Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Big Gundown (1966)

Director: Sergio Sollima

Starring: Lee Van Cleef, Tomas Milian

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Keep your eye on the man everyone watches!

Plot: Unofficial lawman John Corbett hunts down Cuchillo Sanchez, a Mexican peasant accused of raping and killing a 12-year-old girl.

My rating: 9/10

Will I watch it again? HELLS, YEAH!!!


Lee Van Cleef is a badass of the highest order. He's cool, calm and collected. I wonder if his age had anything to do with a lot of the badass western characters he played in the late 60s & 70s. I say that because for a gunfighter back then (the old west in movie lore) you'd have to up the level of cunning to stay alive that long. Anyway, in the late 60s, the Spaghetti Westerns Cleef starred in made him THE top box office draw in Europe for a number of years...and with that face, he earned.

Milian does his usual good job, sprinkled with doses of ham. Man, if only this cat would have dialed it back a little bit more. Jeez.

I've been a soundtrack nut/collector since I was a kid thanks to my parents' record collection which had a few James Bond soundtracks, among others. One of them was THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966) so I was familiar with Ennio Morricone's name very early on. In my teens I came across the LP for THE BIG GUNDOWN. All I knew was it was scored by Morricone and it's another Spaghetti Western with Lee Van Cleef. It'd be many years before I saw the film but the music was magnificent. I played that record ad nauseum and I loved every last note. His play on Beethoven's Fur Elise is brilliant and the woman who sings the theme song needs to have my ivory-tickling babies.

The movie itself is a gas to watch. The cat and mouse game between Cleef and Milian and their one-upmanship is clever and well played. Everything about it fires on all cylinders. The only thing I would change is having Milian tone it down just a little.

And by the way, it's fun finding movies that had an influence on one of your personal favorite films. For me, I get a kick out of anything that influenced any part of THREE AMIGOS (1986). That movie's one of my all time favorites. There's an Austrian sharpshooter in GUNDOWN, Baron von Schulenberg, who plays a sizable role as a heavy and it's clear he was the inspiration for German in AMIGOS. He's also the reason for the Beethoven reference.

If you enjoyed the Clint Eastwood Spags then you have GOT to see some of Lee Van Cleef's work that followed. He starred in more classic Spaghettis than anyone else. If I were to make a list of my favorites, he'd be in at least 5 of my top 10. After all, he's the man.

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