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December 13, 2013

The Big Gundown

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La Resa dei Conti
Sergio Sollima - 1966
Grindhouse Releasing Blu-ray Regions ABC / DVD Region 0 set

There is a remarkable scene only available on the Blu-ray disc of La Resa dei Conti, the 1966 Italian western that was recut and released as The Big Gundown in the U.S. two years later. The original title roughly translates as "The Settling of Scores". Three outlaws from Texas think they have succeeded in completing their rendezvous with an outlaw they only know by name in Colorado. As it turns out, it's the bounty hunter who is waiting for them. One of the trio explains that they have run out of bullets. In a beautifully composed shot, we see the bounty hunter place three bullets on a log, one in front of each man, the three men and their respective bullets all within a single frame. One of the reasons why anyone would want to see Sergio Sollima's original version is to see how the characterizations are better fleshed out, especially in establishing the sense of fair play on the part of the bounty hunter, played by Lee Van Cleef.

Another shot that is shortened takes place presumably during "Day of the Dead" celebrations, with children watching marionette skeletons. It works as part of a visual motif. In the aforementioned opening scene, the camera pans just enough to the viewer's right of the outlaw trio to see the outlaw they were planning to meet hung from a tree. Later, Tomas Milian is tied in such a way that he is pulled in several directions at once. While some may gripe at hearing Van Cleef dubbed in Italian, with subtitles, La Resa dei Conti is the richer film.

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Not only is the dialogue subtitled in this version, but so is the music. Not only can you see the film with an isolated music track by Ennio Morricone, but there are subtitles that discuss the music queues. Not that all of the music is by Morricone, as his is aided by a couple of guys named Mendelsson and Beethoven. Mendelsson's "Wedding March" is played at the marriage of a magnate's daughter, suddenly morphing into a square dance. Beethoven's "Fur Elise" is first heard on piano, played by an Austrian baron who serves as the magnate's hired gun. Later, Morricone takes the opening notes, replayed as part of the soundtrack, poignantly integrated with a Spanish guitar theme.

As for the film itself, the fun is primarily watching the twists and turn of Van Cleef in his pursuit of Milian. Although seen later in the U.S., this was Van Cleef's first top billed performance following his career changing role as Colonel Mortimer in For a Few Dollars More. Van Cleef looks like a predatory bird with his thin face and pronounced nose. When he smiles, Van Cleef looks like the cat that swallowed the canary. In contrast to the usually cool and measured Van Cleef, is Milian's manic thief. There are times when Milian appears act like a simpleton or a slack-jawed idiot, disguising his own smart ways of taking advantage of every situation where he appears to have been caught. This was Milian's second western, also a career changer, where he became a staple in Italian westerns and later, in crime thrillers.

In one of the many supplements, Sergio Sollima talks about a love for westerns that he's had since childhood. I would venture that this love persisted into adulthood. Was Sollima thinking about My Darling Clementine with the shot of the sheriff leaning back in his chair, feet on the railing? Could the inclusion of a traveling Mormons be inspired by The Wagonmaster? While Sollima cites Akira Kurosawa with helping create the genre most associated with Sergio Leone, this film shows also a tip of the sombrero to John Ford.

Others interviewed as supplements to The Big Gundown are Tomas Milian, who also discusses his long acting career, and screenwriter Sergio Donati, a name associated with several Leone films as well. The commentary track by C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke, described as western experts, is generally entertaining and informative. A twenty-two page booklet provides more information. There's also a soundtrack CD for those who want to simple enjoy Ennio Morricone's music by itself. And if that wasn't enough, there's even a DVD-ROM of listing of Columbia Picture's edits! In short, the words "ultimate" and "collector's edition" on the cover box really mean something here.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 13, 2013 07:28 AM