actually being a mute, and intentionally provoking his enemies into drawing first.

In 1898, a harsh winter has driven many of the residents of Snow Hill, Utah to stealing food to avoid starvation, prompting corrupt banker Henry Pollicut (Luigi Pistilli) to declare them outlaws and put prices on their heads. The bounties attract the enthusiastic attention of a local gang of Bounty Hunters, led by the brutal Loco (Klaus Kinski). However, the "bandits" have a defender in the form of mute gunslinger Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant).

When "outlaw" James Middleton sneaks into town to visit his wife, Pauline (Vonetta McGee), and is gunned down in cold blood by Loco, Pauline hires Silence to kill Loco in revenge. Meanwhile, the newly-elected governor is promising amnesty to the "outlaws", but he first appoints virtuous yet inept soldier Gideon Burnett (Frank Wolff) as sheriff of Snow Hill to restore order. And so the stage is set for a bloody confrontation between the bounty killers and the villagers...

Contrast with Sergio Leone's For a Few Dollars More. Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising and Only God Forgives can be seen as Spiritual Successors.


  • Attempted Rape: The banker tries to force himself on Pauline two times. He is shot to death by Silence during the second attempt.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Loco, with the help of some fellow bounty hunters, comes out on top against Silence in the end, with Loco executing an injured, handicapped Silence, followed by Pauline as she rushes in to avenge Silence's death. And then, true to Pauline's earlier words to Silence, Loco then gives his fellow hunters the okay to murder all the defenseless outlaws they were holding hostage in a savage hail of bullets, leaving their bloody corpses littering the saloon until they're able to find a way to transport their bodies back to civilization to collect the bounties on their heads. And just for the icing on his total victory, Loco takes Silence's Mauser pistol for himself before riding off with his cronies.
  • Big Good: The Governor, whose promise of amnesty (although it's partially just because of the political tide) gives hope to the outlaws, while he also sends Sheriff Burnett to try and reign in the bounty hunters.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Loco executes Silence in this way in their final showdown.
  • Bounty Hunter: Loco and his gang are evil examples. Silence is a good version though, hired by some families of their victims to bring them down.
  • By-the-Book Cop: The sheriff fusses over the regulations about how stagecoaches can transport bodies. Later, he gets a Bothering by the Book moment when he insists on an exhumation and series of reports before he will pay Loco the bounty on Pauline’s husband (who she buried before the official identification) while smirking at Loco, who has spent their screen time offending the sheriff with his ruthlessness.
  • Cool Old Guy: Walter, the leader of the outlaws is a gray-bearded man whose a loyal leader to his people and willing to pay attention to Silence.
  • Darker and Edgier: Considering its gloomy snow-covered setting, the haunting score by Ennio Morricone, and the brutal deconstruction of western tropes that lead to its depressing ending, The Great Silence is arguably the darkest western ever made. Both literally and figuratively.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Inverted as Loco kills Silence after one of his henchmen wounds him, only for Pauline to attempt to avenge him, leading to her death at Loco's hands as well.
  • Dirty Coward: Loco has a man of his wound Silence so that he will win the duel.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Loco is played by Klaus Kinski, and is therefore characterized by this trope.
  • Downer Ending: At least in the original version which Sergio intended. Silence, Pauline, and the rest of the villagers were all gunned down by the bounty hunters. However, it's averted in the Revised Ending, due to Sergio being pressured to do so for Asian and South African markets because of the original depressing bleak ending.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: In theory Loco is just a hired gunman working for Pollicut the banker, but he provides a more personal and sadistic threat to Silence and the others, and even after Pollicut is dead, Loco remains a murderous presence.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Loco's henchman Sanchez is uneasy about remaining with him after he tosses the sheriff into a frozen lake.
  • Evil Counterpart: Loco to Silence. While Silence only shoots people in self-defense, Loco kills even those he has promised to let live if they surrender. The contrast between the two becomes even clearer when you think that Loco has the choice of taking his targets alive but he chooses to kill them anyway. Silence on the other hand completely refuses to shoot anyone who doesn't try to shoot him first.
  • Fiery Redhead: Regina the brothel madame, who doesn't hesitate to let Loco and Pollicut know what she thinks of their ways despite the danger they pose.
  • Fingore: Within the first few minutes Silence establishes an M.O. of shooting men's fingers off so that they can never use guns again.
  • Genre Blind: The sheriff apparently does not even suspect that Loco's request to relieve himself might be a trap.
