Blu-ray
Recommended
4 stars
List Price
$27.99
Amazon
$27.74 (1%)
3rd Party
$24.28
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Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
5 Stars
HD Video Quality
3 Stars
HD Audio Quality
3.5 Stars
Supplements
2 Stars
High-Def Extras
2 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

The Big Gundown

Street Date:
December 10th, 2013
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
January 6th, 2014
Movie Release Year:
1966
Studio:
Grindhouse Releasing
Length:
95 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

The turning point in the magnificent 'The Big Gundown' (aka, 'La resa dei conti'), one of only three westerns ever directed by Sergio Sollima, takes place inside a pair of gloomy, darke jail cells. The story's supposed hero — the determined and unwavering bounty hunter Corbett, played with ultra-tough coolness by Lee Van Cleef — is forced to share the cell next to the man he's been relentlessly chasing after — the crafty and underhanded Mexican rogue "Cuchillo" Sanchez played with a grinning deviousness by Tomás Milián ('Django, Kill'). Van Cleef is so close to finally apprehending the man accused of raping and murdering a twelve-year-old girl, but he is prevented from doing so by the bars which divide them.

As he grips the metal bars with a wrathful frustration, the Hollywood actor is shot with an unflattering light and a grimy, sweat-drenched face. The walls behind him are a dark, portentous blue, and our hero is looking less like the archetypal valiant champion of justice. Up until this point, nearly an hour into the movie, we've been following Corbett as the only person capable of bringing this despicable killer to answer for his crimes, but ironically, his efforts are thwarted by the very system he fights for and its alluring romance is suddenly fading. Meanwhile, Cuchillo is breaking free with very little trouble and given lighting that is slightly more promising, even a bit on the glamorous side with a cleaner face, and his walls are a nicer, more attractive white.

It's a beautifully designed sequence which contradicts everything we've ever known or expected of the genre and has us questioning the point of the film's entire first half. The story takes a bigger dramatic turn when Cuchillo turns to Corbett just before jumping out of his cell's window and calls our hero a beast — which the cinematography is also suggestive of — for chasing a poor Mexican peasant without question or a genuine reason. Van Cleef's reaction to this is terrifically memorable because his fuming expression dwindles and his eyes grow into shallow glimmers of disenchantment, as if hit hard into his soul by the words. Suddenly, Corbett's journey through the deserts of Colorado and into Mexico seems like a madman's obsession for an ideal that may not exist, taking personal injury over something he actually has no personal investment in.

2013 Grindhouse Releasing


2012 German Import


Earlier, a Mexican police captain (Fernando Sancho) asked if Corbett was a man of the law, a relative of the murdered little girl or if he had any connection whatsoever to the crime itself. The obvious answer was a cold and somewhat uncertain "No." Combined with the jail cell scene and the conversation, Corbett's ideals are basically being tested, along with those of the audience because we, too, accepted the accusation without first asking for the evidence. Throughout the first half, the film feels like a quirky, cat-and-mouse comedy, a game of wits between a shrewd, fast-talking conman and a fast-draw, cold-blooded gunslinger. Then, the jail scenes happen and everything suddenly turns deadly serious, which has us reflecting back on everything we've seen up to that point.

Working from a script he co-wrote with Sergio Donati, who also co-penned the screenplay for the masterful 'Once Upon a Time in the West,' Sollima is probing deeper into the moral ambiguities of the conventional gun-slinging hero of western mythology, especially as a symbol of democratic justice taming the turbulent savage violence of the West. Other colorful characters, like the major powerbroker Brockston (Walter Barnes) and the beautiful rancher (Nieves Navarro) who snares men into her web like the deadly black widow, are suggestive of deeper issues in capitalism. But 'The Big Gundown' is not merely about the fraudulent dishonesty in money and business as it is about Corbett's blind belief in an ideology that can potentially convert him without being aware of it.

