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The Great Silence

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Subject: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Sergio Corbucci, Ennio Morricone, Loco, Raf Baldassarre
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The Great Silence

The Great Silence
(Il grande silenzio)
Italian film poster
Directed by Sergio Corbucci
Produced by Attilio Riccio
Written by Vittoriano Petrilli
Mario Amendola
Bruno Corbucci
Sergio Corbucci
English Version:
John Davis Hart
Lewis E. Ciannelli
Story by Sergio Corbucci
Starring Jean Louis Trintignant
Klaus Kinski
Frank Wolff
Luigi Pistilli
Mario Brega
Marisa Merlini
Vonetta Mc Gee
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Silvano Ippoliti
Edited by Amedeo Salfa
Adelphia Compagnia Cinematografica
Les Films Corona
Distributed by 20th Century Fox Italia (Italy)
Release dates
  • 19 November 1968 (1968-11-19)
Running time
105 minutes
Country Italy
Language Italian
Box office 570,486 admissions (France)[2]

The Great Silence (Italian: Il grande silenzio), also known as The Big Silence,[3] is a 1968 Revisionist Spaghetti Western film directed and co-written by Sergio Corbucci. An Italian-French co-production, the film stars Jean-Louis Trintignant and Vonetta McGee (in her film début)[4] alongside genre regulars Klaus Kinski, Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli and Mario Brega.

Concieved by Corbucci as a political allegory inspired by the recent deaths of Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Malcolm X, the film's plot takes place in Utah prior to the Great Blizzard of 1899. It pits a mute gunslinger (Trintignant), fighting in the defence of a group of outlawed Mormons and a vengeful young widow (McGee), against a group of ruthless bounty killers led by the psychotic "Loco" (Kinski) and the corrupt banker Henry Pollicut (Pistilli). Unlike most films of the genre, which were filmed in the Almería province of Spain to double for areas such as Texas and Mexico, The Great Silence was filmed on location primarily in the Italian Dolomites.[5]

Distributed in Italy and various international markets by 20th Century Fox and its subsidiaries, The Great Silence only proved to be a modest financial success in the countries it played in.[5] The film was withheld from release in the United States until 2004, when it was made available on DVD by Fantoma Films.[6] Despite initially receiving controversy for its bleak and dark tone,[7] the film's reputation grew following its release. The Great Silence is now widely regarded by fans and authorities on Spaghetti Westerns as one of the greatest films of the genre, and is acknowledged as Corbucci's masterpiece.[8][9][10][11] Praise has gone to the film's performances (especially those of Trintignant, Kinski, McGee, Wolff and Pistilli), its unconventional use of a mountainous, snow-bound environment, the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, the ending, and its subversion of various conventions of the Western film genre.[12][13]


  • Plot 1
    • Alternate Ending 1.1
  • Cast 2
  • Background 3
  • Production 4
  • Notes 5
  • Impact 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Henry Pollicut, a corrupt Utahn banker, has Gordon, a man with evidence against him, and his wife murdered by two bounty killers. Fearing that Gordon's son will give them away, one of the killers slices his throat, rendering him permanently mute. Years later, the son, armed with a Mauser C96, extracts his revenge by assassinating the bounty killer and shooting Pollicut’s right-hand thumb.

Sometime later, in 1898, a severe blizzard has swept the frontier, bringing privation to the town of Snow Hill. As a result, a significant portion of the community, mostly Mormons, is forced to steal in order to survive. Pollicut, seeking to make a profit, places prices on these thieves’ heads, attracting the attention of a gang of bounty killers led by the sadistic "Loco". As Loco and the killers prey on the outlaws, Gordon’s son, now going by the moniker "Silence", works with the bandits and their allies to fight against the killers. Silence operates on a principle whereby he provokes his enemies into drawing first so that he can kill them in self-defence.