  • Genre Deconstruction:
    • In the climax, despite the wound in his right hand, Silence still arrives to take on Loco in a duel. However before the duel begins, Loco's men shoot Silence's left hand. When Silence does finally attempts to draw, Loco easily kills him and then slaughters all of the other main characters. The movie makes it clear the hero doesn't always win or overcome the odds.
    • To add to the above, in contrast to most Westerns where the hero has Hollywood Healing, here every injury Silence received earlier in the movie affected him and is the reason Loco is so easily able to defeat him.
  • The Hero Dies: Silence himself at the end is gunned down, along with all of his friends and allies.
  • Honor Before Reason:
    • Silence will only shoot in self-defense. He does not seem to be very far-sighted in defining self-defense as 'the moment the other guy draws on me', so he passes off many opportunities to kill Loco or the guy making moves on his girl.
    • Pauline is clearly aware of the fact that Loco's demand for Silence to show up for a duel is a trap, and that he will kill all the people there after he kills Silence regardless of whether Silence shows up or not. Regardless, Silence still shows up to his death.
  • Hope Spot: There's a moment when the Sheriff arrests Loco, which looks as if it could bring an end to the bounty hunters efforts. Then Loco knocks the sheriff through a frozen lake and goes riding back to resume killing.
  • I Lied: Loco loves to shoot people after promising to spare them if they surrender themselves.
  • Justified Criminal: Walter and his gang are portrayed as having been driven into stealing due to being starving from the winter.
  • Karma Houdini: Loco faces neither death nor imprisonment for his numerous murders, including that of a sheriff trying to stop him. Given the killing of the latter, and the fact that his actions have made bounty hunting illegal now, he will likely face something at some point.
  • Meaningful Name: As one reviewer put it, he's called Silence because all he leaves behind him is death and silence, "...and let's face it: who wants to be called Death?"
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker: Literally. Pollicut the banker is the one behind all of the bounties on people who arguably don't deserve them.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • Just when Silence goads Loco into pulling a gun on him, the sheriff shoots away the gun Loco is reaching for to defuse the fight and arrests Loco. If he had let the fight go forward Silence might have won and kept Loco from killing Silence, the sheriff, and their allies. Later, the sheriff disarming an outlaw trying to shoot the captured Loco also helps lead to this tragedy.
    • The sheriff telling the outlaws (who only steal to survive) to go to Snow Hill for good after he arrests Loco makes them easier prey for Loco once he escapes.
  • Paper Tiger: While the bandit Miguel is a well-meaning tragic victim, he is also a blusterer without much real fight in him. He is introduced shooting the last of some bounty hunters Silence shot it out with, only to be told that the man's injuries would have kept him from hurting Silence anyway. Then, Miguel makes a speech about how miserable hiding in the mountains is and how the bandits are former soldiers who should fight the bounty hunters themselves, but when this gets little supports, he decides to turn himself in rather than fight or stay hiding. And when the men he turns himself in to prepare to kill him, he tries to run rather than fight back.
  • Pursued Protagonist: The drawn-out scene of one of the bandits running through the woods before being lassoed by evil Bounty Hunter Loco and dragged behind his horse is the fourth scene rather than the first, but otherwise has the atmosphere and plot importance to count. Loco's torture of the man leads to him giving up the location of Pauline's husband, who Loco then kills, causing Pauline to hire Silence to kill Loco, kicking off the rest of the plot.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: It's stated that the massacre came as such a shock that it led to the end of bounty hunting as a legal profession, so while The Hero Dies and so does most of the cast, the villains' victory is short-lived and pyrrhic.
  • Scenery Porn: The movie can’t go long without lingering and gorgeous shots of the snow-covered mountains and looming canyon walls.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Silence is wounded in his shoulder, is handicapped by his right hand being burned and calmly walks up to a building in which six bounty hunters are holed up. To drive the point home, the first thing that happens in the final scene is a bounty hunter shooting Silence's left hand through a window, totally crippling him.
  • The Speechless: The main character never speaks due to having had his throat cut.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The sheriff is not exactly the brightest guy in town and dies as the indirect result of some Nice Job Breaking It, Hero moments. There are times when Loco and the banker exchange glances as he impulsively tries to establish his authority.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: There are twenty bandits during the scene where their hunger makes them rob Sheriff Burnett of his horse, but only seventeen of them come into town and are captured right before the climax.