Lee Van Cleef is a man who makes it look easy to dominate the screen with his presence, no matter what the film. “The Big Gundown” is purely a western thriller for the Lee Van Cleef fans that want to indulge in the sheer finesse and charisma of Van Cleef when he takes turns as the hero. Or in this case, the anti-hero. Van Cleef takes on the role of John Corbett, a man who is not afraid to gun down people that threaten him, but is never trigger happy. He is one of the best bounty hunters in the west, and is a man devoted to his duties. As Corbett, he’s asked by an aristocrat to hunt down a vicious criminal named Cuchillo. He’s wanted for raping and murdering a young girl, and is currently on the run in the west, giving the law a difficult time of finding him.
Tomas Millian is very good as the criminal Cuchillo, a man who feigns ignorance and idiocy but is oh so much smarter than he looks. Corbett is prepared to catch him and bring him in for the bounty, but soon he discovers Cuchillo is not going to go so easily. So begins a huge came of cat and mouse that really helps “The Big Gundown” transform in to a simple but very entertaining action drama with Van Cleef at a crossroads. Though Cuchillo is a slimy and vicious man, he thwarts Corbett’s every attempts to bring him to jail with a clever ruse, and is insistent that Corbett has not been filled in to the whole story as to why he’s being hunted.
There are many excellent moments where the men match wits, one of which involves Cuchillo’s brilliant ruse to trick Corbett in to thinking he’s been bitten by a venomous snake, prompting Corbett to free him from his binds to help suck the venom from his backside. There’s also a great scene in a bordello that leads to Corbett being accidentally jailed with Cuchillo. What makes “The Big Gundown” so much of a fun and exciting Western thriller is that Cuchillo is always a man on the verge of being captured, but always manages to worm out of his corner.
Millian really works well off of Van Cleef, and is a scene stealer as this complex man with so many more dimensions behind him than we’re seeing. Along the way writers Sergio Donati, Sergio Sollima, Tulio Demicheli, Fernando Morandi, and Franco Solinas reveal more layers behind Cuchillo’s dilemma, and allow Van Cleef to stretch his arms in this fun and dynamic role. Director Sergio Sollima is never afraid to be comical, or violent, and really does unfold a clever and consistently entertaining premise where Lee Van Cleef is able to portray an interesting and flawed hero for the big screen.
Grindhouse Releasing unleashes an immense special edition for fans of “The Big Gundown,” providing both a DVD and Blu-Ray edition. There’s the US Theatrical edition that clocks in at ninety five minutes on Disc One. Among the packed array of extras including an excellent audio commentary with C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke. There are also five image galleries, three film trailers, five Television spots, filmographies for Sergio Sollima, Thomas Milian and Sergio Donati, as well as five interviews with Sergio Sollima clocking in at thirty minutes, Tomas Millian at thirty minutes, Segio Donati at twelve minutes, director Sergio Sollima at twenty seven minutes, and Segio Donati at eleven minutes in length.
Disc Two of the Blu-Ray features the 110 minute director’s Cut of “The Big Gundown,” with two audio options, and two subtitle options, as well as an audio commentary within the film. Tomas Millian discusses his history with filmmaking, acting, and how he came to Italy. Segio Donati and Sergio Sollima discuss the film itself, screenwriting, and their work on the Spaghetti Western Genre.
Disc Three is a dual layer DVD with all of the contents from disc one, while Disc Four is a CD is a collection of Ennio Morricone’s music from “The Big Gundown,” allowing fans a chance to appreciate Morricone’s excellent music set apart from the film. It’s a wonderful and very alluring addition to what is a very detailed special edition. There’s also a DVD Rom extra which offers a text essay comparing both versions of “The Big Gundown,” as well as a slip cover, reversible cover art, and a large booklet garnering four essays about “The Big Gundown.” Grindhouse Releasing spares no detail, as this new release is a spectacular treat for Spaghetti Western fanatics.