What it ultimately boils down to is not whether those ideals of justice are tangible or admirable, but that Corbett chooses to believe in them, which in turn implies that his fate is in his hands. The opening shootout sequence beautifully captures this sentiment about choice after we're first introduced to Corbett sitting by a fire, waiting for three outlaws walking towards him. When the trio finally grasps Corbett's identity and admits to be being out of ammo, our rugged hero sets three bullets on a log. Sollima's deep focus lens shows each man standing perfectly across from each of their designated bullets. They have a choice, given to them freely, to determine their fate. We already know the outcome before it even happens, but in the grander scheme of the narrative, it takes Corbett a while before appreciating the bullet he's chosen for himself.

2013 Grindhouse Releasing


2012 German Import


The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

Grindhouse Releasing brings 'The Big Gundown' to Blu-ray as four-disc collector's edition where the last two are a DVD-9 copy of the U.S. cut and a CD of Ennio Morricone's original score. The first disc is Region Free, BD50 containing the 95-minute American version of the film while the second is a Region Free, BD25 with the original 110-minute Italian Director's Cut with English subtitles. The difference between them is quite substantial as the former hurries the pace by shortening certain scenes and dialogue, such as Corbett negotiating with people before resorting to violence. Of the two, the original longer version is preferred.

The package also includes a 22-page booklet with glossy color photos and three essays. The first is by C. Courtney Joyner entitled "Sergio Sollima's Political Gundown" and discuss the production's history and themes. The second, "Cutting to the Chase: The Tale of Two Gundowns," focuses on the alternate cuts and compares their differences while the third, "Six Shooter Symphony," discusses Ennio Morricone's score. Both are by Georgely Hubal. At startup of both BD discs, viewers are directly taken a static menu with music playing in the background.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'The Big Gundown' finally hits the U.S. home video market thanks to Grindhouse Releasing. And according to information on the back of the box, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1) comes from a 2K digital restoration of a print of the original American version. Compared to last year's German digibook release, the high-def transfer is unfortunately a bit of a mixed bag with plenty to admire but also to feel disappointment about.

Most apparent in this version is a slightly different color timing, skewed more towards reds and oranges. Not only does this make those particular colors pop brighter than normal, but they also lessen other primaries a tad, especially blues. Flesh tones appear somewhat unnatural, orangey and sun-tanned. Contrast has been boosted slightly to brighten the overall image, making highlights bloom and clip in a few scenes while others offer excellent visibility. The natural layer of film grain expected from a movie of this vintage and caliber also seems missing with some sequences suggesting the result of digital noise reduction and a couple facial complexions looking pretty smooth and waxy.

[UPDATE]: Thanks to Bob Murawski of Grindhouse Releasing for sharing a few details, which is a rare treat. The negative used for this high-def transfer was cleaned frame by frame and without the help of any noise reduction. It is as faithful to the condition of the original source as possible. And with that, I rescind my early estimation that such was or could have been the case. All things considered, the video presentation is sure to please fans.

On a positive note, black levels are strong with deep, dark shadows that don't overwhelm background information. Overall clarity and resolution are on par with its German counterpart with sharp definition and detailing in the hacienda-style houses, costumes and surrounding foliage. Then again, much of the video here is on the softer side of things. Nevertheless, considering the film's history on home video, this is a package fans will surely to love own and add to their collection. Besides, several of the softer, more troubled sequences can be excused as the result of the source's condition and quality, especially seeing as how this is an alternate cut of the original film.

2013 Grindhouse Releasing


2012 German Import


The Audio: Rating the Sound

Where this package from Grindhouse Releasing is a sure winner is in the audio department. The previous German Blu-ray only offered the mono soundtrack in legacy Dolby Digital and only the German tracks were remastered.

Here, we have a DTS-HD Master Audio mono track that's lively, full-bodied and delivers a great sense of presence in the center. Background noise, hissing and popping is practically nonexistent with excellent dialogue reproduction and bass that's appropriate for its age. Much of the action and music generates a wide and engaging soundstage with a mostly well-balanced mid-range. Each instrument and note in Morricone's magnificent score is clear and fairly detailed; however, the lossless mix does exhibit a bit of trouble in the upper ranges, showing very mild hints of distortion and clipping. But aside from that, this remaster of the original sound design is strong and highly enjoyable.

