Director Sergio Corbucci was a master of the spaghetti western craze that swept through Italy and Spain in the 1960s and '70s. He directed several classic westerns during this period including MINNESOTA CLAY 1964), COMPANEROS (1970) and most famously DJANGO (1966), which became an international hit, spawning one official sequel and dozens of in name only imitators. In 1968 he made THE GREAT SILENCE, one of the grimmest of the spaghetti western cycle and also one of the best.
In 1898 Snow Hill, Utah a blizzard is raging that is causing the townsfolk to turn to crime in order to feed their families. This turns out to be a blessing for a gang of bounty hunters led by the sadistic Loco (Klaus Kinski), who are becoming rich murdering the outlaws and cashing in the bounty. Enter Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a mute gunslinger who is willing to avenge the deaths of the townspeople - for a price. When Pauline (Vonetta McGee, in her first film) hires Silence to kill Loco in retaliation for the death of her husband a game of cat and mouse is set into motion culminating in a shootout from which only one man will walk away.
Corbucci goes to great pains to point out the similarities between Silence and Loco: they both kill for money ($1,000 to be exact) and neither is willing to shoot first. Their motivations, however, couldn't be more different. Silence is avenging an injustice performed on his family as a child while Loco is shown to enjoy the pain he inflicts, using his position as a legal bounty hunter to get way with killing while getting paid for it at the same time. Since Silence never speaks and therefore is something of a blank slate through much of the film it's the character of Loco that propels the dark mood of the film. We see from the beginning that he's a bad guy and, of course, a little crazy (hence his name) but it's not until late in the film that we get to see just how psychotic he really is, leading to one of the darkest and most disturbing climaxes in western history. It's also a very chilly film, with the blizzard itself becoming a major character. You'll shiver along with the characters in the film. Much credit goes to Corbucci for this since the film was shot outside Rome during the summer months.
THE GREAT SILENCE was never released theatrically in the US. Instead, an American remake was planned but was never produced. It took until 2001 for the film to finally receive a home video release in the States.