[BLU-RAY REVIEW] THE BIG GUNDOWN (1966) FROM GRINDHOUSE RELEASING

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ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW:

A badass film gets the 5 star treatment. One of the best releases of the year from one of the best distributors of the year. Grindhouse Releasing has once again set the bar high for genre cinema. Looking at their line-up for 2014, it’s going to be more of the same… and we’re smiling ear to fucking ear, baby.

THE FILM:

He sits by a fire, puffing a pipe and enjoying one last moment of silence when three outlaws interrupt his solitude. They’re delivering “the loot” to a man called Gullick, all three outlaws are tired and winded and assume the man in front of them is just who they’re looking for. The man with the pipe tells the three bandits that it’s a bad time for outlaws, especially if they’re wanted for murder. “They hang’em, just like they do in Texas. If you don’t believe me, ask Gullick.” He gestures with his pipe to a dead man hanging in a tree and quickly dispenses two of the three stunned bandits, the last one standing has a chance to do what’s right but pulls his piece when he should have dropped his gun belt and ends up going down for the dirt nap with an extra hole in his chest. Welcome to Sergio Sollima’s LA RESA DEI CONTI, aka THE BIG GUNDOWN.

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Lee Van Cleef is Jonathan Corbett, a man with political ambitions who agrees to track down ‘Cuchillo’ Sanchez, a Mexican who is wanted for the rape and murder of a young girl. Cuchillo, played by a wile Tomas Milian, professes his innocence and soon Corbett realizes he may be right. For the first time, Lee Van Cleef is carrying a film as the hero of the story. He has the same cold stare, but not the cold heart he had shown in previous films. He’s almost contemplative in between the moments of mayhem. Credit both Van Cleef’s natural instinct and Sollima’s keen direction.

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The story may appear simple, but thanks to an original idea by Franco Solinas (THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS), this is a highly political film that explores the idea of class: the wealthy versus the impoverished and how the laws of the land apply to each. Though the screenplay was ultimately written by Serio Donati (a Sergio Leone collaborator) and Sollima, the concept remains similar. Cuchillo is a revolutionary, Corbett is the moral conscience, Corbett’s employer and those that want Cuchillo dead are the elites. Though film has one minor misstep at the end, it’s a fast moving brawler of a film that is surprisingly contemplative. Sollima’s would continue to explore these themes most notably in RUN, MAN, RUN, a sequel to THE BIG GUNDOWN available on DVD from Blue Underground.

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At a time when the Western was becoming more water than whiskey, Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS changed the game. The west may have been won, but the Italians took it like it was their own. With a whole lot of bullets and balls the size of Texas, they had elements of John Ford and the classic tropes of the genre, but the stories were told through an audacious lens. While Leone and Corbucci rack up the accolades, there are directors who deserve just as much praise as those we consider the “name brands” of Spaghetti Westerns. You can often find their work in butchered versions released as part of those 50 film sets which have about as much quality as a two dollar hooker. Sollima is one of the unsung heroes of the genre, and THE BIG GUNDOWN is every bit a masterpiece as anything Leone has done.

Disc 1 (Blu-ray):

95 minute U.S. expanded cut

Disc 2 (Blu-ray):

110 minute director’s cut of the film

Disc 3 (DVD):

95 minute U.S. expanded cut

Disc 4 (Compact Disc):

CD of the amazing Ennio Morricone soundtrack. Yup, that’s how fucking cool Grindhouse Releasing is.

The picture:

The 2K Digital Restoration of the original uncensored English-language version looks amazing. After the release of Blue Underground’s MANIAC COP 2, this may be the best looking release of the year for a genre film.

The sound:

A six-shooter packed with perfection.

The extras:

Hold onto your shit, this is the release that will certify Grindhouse Releasing as the Criterion for fans of genre and exploitation cinema. Why? Because they jam each release with extras, trailers, and hands down the most extensive booklets of any label. I feel like it’s almost dismissive calling it a “booklet” but for lack of a better word, we’ll stick with that. Bellying up to the bar is Western film experts C. Courtney Joyner, along with Gergley Hubai, for 22 pages of commentary and discussion on the history and legacy of this film.

Commentary Track: C. Courtney Joyner is joined by Henry C. Parke for an extensive, scene-by-scene breakdown of the film. I am a Spaghetti Western junkie so to spend a chuck of time with these cats was an honor.

Interviews with Sergio Sollima, Tomas Milian, and Sergio Donati color in the production of the film

Not really an extra, but I have to say the slip-cover for this is raised on the front, back, and sides, not sure I’ve seen that before. This is just another hint at the quality inside.

 

Final Verdict:

Buy it quick, before someone sees your collection without it.

FIGHT DIRTY,
G

@THEANGRYCHIBA

 

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