Monday, January 20, 2014

Blu-ray Review: THE BIG GUNDOWN (1968) 4-Disc Collector's Edition


Label: Grindhouse Releasing 
Region: Region-FREE
Rating: R
Duration: 95 Minutes (Expanded US Cut), 110 Minutes (Director's Cut) 
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.40:1) 

Director: Sergio Sollima
Cast: Tomas Milian, Walter Barnes, Lee Van Cleef, Gérard Herter

'The Big Gundown' (1968) is a Spaghetti Western written by Sergio Leone (Fistful of Dollars) collaborator Sergio Donati (Orca) and directed by Sergio Sollima (Run, Man, Run) starring Western legend Lee Van Cleef (Escape from New York) as Texas lawman Corbett tasked by a corrupt Baron Brokston (Walter Barnes) to track and kill a Mexican peasant named Cuchillo (Tomas Milian) blamed for the despicable rape and murder a 12 year-old girl - and that's the very simple set-up of the The Big Gundown.

As Corbett sets out on a cross country pursuit of the Mexican criminal he discovers that his adversary is quite crafty adversary and not easy to lay hands on. Tomas Milian portrays the character as a mischievous prankste, a street rat who prefers the blade to a six-shooter. Van Cleef's Corbet is a stone-cold lawman with a real sense of duty and justice, a straight-laced sharp shooter who throughout the film has his loyalties tested. Something that sets this film apart are the cast of characters, aside from Van Cleef and Tomas Milian we have the addition of a peculiar Austrian caped-gunslinger Baron Von Schulenberg (Gérard Herter) who sports a monocle, a truly unforgettable character.

There's a very strong political undercurrent throughout the film with Cuchillo as something of a Mexican revolutionary against the greed and corruption of American industrialist Brokston, and then we have Corbett as the conflicted hired gun working for the man. While the politics are there it's not obnoxiously up front - there are so drawn-out monologues drawing attention to it the theme, it's character driven and Van Cleef and Milian completely carry the film on their performances and exchanges.

By far the most enjoyable aspect of the movie that cat and mouse interplay with the wily Cuchillo usually getting the upper-hand on the more straight-faced Corbett. On top of that it's a gorgeously shot film with long vistas, rough desert terrain and blue sky. The superb finale a triple-layered duel with all the elements converging for a satisfyingly tense climax proving that it is not necessarily a bad idea to bring a knife to a gunfight.

Blu-ray: 'The Big Gundown' comes to Blu-ray/DVD for the first time ever in the US with a brand new 2K digital restoration of the original uncensored English-language version, newly expanded with three additional scenes presented in 1080p widescreen (2.40:1). The colors are vivid, details are crisp and the skin tones are appear natural. The black levels are nice and the film grain is intact, this is a very attractive presentation from start to finish with very minimal instances of speckling and print damage, there's even a modest amount of depth to the image, a qaulity transfer courtesy of Columbia Pictures and Grindhouse Releasing. There's one English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono sounds very nice, the dubbed dialogue and canned effects are nicely balanced and the superb Ennio Morricone's Western score comes through gloriously, right from the opening salvo of "Run, Man, Run".

This four-disc limited edition set is crammed with quality extras beginning on disc one with an Audio commentary by Western film experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke who come off a bit on the academic side of things but do keep the conversation moving forward with some scene by scene commentary, trivia and history of the production - it makes for a informative listen as they attempt to one-up each other with anecdotal trivia bits. There is also the option to watch the movie with an isolated music and effects only audio track. There are nearly 2 hours of interviews with Director Sergio Sollima, Screenwriter Sergio Donati and StarTomas Milan which cover a lot of ground about the production of the movie with many colorful anecdotes. The first disc is completed by the inclusion of production stills, trailers and TV spots, filmographies and a DVD-ROM with a detailed analysis of the different versions of the film. There is also an Easter Egg hidden away on disc one, a trailer for the sequel to this movie.

The second disc is a Blu-ray of the 110 minute director's cut 'La Resa Dei Conti' presented in 1080p with a Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono with optional English subtitles. With this version we also have an isolated score option and a subtitled commentary focusing on Morricone's score and the different versions of the film. Also included are trailers for An American Hippie in Israel, Corruption, The Swimmer, Massacre Mafia Style, Gone with the Pope, Cannibal Holocaust, Ice House, Poor White Trash 2, Cat in the Brain, The Beyond, Cannibal Ferox, The Tough Ones, Pieces and I Drink Your Blood.

The third disc is a DVD version of the Expanded US Cut mirroring the extras from the first disc. The final disc of this 4-disc set is a CD of the 23-track original score from Ennio Morricone (53:49). Packaging extras include a sleeve of reversible artwork, a sweet slipcase and a hefty 22 page color booklet with liner notes from Western film expert C. Courtney Joyner and Euro-music expert Gergely Hubai crammed with stills and international posters, plus a write-up on poster artist Mario De Barardini.  

Special Features:
- 4-Disc Deluxe Limited Edition Combo Pack - 2 Blu-rays, 1 DVD and 1 Bonus CD
- Individually numbered and limited to 3000 copies
- Spectacular new 2K digital restoration of the original uncensored English-language version, newly expanded with three additional scenes
- 'La Resa Dei Conti' (1080p) - the complete, 110 minute director's cut presented in Italian with optional English subtitles and special musical subtitles

- Isolated Music and Effects Audio Track
- 'The Big Gundown' original soundtrack by Ennio Morricone
- Sergio Sollima Remembers the Big Gundown (29:00) 

- Tomas Milian: Acting On Instinct (29:46) 
- Tagliatelle in Los Angeles: Sergio Donati Interview (12:03) 
- Sergio Sollima: Struggles Against Genre Rome (27:54) 
- Sergio Donati Bonus Interview (11:50) 
- Still Galleries: Productions Stills (1:41), US Promotional Material (3:26), Italian Promotional Material (0:51), French Promotional Material (2:31), Various Promotional Material (1:41)
- Audio commentary by Western film experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke
- 22 Page Collector's Booklet with Liner notes by C. Courtney Joyner and Euro-music expert Gergely Hubai
- 3 Theatrical Trailers (8:24) 

- 5 TV Spots (2:06) 
- Filmographies for Sergio Sollima, Sergio Donati and Tomas Milian 
- DVD-ROM Content
- Grindhouse Releasing Trailers (32:55) 
- Easter Eggs: Run , Man, Run Trailer (3:41) 

Verdict: 'The Big Gundown' (1968) is thoroughly entertaining Spaghetti Western by any standard, on par with any of Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy. On top of that we get a superb edition  with a sweet transfer and it's dripping with quality extras you can pour over for days on end. Only 3000 copies of this 4-disc limited edition are available, so get your copy now before it's gone. A very high recommend for fans of Westerns of any variety, this is the definitive document of a under seen Italian  Western classic. 4.5 Outta 5