Release Date(s)1966 (December 10, 2013)
Studio(s)Columbia (Grindhouse Releasing)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A+
The spaghetti western is a very curious, very specific genre. The form was blazingly popular in the 1960s and into the 70s, with European studios and filmmakers churning out dozens of titles. But most of those movies fell into obscurity almost the very second audiences lost interest in them. Before the advent of DVD, you could almost be forgiven for thinking there were only four spaghetti westerns ever made, each of them directed by Sergio Leone.
When DVD came along, companies like Anchor Bay and Blue Underground began to re-release some of these forgotten gems, reintroducing American audiences to such great movies as Django and filmmakers like Sergio Corbucci, Damiano Damiani and Sergio Sollima. Now, Grindhouse Releasing has stepped in to fill one of the biggest remaining gaps in anyone’s spaghetti western collection with their astounding, 4-disc (!) Collector’s Edition release of Sollima’s The Big Gundown. Needless to say, if you love westerns, this is a disc you’ll want to own.
Lee Van Cleef stars as John Corbett, a bounty hunter and occasional reluctant lawman being groomed for the state Senate by railroad magnate Brokston (Walter Barnes). On the day of Brokston’s daughter’s arranged marriage to a wealthy landowner, news comes that a Mexican named Cuchillo Sanchez (Tomas Milian) has raped and murdered a 12-year-old girl. Corbett agrees to bring Cuchillo to justice, beginning an epic cat-and-mouse chase that leads from the mountains of Colorado into the deserts of Mexico.
Highly regarded by fans of the genre, The Big Gundown is an unusual, episodic movie, especially in its first half. Van Cleef’s relentless pursuit of Milian finds him crossing paths with a range of odd, well-drawn characters including a wagon train of Mormons, a man-eating female rancher surrounded by her own small army of hired guns, and Brokston’s Austrian, monocle-sporting bodyguard, The Baron (Gerard Herter). The film occasionally threatens to lapse into repetitiveness but once we cross the border into Mexico, Sollima shifts into high gear, building to a thrilling, tension-filled climax. The widescreen photography is never less than stunning and Ennio Morricone’s score ranks among his very best.
Disc one includes an extended version of the U.S. cut of the film, reinstating three scenes cut from the original release. Image quality is top-notch and the audio is equally fantastic. The disc includes a bounty of extras, starting with an interesting audio commentary by film historians C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke. We also get a large number of video interviews with director Sergio Sollima, Tomas Milian and screenwriter Sergio Donati, all of which are worth your time. You can spend hours going through all the promotional material included on the disc, including deep still galleries, trailers and TV spots from a veritable atlas of territories. The disc also includes an isolated music and effects audio track.
The second disc presents the Italian-language director’s cut of the film which runs almost 20 minutes longer. The new material is mostly dialogue and the additional scenes help solve some of the choppiness that occasionally hampers the U.S. version. The disc also includes an isolated music track with an optional “music commentary” feature. The music commentary is text-based, appearing as subtitles and delving further into both Morricone’s score and the differences between the two versions of the film. It’s well worth checking out, particularly for fans of the Maestro. Disc two also includes extensive previews for other available and upcoming releases from Grindhouse.
The third disc is simply a DVD copy of disc one, with all of the same bells and whistles. Finally, disc four is a CD copy of Morricone’s soundtrack. Quite frankly, if the CD was the only bonus included in this set, it’d still be a must-own. The package also includes a lengthy and handsomely designed booklet with liner notes by Joyner and film music expert Gergely Hubai (whose book, Torn Music: Rejected Film Scores, I highly recommend).
The Big Gundown is a real jewel, an almost forgotten movie long overdue for rediscovery. Grindhouse went the extra mile and then some on this release, creating one of the most special Special Editions I’ve seen in a long time. Don’t hesitate in picking up this outstanding set. It’s one of the best Blu-rays of 2013.
- Adam Jahnke