What's the best part of a western? The final showdown! And this spaghetti western makes it a grand spectacle.
The Big Gundown is only one of three spaghetti westerns directed by Sergio Sollima. Whereas most Italian directors stayed in the subgenre until it became outdated, Sollima seemed satisfied with only two more: Face to Face and Run, Man, Run. Often, critics have interpreted these three films as allegories to living under the fascist government of Mussolini during World War II, a commentary on U.S. policy in Latin America, and the role of environment and society in shaping the individual.
The Big Gundown is also popular for its themes of the gun-loving rich versus the knife-wielding poor, corrupted authority, and the modernization of the West. In the lead role for the first time, Lee Van Cleef plays bounty hunter Jonathan Corbett, fresh off the Dollars scene. In the main supporting role is Cuban actor Tomas Milian, who, along with his co-star, became a popular face in more spaghetti westerns. Often times, Milian was known for overacting and played type-casted roles as a Mexican peasant or bandit. Here in Sollima’s film, he plays one of his signature characters, El Cuchillo, a Mexican vagabond that can draw a knife faster than the quickest gun.
And speaking of draws, The Big Gundown may have some of the best standoffs in the whole spaghetti western subgenre. These action sequences are supported by more outstanding music by Ennio Morricone, who was known for incorporating sounds like cracking whips, whistles, voices, and gunshots, mixed in with instruments like Jew's harp, trumpets, and a Fender electric guitar, all when he didn't have full access to a full orchestra. The latter of which was also reused eventually in Tarantino’s movies, like Inglourious Basterds.
Over the years, as Sollima moved into new cinematic territory like crime thrillers, The Big Gundown continues to be praised for its story, acting, cinematography, Morricone’s score, and its climactic showdown. After all, with a title like that, a spaghetti western can't strive for anything less.
Trivia: The character of El Cuchillo makes another appearance in Sollima's final spaghetti western, Run, Man, Run. Tomas Milian reprises his role.
Editor's Note: The series will continue next Friday with the next installment.