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The Big Gundown
A 12-year-old girl has been raped and murdered, and a dirty young Mexican (Tomas Milian) is the suspect; he has already run for the hills by the time the law can organize itself. Jonathan Corbett (Lee Van Cleef) is a local bounty hunter whose name is known far and wide; he is considering settling down, and has ambitions to become a senator. A wealthy landowner named Brokston agrees to back him, provided Corbett allows the railroad to pass through Brokston's land, ensuring his greater fortune. When the news of the girl's murder becomes known, Brokston convinces Corbett to go after the killer - which would put a fine end to his manhunting career, and assuring his election. Corbett goes after the wily young man, but finds that nothing is as he expected it to be.
The Big Gundown (in its original Italian, La Resa Dei Conti, vaguely Account Rendered) was the first starring role for Lee Van Cleef following his rise to fame in Sergio Leone's For A Few Dollars More, the sequel to the worldwide smash A Fistful Of Dollars. Starring alongside him is Tomas Milian, a Cuban- born graduate of the Actor's Studio in New York, in his first spaghetti Western role. Milian too would become a superstar for his work in the genre; his character of Cuchillo would return in Run Man Run.
Considered by many to be one of the greatest Italian Westerns - even when compared to Leone's Dollar trilogy - The Big Gundown is indeed a fine film, with enough action and characterization to keep things moving briskly to a satisfying conclusion. Here Van Cleef is at his best, in probably his finest role ever, possibly including even Colonel Mortimer from For A Few; and Milian's Cuchillo is a likeable, agile trickster, managing to ingratiate himself even as we want to hate him for his crimes. Cuchillo would be even more sympathetic in Run Man Run, but here we can see what made the character so captivating to audiences the first time around.
Directed by Sergio Sollima, Gundown is one of those Italian Westerns that can be called political, or perhaps ideological; in these films the villains are almost always ruthless landowners who become even wealthier at the expense of the local peasantry. But one need know absolutely nothing of the film's politics to enjoy its drama and action. Sollima began as his contemporary Leone did, directing strongman films (who can forget such films as Maciste Against The Pirate King or Revolt of the Gladiators?), then did three spy flicks featuring British Agent 353 before coming to the Western. Gundown (1966) was his first, followed by Face to Face in '67 and Run Man Run in '68 (both featuring Milian). These were his only pictures in the genre, but - although not exactly listed among lists of classic films - all are fondly remembered by fans of spaghetti Westerns (a term he hates, by the way).