One of the outlaws, a black man named James Middleton, leaves the safety of the group to be with his wife, Pauline. James is subsequently killed by Loco when he takes Pauline hostage. Vengeful, Pauline writes to Silence, requesting that he kill Loco on the condition that he will be paid $1000. Meanwhile, the newly elected Governor of Utah, hoping to have order maintained before the passing of an amnesty regarding the outlaws, assigns the righteous but bumbling soldier Gideon Burnett as the sheriff of Snow Hill. On his way, Burnett encounters the outlaws, who steal his horse for food. After getting lost in the snow, he finds a stagecoach travelling to Snow Hill, on which he meets Silence, and later, Loco. Upon arrival, Silence meets Pauline, who promises to raise his reward the next day. Learning of Silence’s arrival, Pollicut unsuccessfully tries to convince Loco to kill him.

Pauline attempts to sell her house to Pollicut, who demands that she becomes his mistress – his reason for putting a price on her husband. Pauline bitterly refuses, and admits to Silence that she would willing sleep with him as payment. Silence leaves for the saloon, finding Loco there, and attempts to provoke him into drawing. Knowing that he is too slow compared to Silence, Loco proceeds to severely beat him, before Silence eventually fights back. Angered, Loco attempts to shoot him in the back, but he is stopped by Burnett, who arrests him for attempted murder and prepares to take him to a prison out of town. Before leaving, Burnett requests that the townspeople provide food for the outlaws. Meanwhile, Pauline nurses Silence’s wounds, and they share a romantic moment together.

Burnett and Loco encounter the bandits again, and Burnett advises them to go to Snow Hill. The pair stop by a frozen lake to allow Loco to relieve himself, but he springs a trap, shooting the ice surrounding Burnett and leaving him to die in the freezing water. Loco rides to his hideout, and convinces the remaining members of his gang to confront Silence. Determined to take Pauline by force and extract vengeance against Silence, Pollicut attempts to rape her as his henchman, Martin, tortures Silence by burning his right hand. Silence overpowers Martin, burning his face, and kills Pollicut when he attempts to shoot him. Loco and his gang arrive to look for Silence, just as the outlaws then appear at the edge of town to collect the provisions. Deciding to use them to draw out Silence, the gang herd the bandits into the saloon, and capture Pauline as she spies on them. Loco tells Pauline to have Silence duel with him – if Silence wins, the outlaws will be set free; if Loco wins, they will be killed.

Ignoring Pauline’s pleas that the duel is a trap, Silence stands outside the saloon. A killer shoots his left hand, greatly impairing his speed and marksmanship. Loco then stands in the saloon’s doorway, ready to face the weakened Silence. As he begins reaching for his Mauser, Loco reaches for his Peacemaker – but as Silence draws, another wounding shot is fired. Loco fires a final shot at Silence’s head, killing him. Distraught, Pauline attempts to shoot Loco herself, but swiftly dies as well. The bounty killers turn their guns on the outlaws, massacring the entire group. As Loco and his men prepare to collect their bounty, 'all according to the law', he takes Silence’s Mauser from Pauline’s hands, claiming it as his own. The killers then ride out of Snow Hill into the morning sun. A closing title card reveals that Loco’s actions resulted in public condemnation of bounty hunting, and a memorial was erected in Snow Hill to honor those who died by his greed.

Alternate Ending

Due to the bleak nature of the original finale, Corbucci was forced to shoot an alternative "happy" ending to the film for the North African market, where Spaghetti Westerns were popular, but had to have an upbeat conclusion. Because it was believed that no audio elements for this ending had survived, early DVD releases of the film, such as the US release from Fantoma Films, feature it without sound.[14] However, a version with Italian dubbing has surfaced in recent years, and has been translated into English by members of the Spaghetti Western Database fansite.[15]

In this ending, Loco draws his gun without waiting to be prompted by Silence. Suddenly, Burnett, having somehow survived being trapped under the frozen lake, rides into town on horseback and shoots Loco in the head, giving Silence enough time to kill the remaining bounty killers. Burnett frees the outlaws as Pauline takes the bandages on Silence's burnt right hand off, revealing an iron glove that he used for protection. As Burnett takes the thieves to the local jail to await their amnesty, he asks Silence to become his deputy, which he accepts with a smile. Reunited as a romantic couple, Silence and Pauline see Burnett and the outlaws off.


