At last the uncut version of Sergio Sollima’s spaghetti western ‘The Big Gundown’ is to be screened in the UK. Sony’s restoration of this 1967 classic is to appear as part of the 56th BFI London Film Festival on 21 October 2012. See here for more details
Director Sollima made two politically-flavoured westerns detailing the adventures of Manuel ‘Cuchillo’ Sanchez, a persecuted peon – the manhunt western ‘The Big Gundown’ (1967) and its treasure hunt sequel, ‘Run Man Run’ (1968). In ‘The Big Gundown’, Cuchillo is accused of raping and stabbing to death a 12-year-old girl. Wealthy Texan tycoon Brokston (Walter Barnes), a railroader in more ways than one, employs ex-lawman Jonathan ‘Colorado’ Corbett to track the Mexican down. But Cuchillo isn’t the varmint responsible and Brokston is protecting a land deal that will enable him to construct a lucrative railway line and aims to install Corbett in the Senate as his puppet.
Cuchillo can’t outdistance the law. ‘You can’t run fast enough or far enough’, Corbett tells him in the course of their lengthy chase, as Cuchillo tries to do just that. Corbett is played by Lee Van Cleef, in his best starring role outside his two Sergio Leone westerns (‘For a Few Dollars More’ and ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’), while Cuban actor Tomas Milian is excellent in a star-making performance as ragged, crafty knife thrower ‘Sanchez the Knife’, who once believed in the ideals of Juarez, but who feels betrayed by the revolution and those who rose to power in its wake. Most of the film is a manhunt through the desert (filmed in Almeria and around Madrid), a deadly game of cat and rat, as sidewinder Cuchillo repeatedly outwits his pursuer. Gerard Herter is memorable as Brokston’s Austrian bodyguard Baron Von Schulemberg and Antonio Casas is an ex-gunfighter, now a monk christened ‘Brother Smith and Wesson’. Nieves Navarro played sadistic cattle rancher, the Widow, with her gang of toughs memorably portrayed by spaghetti stuntmen Frank Braña, Benito Stefanelli, Luis Barboo, Antonio Molino Rojo and Van Cleef’s stunt double Romano Puppo. The finale is a triple duel, with Cuchillo versus Brokston’s son-in-law Shep, then Corbett against the Baron and finally Corbett against Brokston. The score by Ennio Morricone includes the rousing title song ‘Run Man Run’, sung by Christy, and features the percussion-driven stampede ‘La caccia’ (‘The Chase’), for a breathless manhunt though cane fields, as Brokston and his hunting party deploy beaters and dogs to flush Cuchillo into the open. In fact, as with so many Italian and Spanish films, for a long time the soundtrack, one of Morricone’s finest and most popular, was much more freely available than the film itself. ‘The Big Gundown’ was a great success in the US, taking $2 million when it was released in 1968 by Columbia Pictures, but the uncut version of the lesser-known ‘Run Man Run’ has been available on DVD for many years
There have been various different TV showings and DVD releases of ‘The Big Gundown’, at several lengths, ranging from 84 minutes and 95 minutes to its full length of 105 minutes. This new restoration is the complete version with all the scenes previously missing from shorter versions intact, which means we should get the complete opening scene, where bounty hunter Corbett waits patiently in woodland to ambush three escaping bank robbers.
The full story behind the film, its influences, casting, shooting locations and making of, is covered in detail in the chapter ‘The Dogs of Juarez’ in my book ‘Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers’ Guide to Spaghetti Westerns’ (IB Tauris, 2004), which is available in hardback, paperback and on Kindle.