Archive for the ‘Ennio Morricone’ Category

The Big Gundown (1966)

Sergio Sollima is only the third most famous of all the Sergios who made Westerns in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s.  You already know Sergio Leone, and you may even know Sergio Corbucci.  There’s also Sergio Martino, Sergio Garrone, and Sergio Bergonzelli, but I don’t have room to write a book here!  Sergio Sollima is a clever, versatile director who built sociopolitical concerns into his enormously entertaining filmography.  He is maybe best regarded for his terrific crime films, including REVOLVER and VIOLENT CITY — both amazing places to start.  He’s not the most prolific of “spaghetti” Western directors.  In fact, Sollima only made three Westerns, all in the span of three consecutive years – THE BIG GUNDOWN, FACE TO FACE, and RUN, MAN, RUN! but they are more than enough to place him among the exalted ranks of Leone and Corbucci.  All three of Sollima’s Westerns starred the Cuban-born Tomás Milián, who played the same role in two of them.


In THE BIG GUNDOWN and its sort-of-sequel RUN, MAN, RUN!, Tomás Milián plays the crafty, unruly bandit Cuchillo.  In THE BIG GUNDOWN, Cuchillo spends the first several scenes entirely unseen, only discussed.  He’s wanted for the rape and murder of a young girl, and it’s his bad luck that the lethal Jonathan Corbett is the mercenary hired to find and destroy him.  Now I happened to have seen RUN, MAN, RUN! first, out of chronological order, so I knew going into it that Cuchillo may not be guilty of these crimes, but for most of THE BIG GUNDOWN, you are to assume he’s the bad guy. And that makes things complicated, because he’s so comical, funny and annoyingly likable.  Cuchillo is a thief and a scoundrel, and he isn’t always too polite to women, but he wouldn’t do something quite so horrific as the act of which he’s been accused.


Cuchillo & The Gang


One of many interesting elements of THE BIG GUNDOWN is that you don’t know that Cuchillo is innocent for most of the movie, which gives the majority of the scenes some mighty fascinating tension.  Cuchillo is a raging trickster and a puckish anarchist, a Bugs Bunny or a Daffy Duck, enjoyable and infuriating – and it’s frustrating to like him so much, if he is in fact the kind of man who the senator claims he is.  Contrast this situation to what goes on in THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY, where a hangman rattles off a list of all the crimes of which Tuco, Eli Wallach’s character, has been accused, including “raping a virgin of the White race, and statuatory rape of a minor of the Black race.”  In Leone’s world, the way these offenses are added to a checklist is played — literally — as gallows humor.  Leone isn’t interested in exploring these accusations, preferring the punchline to the possible pathology.  In Sollima’s world, we still have the charming and devious Mexican bandit character, but not only is he more overtly interested in pursuing women throughout the course of the movie (Leone’s film runs almost three hours but has little time for female characters), but unlike Tuco, Cuchillo is definitively exonerated of egregious sexual misconduct.  Considering they were both released within a year of each other, it’s fascinating to ponder the parallels and variations between THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY and THE BIG GUNDOWN.  Most obviously, these two wonderful films share a wonderful lead actor.



THE BIG GUNDOWN is primarily built around its marquee star, Lee Van Cleef, best known for his role as “Angel-Eyes” (THE BAD) in Leone’s THE GOOD THE BAD & THE UGLY.  This movie was made soon after that one.  Sollima wrote it with Sergio Donati, who wrote for Leone (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST) among many others. Here Van Cleef, as Jonathan Corbett, is playing a more heroic character than he did in THE GOOD THE BAD & THE UGLY – but for much of the film we can’t quite tell for sure.  Corbett can be pretty nasty, as seen in the introductory scene where he calmly toys with three wanted men he’s got cornered – we know he’s bad; we just figure he’s better than the man he’s tracking.  Once Corbett sets out on Cuchillo’s trail, the movie becomes the same kind of Tom & Jerry cat-and-mouse game Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach played out in THE GOOD THE BAD & THE UGLY – only even more satirical and way more sociopolitically engaged.  There’s a scene where the two gunmen arrive at a ranch presided over by a beautiful woman who is surrounded by big beefy henchmen, and the subtext is practically exploding out of everybody’s ears.  It’s hilarious and awesome.


There is currently a version of THE BIG GUNDOWN up on YouTube, but the complete Italian cut of the film is what you want to see, and on the biggest screen possible, which is what I got to do in 2012 thanks to the “spaghetti” Western series at Film Forum.  It’s obviously one of the greats in the genre, having influenced everything from THREE AMIGOS! (in the form of the fancy-pants Teutonic killer with the monocle who haunts Corbett)to INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Tarantino used parts of EnnioMorricone’s typically wonderful score).  It’s also, not for nothing, one of the most straight-up entertaining movies I’ve ever seen.  Ever!  No exaggeration.  Instantly one of my favorite movies of all time.  And it’ll probably be one of yours too, maybe even as soon as you hear the rousing Ennio Morricone theme song.

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And we’re back!  Ready for round two.  Inspired again by my friend-in-movies at Rupert Pupkin Speaks, I’m re-presenting and reshuffling my top fifty movies of all time.  “Reshuffling” sounds a little more extreme than what I’ve done here — most of the titles remain the same, and the order isn’t much different.  But there’s a fair amount of new blood, and I’ve updated the links to any movies I’ve written about at length (those are bolded in red.) 