2013 Grindhouse Releasing


2012 German Import


The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

  • Sergio Sollima: Struggles Against Genre (1080i/60, 28 min) — Another interview with the filmmaker ruminating on the production, a clip borrowed from the IFC documentary, The Spaghetti West.

  • Sergio Donati Bonus Interview (1080i/60, 12 min) — Sitdown chat with the writer and his work in the Italian western genre. It's a clip also borrowed from the same IFC doc.

  • Still Galleries (HD) — An extensive collection of photos, production still and various promotional material.

  • Trailers (HD) — Three theatrical previews and five TV spots.

  • Filmographies (HD)

  • CD Soundtrack

2013 Grindhouse Releasing


2012 German Import


HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Along with the booklet, there are a few high-def exclusives.

  • Audio Commentary — Screenwriter and author C. Courtney Joyner and western genre writer Henry C. Parke talk extensively about the history of Italian westerns and the film industry of the period. They also share a great deal of knowledge on this particular production.

  • Sergio Sollima Remembers (HD, 29 min) — A 2005 interview with the director discussing the film's and genre's history.

  • Tomás Milián: Acting on Instinct (HD, 30 min) — The actor shares his memories and talks about his career.

  • Tagliatelle in Los Angeles (HD, 12 min) — Interview with screenwriter Sergio Donati reminisces on the production and genre.

  • DVD-ROM — A text detailing the editing and cuts made to the original film for American audiences.


Easter Eggs

The first Blu-ray disc comes with a trio of Easter Eggs for fans to enjoy, and thanks goes to Bob Murawski of Grindhouse Releasing for the information.

The first small treat can be found in the main menu page. With the gun pointing at the "Special Features" label, move the cursor up and a knife highlights in Cuchillo's hands. An Italian trailer for 'Run, Man, Run' (SD, 4 min) plays, which is another Sergio Sollima-directed adventure with Tomás Milián as Cuchillo.

The second egg is on the first page of the special features section. Scroll down to the "Tomás Milián: Acting on Instinct" featurette and move the cursor to the right, which highlights the knife in the bottom corner. There, fans can enjoy another Italian trailer for Lucio Fulci's 'Four of the Apocalypse' (SD, 4 min)

And finally, the third egg is located on the third page of the special features section. After scrolling down to "Disc Credits," push the left cursor on the remote to highlight yet another knife in the bottom right corner. When pressing "Play," genre fans are treated to an interview (HD, 8 min) with actor Tomás Milián sharing several amusing memories from his career.

Final Thoughts

Widely considered one of the best in the Italian western genre, Sergio Sollima's 'The Big Gundown' is a genuine cult classic, full of drama, action and mystery. Starring Lee Van Cleef and Tomas Milian, the film is a sumptuous example of style and form expressing a deeper meaning within the plot. Grindhouse Releasing brings the first U.S. home video release of the classic on Blu-ray with a strong picture quality, but compared to 2012's German digibook, the transfer is slightly less than satisfying. However, with a much better lossless audio presentation and a wealth of supplements, the overall package is still well-worth the asking price.

Technical Specs

  • Four-Disc Limited Edition Combo Pack
  • BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc / BD-25 Single-Layer Disc
  • DVD-9 Dual-Layer Disc
  • Region Free

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.35:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
  • Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono

Subtitles/Captions

  • English

Supplements

  • Featurettes
  • Still Galleries
  • Trailers
  • Filmographies
  • Bonus CD Soundtrack

Exclusive HD Content

  • Blu-ray of Original Italian Cut
  • Audio Commentary
  • Featurettes
  • DVD-ROM
  • Booklet
  • DVD Copy

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List Price
$27.99
Amazon
$27.74 (1%)
3rd Party
$24.28
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»

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