Director: Sergio Sollima
Screenplay: Sergio Donati, Sergio Sollima
Based on a Story by: Franco Solinas, Fernando Morandi
Starring: Lee Van Cleef, Tomas Milian, Walter Barnes, Nieves Navarro, Gérard Herter, Manolita Barroso, Roberto Camardiel, Ángel del Pozo
Country: Italy, Spain
Running Time: 110 min (Italian theatrical), 90 min (US theatrical), 95 min (extended US cut)
Year: 1967
BBFC Certificate: 15

In a surprising coincidence (unless the two labels were in cahoots), after Eureka released Run, Man, Run earlier this week (reviewed here), Indicator are also soon releasing director Sergio Sollima and actor Tomas Milian’s earlier spaghetti western collaboration, The Big Gundown. Run, Man, Run is, in fact, a loose sequel to the earlier film, so it’s great to have them both available on Blu-ray at the same time (though Eureka’s previous release of the pair’s third collaboration, Face to Face is tricky to get hold of on DVD now).

I’m slightly annoyed that I watched them in the wrong order (plus I still haven’t seen Face to Face) but I was still thrilled to get to see The Big Gundown so soon after hearing numerous voices on the Run, Man, Run disc’s special features singing its praises. Indicator generously sent me screeners for their forthcoming 2-disc set and my thoughts follow.

The Big Gundown stars Lee Van Cleef as Jonathan Corbett, a sharp-shooting bounty hunter who has developed quite a name for himself through bringing in or eliminating most of the wanted men in Texas. Now getting on in years, he’s being proposed to run for senate, egged on by the railroad tycoon Brockston (Walter Barnes).

However, when a soiree the pair are attending is interrupted by men reporting that a 12-year-old-girl has been raped and murdered, Corbett is asked to take on one more job, in hunting down the man who did it.

The culprit, we are told, is Manuel ‘Cuchillo’ Sanchez (Milian), a scruffy Mexican thief. Corbett swiftly catches up to him, but Cuchillo is a wily sort who always has a trick up his sleeves to evade capture.

It’s a simple chase-movie setup and a relatively straight-forward narrative on paper. However, The Big Gundown is smarter than it first seems (and than many critics at the time claimed). Sollima, as well as Franco Solinas, the writer who originated the story, were known leftists and often imbued their scripts with political messages, and this is no different.

Sollima has stated that the film was made to symbolise the Italian resistance against the Nazis and fascist collaborationists of the Italian Social Republic (made clearer to Italian viewers in the Italian title, La resa dei conti, meaning ‘the reckoning’, a phrase often used to describe the period). He was a member of the resistance movement himself and wanted to make a film that damned the idea of blindly following the ruling classes.

In an interview on this disc, author and spaghetti western expert Stephen Thrower calls the resistance movement symbolism “a bit of a stretch” but Sollima is clearly making a point about the dangers of towing the line.

The original script, which didn’t actually have a western setting (it was about a Sardinian peasant) had a more bleak ending. It also saw the peasant as an old man, whilst the gunman was a younger man. In the film, this was reversed, whether intentionally or not, to connect it more closely with the student protest movement going on at the time, having the misunderstood figure be a younger man and the bounty hunter a grizzled figure who’s followed the law all his life. This, alongside the western relocation, likely helped boost the film’s popularity to audiences at the time, who flocked to see it in Italy.

Away from any political aspirations, The Big Gundown is, more generally, one of the rare spaghetti westerns where the lead character has a notable arc. The Italian cut has a fairly leisurely pace but this allows for more believable growth in this respect, rather than merely moving between set-pieces as quickly as possible. Van Cleef does a great job of displaying his changing of ideals and allegiances through his typically minimal facial expressions.

Cuchillo is an interesting character too, as for a long time you’re not sure whether or not he committed the crime Corbett is hunting him down for. There’s a scene fairly early on where he frolics with a 14-year-old girl in a river, that hints that he could well be guilty and he’s clearly dishonest and sneaky throughout. However, he’s charismatic, acts light-heartededly for the most part and you don’t see him kill anyone that didn’t have it coming to them. As such, you often find yourself rooting for him even if you sometimes feel uncomfortable in doing so.

Cuchillo is also interesting in how he starts off as a villain that we know little about but ends up taking over the film, drawing the focus to him, whilst Corbett steps into the background before the inevitable final showdown.

Milian was known for more ‘intellectual’ arthouse-friendly films prior to this, where he often played on his good looks. So this was quite a diversion, doing a genre film and playing a scruffy thief who wallows in pig sh*t at one point. He would go on to make a name for himself playing similarly mangy and rambunctious types in other westerns and Eurocrime titles.