  • Jean-Louis Trintignant as Gordon Jr./"Silence"
  • Klaus Kinski as "Loco" ("Tigrero" in the Italian version)
  • Vonetta McGee as Pauline Middleton
  • Frank Wolff as Sheriff Gideon Burnett (Corbett in Italian)
  • Luigi Pistilli as Henry Pollicut (Podik in Italian)
  • Mario Brega as Martin
  • Carlo D'Angelo as the Governor of Utah
  • Marisa Merlini as Regina, the Saloon Owner (Régine in Italian)
  • Maria Mizar Ferrara as Saloon Girl
  • Marisa Sally as Saloon Girl
  • Raf Baldassarre as Sanchez (Bobo Schultz in Italian)
  • Spartaco Conversi as Walter, Leader of the Outlaws
  • Remo De Angelis as Bounty Killer in Flashback
  • Mirella Pamphili as Saloon Girl
  • Loris Loddi as Young Silence in Flashback (Uncredited)
  • Adriana Giuffrè as Silence’s Mother in Flashback (Uncredited)
  • Bruno Corazzari as Charlie (Uncredited)
  • Pupita Lea Scuderoni as Miguel's Mother (Uncredited)
  • Jacques Toulouse as Miguel, the Young Outlaw (Uncredited)
  • Fortunato Arena as Outlaw (Uncredited)
  • Benito Pacifico as Stagecoach Driver (Uncredited)
  • Mimmo Poli as Barman (Uncredited)
  • Claudio Ruffini as Bounty Killer (Uncredited)
  • Luciano Rossi as Bounty Killer (Uncredited)
  • Giulia Salvatori as Child on Sled (Uncredited)


According to Corbucci, actor Marcello Mastroianni gave him the initial idea of a mute gunfighter when the former told him that he had always wanted to appear in a Western, but would have been held back by his inability to speak English. When Corbucci first met Jean-Louis Trintignant, who was hired for the leading role of the film after it was turned down by Franco Nero,[3] he learned that Trintignant did not speak English either. Due to his fascination with characters with a crippling weakness (as seen in Django, where the title character's hands are crushed), Corbucci decided to turn Trintignant's character into a mute.[7]


Location shooting took place in the Italian Dolomites, around the ski resorts of Cortina d'Ampezzo (Veneto) and San Cassiano in Badia (South Tyrol). It was also shot at Bracciano Lake, near Manziana in Lazio and the Elios town set in Rome was used for several of the Snow Hill scenes (including two nights sequences and the build-up to the final duel).[16][5]

Most of the Snow Hill scenes were shot at night so that the fake "snow" looked more convincing; 26 tons of shaving cream was used to give the street a snowbound look. For the daylight scenes, the Elios set was swathed in fog, to disguise the fact that the surrounding countryside had no snow, or relied on camera overexposure to avoid continuity errors.[5][16][17][18]

The Great Silence was one of several Spaghetti Westerns produced between 1967 and 1968, along with Enzo G. Castellari's Kill Them All and Come Back Alone and One Dollar Too Many, Sergio Sollima's Run Man Run and Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, to be showcased in Patrick Morin's made-for-television documentary Western, Italian Style. During the making of the film, Corbucci and Trintignant were interviewed; Corbucci discussed the nature of violence in his films and Spaghetti Westerns in general (comparing the use of violence in such films to the James Bond franchise), while Trintignant spoke of the unusual nature of his role and how he would practice drawing his gun - by pulling a sock (substituting for the gloves Silence wears in the film) off his hand and reaching for a long-steamed artichoke in his pocket.[18]


Jean-Louis Trintignant is famous for the films A Man and a Woman, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist, Roger Vadim's And God Created Woman, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors: Red and Michael Haneke's Amour.

