The Big Gundown (1966)
“I’ll hunt you down and kill you like the rotten beast you are.”
I for one wouldn’t want Lee Van Cleef making that statement in my direction. It’s Tomas Milian who is the unfortunate soul that finds Van Cleef dogging his every move.
Van Cleef stars as a bounty hunter here who in the opening scene takes down three wanted men without making much of an effort at taking them in alive. Lee looks fantastic in this opening shootout right down to his thigh high boots and leather coat lined in fur.
He is then enlisted to track down a supposed murderer and rapist of a thirteen year old girl. His quarry is portrayed by spaghetti western favorite Milian. Walter Barnes portrays a well to do rancher who points Van Cleef in the right direction leading him into Mexico as he trails Milian.
They cross paths repeatedly with Van Cleef getting the initial upper hand only to have his prey get away before he puts him down for good. Milian proves to be a bit of a con artist and a deadly man with a knife making James Coburn look like an amateur. During one run in with Van Cleef he passionately claims his innocence in the death of the girl and claims to know who committed the crime hinting that money can buy off crimes and point the guilt at the poor like himself.
It isn’t long before Van Cleef starts to look closer at the man who hired him and his cast of hired guns including a German Baron and a shady son-in-law. From the outset of the film we know that Van Cleef is going to have to go one on one with the Baron. He’s a sharpshooter from overseas who has been hinting to Van Cleef from their first encounter that he loves a challenge. His monocle, cape and leather gloves are nicely featured as Van Cleef awaits the inevitable showdown.
From the outset of this spaghetti western you’re in for a treat. Ennio Morricone’s opening score over the credits give’s it an epic feel. Sergio Sollima’s direction is solid and he makes good use of Van Cleef’s facial features as well as his towering height. The two featured showdowns near the climax are superbly staged. Tomas Milian is perfectly cast as a vagabond thief who has the smarts to survive in a hostile world.
The fact that the driving story of the plot is the rape and murder of a thirteen year old girl is something a little different for a western of any nationality. There’s irony here as well in a scene where Van Cleef thinks he’s saving the virtue of a young girl only to find out her father isn’t her father. It’s her Mormon husband who for that brief moment has what seems like a hint of perversion on his face when confronting Van Cleef.
It seems that the Milian character was a hit leading to a reunion with director Sollima to revive his knife throwing con artist in the 1968 film Run, Man, Run. I know it’s on my shelf somewhere. I’ll have to give it a spin.
I picked this up on the Grindhouse Releasing special edition and have to say that it’s one of the better buys I have made in quite a while. The film looks beautiful for starters. I watched the 95 minute American release and still have the 110 minute Italian version to check out. I don’t mind subtitled films but probably won’t be too happy when I hear Van Cleef dubbed. It even has the Morricone soundtrack on cd as an added bonus so I threw that on my car radio today. Really an outstanding edition for our viewing pleasure.
Lee Van Cleef fans rejoice!