Watching THE BIG GUNDOWN for the first time is like falling in love with movies all over again. From the gorgeous locations to the rousing chorus of female voices in Ennio Morricone's score to the lined face of Lee Van Cleef, at once ugly and beautiful, it is something like a perfect movie.
Many spaghetti westerns have desultory storylines - just a peg to hang the action on - but THE BIG GUNDOWN is full of biting political subtext in its story of an aging gunfighter with aspirations of riding his notoriety into high office with the help of a wealthy and unscrupulous sponsor. When Van Cleef's benefactor dispatches him to capture famous Mexican desparado Cuchillo (the brilliant Tomas Milian), Van Cleef is forced to confront his patron's true motives, and his own. Throughout, the action, plot and characterization are fast and smart. This film should have jumped the fence into respectability in the same way Kurosawa's samurai movies. It's that good.
There have been great performances in spaghetti westerns before - Eli Wallach in THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY and Gian Maria Volonte in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE come to mind. THE BIG GUNDOWN features two of the genre's greatest performances in Milian's craven, resourceful, yet ultimately honest bad man; and Van Cleef's morally wavering yet heroic central figure.
In the script based on an original story by Franco Solinas (BATTLE OF ALGIERS, BURN!) Van Cleef can be seen as America, post WWII, on one hand the moral light of the world, certainly the strongest force in the world, and on the other hand, dangerously prone to corruption by wealth and influence. Milian embodies the developing world, and their developing relationship mirrors the state of the world. Though the weight of all this allegory might seem destined to weigh any western down, it all works, and it works perfectly. As a grace note, it's even funny.
It's a major, major film; now available for the first time on American screens uncut. Don't miss this very special opportunity to see it at the Ritz, for three shows only. Tickets and more information here.