Silence's distinctive rapid-firing pistol is a Unforgiven (1992); in the early seventies there was even a rumour that Eastwood was going to remake The Great Silence.

The only words Silence utters are as a boy, played in flashback by child actor Loris Loddi. As his mother is shot, he cries out, "Mamma! Mamma!", though the English dubbed voice is reused from the final scene of Corbucci's earlier film Johnny Oro (1966).


The Russian progressive rock band Little Tragedies, the Hungarian band Yesterdays and the Italian group N.O.T. (Noise Overtones Therapy) composed and performed 20-minute pieces based on the film, titled The Voice Of Silence, Suite Pauline and Epilogo respectively, as part of the Colossus Project, a musical project set up by the Finnish Progressive Music Association to encourage bands and musical artists to musically interpret the film and other Spaghetti Westerns. The songs were released on the album The Spaghetti Epic Volume Three - The Greatest Silence.[19]

The music by Ennio Morricone was later sampled and remixed by Thievery Corporation for the album Morricone Rmx.[20] The grindcore band Cripple Bastards released an album with the film's Italian title.[21] Anima Morte also recorded a version of the main theme for the 2010 compilation album Cani Arrabbiati - Opening Themes... A Tribute.[22]

The film has influenced the works of Quentin Tarantino, who has paid homage to the film in Django Unchained and the upcoming The Hateful Eight.[23][24]


  • Hughes, Howard (2010). Spaghetti Westerns. Harpenden: Kamera Books.  
  • Cox, Alex (2009). 10,000 Ways to Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western. Oldcastle Books.  
  • Giusti, Marco (2007). Dizionario del western all'italiana, 1st ed. Mondadori.  


  1. ^ "Il Grande Silenzo".  
  2. ^ "Le Grand Silence - Box Office Jean Louis Trintignant 1969". Box Office Story. Retrieved October 5, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b The Great Silence ( 
  4. ^ "Vonetta McGee obituary".  
  5. ^ a b c d Alex Cox, 10,000 Ways to Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western, Oldcastle Books, September 1, 2009. ISBN 978-1842433041.
  6. ^ "Sergio Corbucci's The Great Silence". Fantoma. Retrieved 2015-10-28. 
  7. ^ a b Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'italiana, 1st ed. Milan, Mondadori, August 2007. ISBN 978-88-04-57277-0.
  8. ^ "Essential Top 20 Films". Spaghetti Western Database. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  9. ^ "Alex Cox's Top 20 Favourite Spaghetti Westerns". Spaghetti Western Database. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Howard Hughes' Top 20". Spaghetti Western Database. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Quentin Tarantino's Top 20 favorite Spaghetti Westerns". Spaghetti Western Database. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 
  12. ^ "Turning the Western on its head: Simple subversion in Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence (1968)". Offscreen. Retrieved 2015-10-28. 
  13. ^ "Turning the Western on its head: The Great Silence: Guns, Morality and Death". Offscreen. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  14. ^ "DVD review at". Retrieved 2006-10-29. 
  15. ^ "The Great Silence – The Alternative Ending". Retrieved 2015-09-26. 
  16. ^ a b The Great Silence (Alternate "Happy" Ending with Commentary by  
  17. ^ "The Great Silence (Grande silenzio, Il) (1968)". Michael D's Region 4 DVD Info Page. Retrieved 2015-10-31. 
  18. ^ a b "Western, Italian Style (1968) - Documentary/TV Movie".  
  19. ^ "THE SPAGHETTI EPIC (DIVERS) Volume Three - The Great Silence (Musea Compilation)". Musea Records. Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  20. ^ "Morricone Rmx".  
  21. ^ "Il Grande Silenzio".  
  22. ^ "Cani Arrabbiati - Opening Themes... A Tribute".  
  23. ^ Edwards, Gavin (December 30, 2012). "Quentin Tarantino: my inspiration for Django Unchained".  
  24. ^ "Wait, Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight Might Be A Comedy". Cinema Blend. Retrieved September 15, 2015. 

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