The Big Gundown

This article is about the spaghetti western film. For the album by John Zorn, see The Big Gundown (album).
The Big Gundown

US theatrical poster
Directed by Sergio Sollima
Produced by Alberto Grimaldi
Screenplay by Sergio Donati
Sergio Sollima
Story by Franco Solinas
Fernando Morandi
Starring Lee Van Cleef
Tomas Milian
Walter Barnes
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Carlo Carlini
Edited by Gaby Peñalba
Distributed by PEA (Italy)
Regia Films Arturo González (Spain)
Columbia Pictures (USA)
Release dates
29 November 1966 (Spain)
3 March 1967 (Italy)
21 August 1968 (USA)
Running time
110 minutes
89 minutes (US, theatrical)
95 minutes (US, Blu-ray/DVD)
Country Italy
United States[1]
Language Italian
Box office 1.441 billion ITL (Italy)[2]

The Big Gundown (Italian: La resa dei conti, lit. The Settling of Scores) is a 1966 Italian Spaghetti Western film, co-written by long-time Sergio Leone collaborator Sergio Donati, directed by Sergio Sollima, and starring Lee Van Cleef and Tomas Milian.[3] It was originally released by Columbia Pictures in the US as a double feature with A Time for Killing.

Some critics, such as Leonard Maltin, consider the film one of the finest spaghetti westerns, second only to Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy. It was the first film Van Cleef made following The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and was his first leading man or hero role. Tomas Milian played Cuchillo, a charming rogue accused of rape and murder. Run, Man, Run! (1968) was a sequel which brought back Milian without Van Cleef.

It was important to Sergio Sollima that he tell a classic tale of a rich corrupt politician vs. a poor misunderstood peasant/scapegoat as a way of addressing the age old subject that, being Italian, he knew quite well living under the dictatorship of Mussolini during World War II. This film would actually share more with Leone's opus Once Upon a Time in the West than the Eastwood pictures. Each focuses on the modernizing of the West and the corrupt, rich businessmen that manipulated and used the poor.[4] The film was shot in Almería, Spain, where many famous Italian Westerns were filmed.[5]


Possessing a reputation for bringing criminals to justice, ready-to-retire bounty hunter Jonathan Corbett (Lee Van Cleef) is summoned to a party by a Texas railroad tycoon by the name of Brockston (Walter Barnes), whose daughter is getting married. Brockston plants the seed that Corbett should consider a run for the Senate, but not before doing one last bounty hunt.

Brockston offers Corbett his political backing in exchange for tracking down a 12-year-old girl's accused rapist and murderer, who goes by the name of Cuchillo (Tomas Milian), a Mexican who is fleeing back to his native land. Cuchillo means “the knife” in Spanish, which is the rascal’s weapon of choice. Corbett expects it to be easy, even offering to do it as a wedding gift.

Corbett sets out in pursuit of Cuchillo, who is not as dumb as he acts, and who is rather crafty at vexing Corbett at every turn. As time passes and Corbett fails to get his man, Brockston turns to an Austrian, "The Baron," who prides himself on being the fastest draw of any man with a gun, to settle scores with Cuchillo and, if necessary, with Corbett as well.



The Big Gundown was cut to 95 minutes following Columbia Pictures' acquisition of the American distribution rights to the film, before being further cut down to 89 minutes for the film's 1968 US theatrical release. The original European release was 110 minutes. US viewers were therefore initially deprived of Sollima's complete vision of the film. Four decades later, in December 2013, Grindhouse Releasing in association with original rights holder Columbia Pictures/Sony, has digitally restored and re-released the film, including the full unedited director's cut (making it available for the first time ever on either Blu-ray or DVD in the United States). Reviewer Stuart Galbraith noted “Not one for half measures, distributor Grindhouse Releasing's Blu-ray version consists of two different cuts of the film, the original 110-minute Italian version (in Italian only, with English subtitles), and a 95-minute "expanded U.S. cut" (in English) restoring several minutes of non-dialogue footage not included in the original U.S. release... The set also includes the expanded cut on DVD, the entire Ennio Morricone soundtrack on a CD, a fat full-color booklet, and other extra features... An excellent introduction to the non-Leone Italian Western genre, The Big Gundown is a Collector Series title.“[6]

Critical reception

In reviewing the 2014 Blu-ray/DVD release, Stuart Galbraith of DVDTalk remarked: “’’The Big Gundown’’ is an unusually fine film, thanks mainly to its taut, intelligent screenplay (heavily reworked by Sollima), Lee Van Cleef's marvelous screen presence, and especially the outstanding musical score by the great Ennio Morricone.“[6]

The review from noted that the film “features one of the coolest, colorful opening credits sequences (rivaling/recalling The Good The Bad and The Ugly), amazingly beautiful, bold cinematography by Carlo Carlini and the set costumes and production design by Carlo Simi (also a Leone protege) are truly spectacular. Many of the buildings and sets seen in the movie are still standing today almost 50 years later... The Big Gundown is easily one of the best Italian Westerns ever made due to its tightly directed/staged scenes, a genius score by Il Maestro Ennio Morricone featuring the booming title song sung by Christy (Danger: Diabolik, OK Connery) and an idea that goes above and beyond the usual genre tales."[4]

Daryl Loomis of DVD Verdict commented: “The story, written by Sergio Donati (Duck, You Sucker), is strong, with a darker framing story than one often sees, and a lot of wit and humor throughout... Great performances and some amazing music, combined with strong direction, gorgeous locations, and top-notch camera work (by Carlo Carlini, Death Rides a Horse)... is among the best work of any of the participants' careers... There's no question that, had more people seen The Big Gundown, it would be clearly recognized at the pinnacle of the genre. Luckily, Grindhouse Releasing has graced us with one of the best Blu-ray packages I've seen in a long time... With the extras, the commentaries, and especially the soundtrack CD, this is my pick for Blu-ray release of the year.”[5]


  1. Cox, 2009
  2. Fisher, Austin (2014). Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema. I.B.Tauris. p. 220.
  3. Hughes, p.76
  4. 1 2 - “The Big Gundown - 4 Disc Collector's Edition Blu Ray/DVD Review,” December 9, 2013
  5. 1 2 DVD Verdict “The Big Gundown (1966) (Blu-ray) review” DVD Verdict, by Daryl Loomis, December 26th, 2013
  6. 1 2 DVD Talk “The Big Gundown Blu-ray” review, by Stuart Galbraith IV, December 10, 2013


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