This list is absolutely subject to change, so keep watching this space, but while you’re at it, don’t forget to keep watching the skies.

1. THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY (1966).


3. DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978).


5.  UNFORGIVEN (1992).

6.  KING KONG (1933).

7.  PREDATOR (1987).

8.  MANHUNTER (1986).


10.  MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (1976).

11.  John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982).

12.  HEAT (1995).

13.  FREAKS (1932).

14. JAWS (1975).

15.  Berry Gordy’s THE LAST DRAGON (1985).

16.  THE WILD BUNCH (1969).

17.  SHAFT (1971).

18.  BEVERLY HILLS COP (1984).

19.  THE BIG GUNDOWN (1966).

20.  SEA OF LOVE (1989).


22.  EVIL DEAD 2 (1987).

23.  OUT OF SIGHT (1998).

24.  THE INSIDER (1999).

25.  ALLIGATOR (1980).

26.  COLLATERAL (2004).

27.  THE GREAT SILENCE (1968).




31. PRIME CUT (1972).

32. WATERMELON MAN (1970).


34.  25th HOUR (2002).

35.  COFFY (1973).

36. QUICK CHANGE (1990).

37.  MAGNOLIA (1999).

38.  HANNIE CAULDER (1971).


40.  48 HRS. (1982).

41.  GOODFELLAS (1990).

42.  SHOGUN ASSASSIN (1980).

43.  PURPLE RAIN (1984).

44.  THE UNHOLY THREE (1925).

45.  TRUE GRIT (2010).


47.  VIOLENT CITY aka THE FAMILY (1973).

48.  THE HIT (1984).


50.  ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011).

50 1/2.  The five-minute skeleton swordfight in JASON & THE ARGONAUTS (1963).


And that’s that…. for now.

For a little bit more all the time, find me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb


Earlier this year, the lesser-known Sam Fuller film, WHITE DOG screened at the Maysles Institute. This weekend, WHITE DOG returns to New York screens, courtesy of the IFC Center (click here for showtimes).  Once again, I can’t recommend this movie enough.  It’s very risky material, and it’s up to each individual viewer to decide whether Fuller & his collaborators pulled it off.  In my personal opinion, it’s a profoundly valuable and unsettling parable about a uniquely American sickness.  You may feel differently.  I’d love to start some conversations about it.

Meanwhile, here’s what I wrote about WHITE DOG when it was re-released on DVD by the Criterion Collection:


A movie that I saw for the first time in 2008, and would like to recommend, is a rarity that was released by the great Criterion Collection on DVD – WHITE DOG.

As you couldn’t possibly have guessed just from the title, this is the story of a racist dog: Basically, a young actress (Kristy McNichol) living in the hills of Hollywood, finds a German Shepherd, white as the blank page, who is sweet and loving, but, she eventually finds out to her horror, trained to attack at the sight of black skin.  If the premise sounds like a toss-off joke from a Dave Chappelle sketch, that’s because it eventually became exactly that. But this is a more sober, somber treatment of the concept. WHITE DOG was released in 1982 by Paramount Pictures and was promptly misunderstood by the majority of the viewing public. It was directed by Samuel Fuller, co-written by Fuller and Curtis Hanson.

Now, here is really a case where the IMDB is your friend. There’s a whole world of Hollywood stories happening in this credits scroll. Curtis Hanson, of course, went on to become the acclaimed director of LA CONFIDENTIAL and 8 MILE. The composer of the eerie, haunting WHITE DOG score is Ennio Morricone. The prosthetic effects were done by Stan Winston, among others. The cinematographer is Bruce Surtees, a frequent collaborator of Clint Eastwood (HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER) and Don Siegel (DIRTY HARRY).  The producer is Jon Davison, who later produced ROBOCOP and STARSHIP TROOPERS, and, as it turns out in the supplemental Criterion documentary, one hell of a raconteur. The second assistant director is Daniel Attias, who in addition to a long television career, took what he learned from WHITE DOG to develop further canine themes in SILVER BULLET.

But the key name in the credits is Sam Fuller, a name well worth seeking out. His work is generally consistent in taking loud, kinetic, possibly exploitative material and finding moments of depth and poetry within. Honestly, I still am catching up on Fuller’s astonishing filmography, only having seen a fifth at most, but so far, I’d say WHITE DOG fits in there neatly, though sadly towards the end of it. How fascinating that this is the movie he made directly after his World War Two masterpiece, THE BIG RED ONE (which you should rush to see if you haven’t already – one of Lee Marvin’s best-ever roles and a superior treatment of that point in history.)


Fuller treats the pulpy, outlandish-yet-realistic premise just right, I think. Like the actress character, you love the dog and want it to “get better” – to rise above its training. When the dog stops being tender and protective and goes on its vicious attacks, it’s horrifying. It’s amazing how blatant the metaphor is, yet how powerful and affecting at the same time. That is the intangible work of a master filmmaker, although it also has a lot to do with the grounding performance of veteran character actor Paul Winfield (you’d know him if you saw him) as Keys, the expert trainer and “deprogrammer” who takes on the white dog as his mission statement. I don’t have enough superlatives to lay on this performance – he really convinces.

Anyway, most of the joy of discovery is in surprise, so I won’t describe more than I already have. If my recommendation counts for anything, and even if it doesn’t, check WHITE DOG out. I’d be interested to see what kind of conversations it starts.