Saturday, January 11, 2014

THE BIG GUNDOWN (Grindhouse Releasing Combo Disc) - When Spaghetti Westerns Attack

Let me preface this review with a simple fact. I am not a Western aficionado.  I hope that doesn’t discredit the words I will write about The Big Gundown as released by Grindhouse Releasing because I believe it to be one of my favorite Blu-ray releases of 2013 even though I’m only getting my hands on it now. I’ve always enjoyed Westerns. My mother brought me up on lighter fare with shows like Hondo and Bonanza on TV early on Saturday mornings in my house which always went well with my apple and cinnamon oatmeal. I’d enjoy the full length movies as well, but it seems rarer that I would get to watch them. Sure I’d catch some of the 80’s and early 90’s renditions of Western pictures but the classics were left for me to discover on my own. While those later pictures aren’t bad, they are not as forcefully powerful as some of the classic pictures in the silver age of Westerns. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as well as Fistful of Dollars were available and enjoyed, but not my truest passion growing up (which as you know is horror). But I do love a damn good Western, and I’m glad I have the chance to give you an overwhelmingly positive review for The Big Gundown.  I do enjoy my Westerns best served with a side of marinara. Spaghetti all the way.

Synopsis from Grindhouse Releasing:

The legendary Lee Van Cleef  stars as a relentless bounty hunter on the trail of Cuchillo (Euro-film
superstar Tomas Milian), a savage Mexican outlaw accused of the rape and murder of a twelve-year-old girl.


The tale of hunting down a criminal, an act of revenge and then the strange twist of fate that forces a reexamination of situation under which the hunt began in the first place seems to be a common theme to come out of this genre. The Big Gundown is one of the first, and if you read the liner notes in the very handsome booklet that accompanies the picture, you’ll believe that this may be the first place this type of visceral story had appeared. We watch Westerns for justice and to feel dirty without feeling like some shoved a cock in our face. The audience wants to believe that evil will be punished and that this kind of story may have actually played out in the American west during the 1800’s. I imagine that the actual tales of bounty hunting and revenge are more brutal and without the polish of director Sergio Sollima, but that makes it palatable. It covers the gristle with a fine layer of magic.

Lee Van Cleef is the perfect man for this dirty job and plays the hero in a genre that might not always see him as such. This is a shining moment for Van Cleef, and it’s one that you may not have seen.  The other star of the movie, in this reviewers mind, is the Ennio Morricone score that gives weight and balance to the blistering dessert struggle. It’s pretty and serene at times while larger than life at others. Ennio let’s you know when you’re going to have to applaud a movie. It’s no wonder that Quentin Tarantino decided to use it in Inglorious Basterds. I’ve been known to drive around listening to that soundtrack and find that red light crossings are exceptionally dramatic when the excerpt from the Big Gundown enters the speakers. Good thing the entire score from The Big Gundown is provided in this four disc set. My entire commute just turned into a surreal tale of the epic hunt for the bad guy.

The other three discs in this set sans the soundtrack disc include two Blu-ray copies. One is the full, director’s cut featuring an additional 15 minutes of footage never before seen in America. This release is a 2k digital restoration, uncensored in English that includes three additional scenes (you’ll learn why they were hammered out if you read the liner notes and get familiar with the extras). So you get two separate Blu-rays of the movie, one with additional footage, one that is the extended US Cut of the movie and a DVD version. The collection also includes an in-depth interview with director Sergio Sollima, Tomas Millian and Sergio Donati. Audio commentary is provided by Western films experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke. Make sure to read the liner notes because you’ll get a better feeling for the history behind this production and the music that adorns it from Euro-music expert Gergley Hubai. It has two classic pieces of artwork for the picture for reversible art. I keep mine with the Italian artwork facing out.

Note: 2.40:1 Region 0 ABC.

For those of you who love Spaghetti Westerns, this is a veritable Garden of Eden of material to enjoy. It’s a great starter film for novices, but that comes with one warning: once you watch this movie you will be forced to compare all other Westerns to it, and it’s a high standard to set.

-Doc Terror

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