The Big Gundown (1966)

This film is often referred to as “the best non-Leone spaghetti western.” That may very well be true. For me, it’s difficult to decide because there are a couple of others that I like about as much as this one. This movie is brilliant. It has everything that makes the spaghetti western such a great film genre.

The music score is a masterpiece. It is one of Morricone’s best. The title song sends shivers up my spine. I love the voice, the melody, and the lyrics. It is absolutely unforgettable. The melody of the theme song keeps on recurring, but in totally different ways, each one unique and wonderful, sometimes haunting, sometimes playful, and sometimes serious. There are parts where the music is choreographed with the action on the screen in a way very reminiscent of the Leone westerns. Cuchillo’s run through the cane fields is driven by the corresponding music, making the music and the action inseparable. The musical accompaniments to the gunfights near the end of the film are operatic, suspenseful, and appropriately grandiose. This score is not background music. It is a dominating force in this movie, and could even be considered the most important part of the film. Ennio Morricone may very well be the biggest “star” of the spaghetti western genre, even though he never physically appeared in a single one of the films!

Director Sergio Sollima uses politics and social commentary not only to get a message across, but also to make us relate to and sympathize with some of the characters, and to despise some of the others. He also throws in some great strange, eccentric, and over the top characters (no spaghetti western is complete without em). You just gotta love the lady ranch owner and her lovesick ranch hands, and the nazi-like Baron Von Schulenberg with his monocle and Dracula cape. That baron really gets on Lee Van Cleef’s nerves, and Van Cleef has a couple of great smart-ass remarks for him. This is classic stuff all the way.

Lee Van Cleef is perfect for the role of Corbett. This is classic Van Cleef, playing the cool, confident, unflinching bounty hunter type. Sollima definitely picked the best possible actor for the role. The same can be said for his choice of Tomas Milian for the role of Cuchillo. Milian plays the part of a man that is being hunted like an animal. He sometimes has to act and think like an animal would to stay one step ahead of his predators. Milian conveys this very well. I can’t imagine anyone else in this role.