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Utah, winter 1896: A large part of the population is impoverished and
has turned to stealing simply to stay alive. However, there are always
those who profit from a situation like this, and here it's the bounty
hunters who kill those who are declared bandits by the law (mostly corrupt
judges) and then cash them in at the next sheriff. There are laws to be
installed against the bounty hunters, but they are yet to be enforced ...
The bandits though have one who avenges them, Silence
(Jean-Louis Trintignant), whose parents have been killed by bounty hunters
and he got his throat slit so he can't talk anymore - and it is Silence's
trick to always provoke the other to draw first and then shoot him in self
defense (since Silence is the quickest draw in the West), always in front
of witnesses ... so legally, he is an innocent man.
One day, Pauline's (Vonetta McGee) husband is killed by Tigrero (Klaus
Kinski), a particularly ruthless, borderline psychotic bounty killer, and
she asks Silence for help. Silence arrives in town by the same coach
Tigrero is not only travelling by but he also uses to carry his corpses. -
and Tigrero has a very special weakness for this little city here, mainly
because the local judge, Pollicut (Luigi Pistilli) is especially corrupt
andlawless. Incidently, Pollicut was exactly the man who slit Silence's
throat as a child, and whose thumb Silence years later shot off in a
gunfight so Pollicut can never shoot a pistol again ...
Silence does his best to provoke Tigrero, but Tigrero is much too slick
to fall for Silence's little tricks - heck, he ven takes off his gunbelt
to not be tempted. Then though, the two men get into a fight, and when
Silence shoots all of Tigrero's friends in self defense and throws Tigrero
into the snow and hands him his gun, Tigrero is tempted to draw ... but
doesn't have the chance because the Sheriff (Frank Wolff), the second
fastest draw in the West and a staunch enemy of all bountykillers, shoots
the gun right out of his hand and arrests him on the spot.
However, the Sheriff might be a quick draw, but trying to bring Tigrero
to the next court singlehandedly proves to be too much for him, as Tigrero
has guns hidden at various spots along the way and ultimately drives him
onto a frozen lake before taking a few shots at the ice to make it break
beneath the Sheriff's feet - and the beauty of it is, the Sheriff won't be
found until spring if ever ...
Then Tigrero heads back to the little village where Silence is waiting
for him, but Silence has since received a little visit from Pollicut and
his henchman and got badly wounded (while the other two got killed) and
his right hand smashed ... and now Pauline has her hands full to hide him
from Tigrero and his men.
At the same time, some bandits (the poor who have to resort to
stealing) come to town because the (now deceased) Sheriff has given them a
honest promise to let them have a wagonload of supplies - now the Sheriff
is no more, but Tigrero and his men are, using the wagon as bait to catch
the bandits and the bandits as bait to catch Silence ... whom they shoot
fair and square in the bleak showdown because he for once has lost his
cool and has tried to draw first. Then the bounty killers shoot Pauline
and their hostages too, all in the name of the law ...
In his days, Sergio Corbucci has made many inferior films, inside and
outside the Western genre, but he has also directed a handful of
undisputed classics, and Il Grande Silenzio is maybe (and arguably)
the greatest of them all, a haunting piece of genre cinema filmed almost
entirely in the snow (the outside scenes that is), which makes the film
look atypical for the genre, and presenting many genre mainstays in a very
cynical light. And Klaus Kinski is at his maddest (and most menacing) as
the slick Tigrero, giving no less than a milestone performance, while
Jean-Louis Trintignant, one of the greats of French cinema, makes the most
out of the role of the stoic avenger who isn't even allowed to talk.
By the way, a happy ending to this film was indeed (as in I have seen
it) filmed in which Silence is able to work his right hand with a glove of
metal and a fellow gunman comes to his aide too, and the two gun down all
the bounty hunters and free the hostages - and you know what, that ending
would have pretty much ruined the whole movie.