Like I mentioned in my Run, Man, Run review, Sollima makes great use of his wide frame, aided by DOP Carlo Carlini. Some clever angles and movements are utlised too. In the opening sequence, for instance, a hanging body is gradually revealed in the background by a pan that lets the audience in on a neat bit of deception. Later in that scene (in the Italian cut at least) there’s also a wonderful shot that sees Corbett line up three bullets in the foreground, matching the positions of his three human targets in the background.

The maestro Ennio Morricone provides another rich, varied and memorable score for the film too. It jumps from moments of playfulness to those of soaring beauty.

Overall then, The Big Gundown takes a relatively intimate and simple chase story and mounts it on a grand scale with a variety of locations, handsome, considered photography and a wonderfully evocative score. This larger scale spills over into a powerful message about the problems of mindlessly obeying authority. As such, it can proudly sit among the best of the spaghetti western genre.


The Big Gundown is out on 13th February on Region B Blu-Ray, released by Indicator. The picture looks gorgeous, for the most part, with an impressive level of detail, as well as natural grain and colours. I noticed one short sequence that looked very soft, but perhaps this was as originally shot.

You get both Italian and English language options on all versions of the film, though the Italian theatrical cut has Italian inserts for any lines not included in any of the US cuts. I watched with the Italian track (as I didn’t fancy the distraction of shifting languages) and it sounded solid for the most part, though some ‘S’ sounds suffered from distortion. This is a common issue with films of that age though and is likely due to the available recording quality of the time.


– 2K restorations
– Three feature presentations: La resa dei conti (110 mins): the original Italian theatrical version, presented with both Italian and English soundtracks; the original US theatrical version (90 mins); and the extended US cut (95 mins) with scenes added for television broadcast
– Original mono audio
– Audio commentary with writers and film experts Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman on the Italian theatrical version (2022)
– Audio commentary with film historians C Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke on the extended US cut (2013)
– Spaghetti Western Memories (2012): documentary in which director Sergio Sollima and actor Tomas Milian revisit this much-heralded western
– Tomas Milian: Acting on Instinct (2013): the genre-film star revisits The Big Gundown and reveals some of his acting secrets
– Stephen Thrower on ‘The Big Gundown’ (2022): the author and musician on the unique qualities of Sollima’s classic
– Austin Fisher on ‘The Big Gundown’ (2022): the author of Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema situates the film in the wider context of the genre
– Original US theatrical trailers
– Original Italian theatrical trailer
– TV spots
– Image galleries: production stills and promotional material
– New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
– Limited edition exclusive 80-page book with a new essay by Italian cinema expert Roberto Curti, archival interviews with Lee Van Cleef, Tomas Milian, and Sergio Sollima, extracts from the film’s promotional materials, an examination of the work of co-screenwriter Franco Solinas, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and full film credits
– Limited edition exclusive poster
– UK premiere on any home video format
– Limited edition of 5,000 copies

As per usual, Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw show their vast knowledge of genre movies in a fascinating and enjoyable commentary that discusses the background and reception of The Big Gundown and related films.

C Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke spend a lot of time discussing the differences between the three cuts as well as analysing the film as a whole. It’s another very strong track.

Milian gives a lively and fairly substantial 30-minute interview which sees him talk about his career as an actor. He has a number of amusing anecdotes to tell, so it’s a fun piece.

The 50-minute piece featuring Sollima and a little of Milian begins with the director talking about his love of westerns and how, long ago, he and Sergio Leone approached various Italian studios about making westerns in the country but were laughed off. After discussing the birth of the ‘spaghetti westerns’, including Akira Kurosawa’s input, he goes on to describe the development and production of The Big Gundown, as well as his other pair of westerns. It’s an entertaining piece with some fun stories, such as how one shot was frustratingly delayed due to an aroused horse!

Austin Fisher’s interview provides a clear and thoughtful analysis of the film. He discusses the political context and themes, as well as how it can be placed among Sollima’s work and the spaghetti westerns of the time.

Stephen Thrower also discusses the politics of the film in one of his pieces. He discusses how it was changed from the original script as well as how it, and many other spaghetti westerns, were not respected by international critics at the time of their release. I appreciated how he honestly described the idea of calling The Big Gundown a war-time allegory as “a bit of a stretch” but he discusses how this has some relevance, whilst suggesting some other readings.

Thrower’s piece on Sollima and the cast is a concise rundown of the backgrounds of the principals. It’s a useful starting point or a short alternative for anyone who doesn’t have the time to listen to the commentaries.

The booklet is a lengthy affair, kicking off with a decent essay on the film, bringing together a lot of the facts and ideas discussed in the video extras. There are also short interviews with Van Cleef (and his mother!), Milian, Sollima and Franco Solinas, as well as a fun publicity piece and an archival essay on politics in Italian westerns. As usual, there are also some reviews from the time and plenty of wonderful publicity stills.

So, it’s a mightily impressive package that comes very highly recommended.


The Big Gundown - Indicator
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Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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