Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Great Silence is a Spaghetti Revisionist Western starring French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant as Silence, German actor Klaus Kinski as Loco, Italian actor Luigi Pistilli as Henry Pollicut, and American actors Vonetta McGee and Frank Wolff as Pauline and Sheriff Burnett respectively. It features an original soundtrack by composer Ennio Morricone. 

This is a serious movie, rather than a comic parody — and it’s seriously grim, especially if you watch the original ending (a more upbeat alternative ending was shot because of how grim it was). As one among the few Westerns prior to the 70’s to be set entirely during winter, a scenic decision that complements the overall dreary tone of the script, it stands out as a unique example of a Revisionist Western.

A group of bandits roam on the outskirts of a small town called Snow Hill. These bandits are former residents of the town who were driven to become criminals because of a certain banker, Henry Pollicut, who has (according to other residents) strangled the town’s economic circulation. To add fuel to the fire, Henry has placed a bounty on each bandit’s head for Loco and his gang of bounty hunters to pursue. Loco is a ruthless man who prefers to deliver bounties dead even when killing is unnecessary.

Pauline, the wife of one of the bandits, tries to keep her husband safe from Loco — but ultimately fails. Meanwhile, Silence, a gunslinger drifter, strolls on horseback into town. The residents catch wind of his presence, and Pauline decides to seek him out to avenge her husband.

The movie is stylish. There are countless attractive landscape shots throughout, and the cast feels shrewdly selected. Kinski plays a surprisingly calm and unconventionally reserved antagonist here, which grants an eerie tension to most of his scenes. The soundtrack is both chilling and somber, fitting perfectly with the movie’s setting and themes.

Those interested in the “revisionist” element of the movie will have much to examine. All of the movie’s core themes are subversions of prevailing themes in Westerns. Silence, for example, seems less a hero here than Clint’s classic antihero portrayal. Sheriff Burnett is a bumbling incompetent who triggers more problems than he solves. The women in the movie, similar to the ones in Unforgiven, are vengeful and manipulative. The whole operation between Henry and Loco is in fact in full abidance of the law, and while they aren’t necessarily shown to possess amiable personalities, they are a lot less relentless and rotten than the typical Western movie antagonist. What’s more, there is the original ending, which is what The Great Silence is most known for after all these years — an ending which makes Unforgiven seem like a methodical straight shooter in the genre.

Some viewers may find the script to be inadequate for the movie’s grandiose themes. There is an argument to be made that what Silence chooses to do in the original ending is uncharacteristic of him and that the ending is overall rushed. On the other hand, this uncharacteristic decision and abrupt end could be seen as intentional and as part of the grimness of the movie and the unheroic quality of Silence. One thing is for certain: the ending will leave viewers bitter and unsatisfied. The finale absconds with any real payoff in hand, leaving viewers empty-handed.

Fans of Westerns will not feel at home by the end of The Great Silence, but it is, nonetheless, one of the more memorable entries in the genre due to its offbeat style and script.

The Great Silence can currently be watched on Amazon.