The first of Sergio Sollima's politically oriented Spaghetti Westerns,The Big Gundown is easily the most accesible of the trio. Distributed withcomparatively few cuts, it succeeeded in taking a respectable $2 Million inthe US and helped establish Lee Van Cleef as the most important American Spaghetti Western star after Clint Eastood. Moreover, unlike Eastwood, VanCleef was to stay in Spaghettis, albeit with some questionable results.Whilst clearly allegorical in the way all Sollima's films were, The BigGundown has an essentially straightforward plot of injustice (Sollima's modern crime thriller Revolver used the same basic story). Tomas Milian is framed for the rape and murder of a child by landowner Walter Barnes. The real culprit- Angel De Pozo- is Barnes' son in law and his family has business connection that suit Barnes. To catch Milian, Barnes hires slightly dense lawman Lee Van Cleef who he also plans to use as a tame voice in congress.
Van Cleef proves utterly incapable of doing the job, however. Milian is able to trick his way out of his custody repeatedly and, lacking in intellegence though he is, Van Cleef starts to have doubts about his quarry's guilt. Aside from anything else, Milian seems reluctant to kill Van Cleef no matter how often he gets the chance- 'A thirteen year old girl- her you could kill', Van Cleef insists, but it's starting to sound hollow.
Utterly fed up with Van Cleef's incompentence, Barnes arrives in Mexico to take charge of operations, aided by a private army and an Austrian bodyguard, Gerard Herter. Van Cleef essentially takes a back seat as Barnes proceeds to tear town and countryside apart. Only when Milian is inevitably cornered does Van Cleef show his hand, killing De Pozo, Herter and Barnes in succession with help from Milian. 'You never would have caught me.' Milian taunts Van Cleef and the two go their separate ways The Big Gundown has less of the eccentricities that would render Sollima's Face to Face and especially Run Man Run such curios, which is not to say that there are not the odd bizarre touches even here. Most notably there's Neives Navarro as a dominatrax/ sado masochist widow presiding over her male harem of 'rough trade'- easily the films oddest segment. Sollima also can't resist the Mormons with their multiple- and sometimes young-wives. 'At least I saved your daughter' Van Cleef claims after Milian has given him the slip again. 'My daughter?' the Mormon corrects him 'Sarah is my fourth wife.'Such diversions apart however, The Big Gundown plays close to genreconventians and includes a number of impressive set pieces, most famously an extended chase sequence through cane fields and mountains; the accompanying Morricone score is a mass of energy. The duels are also handled to ritualistic perfection. The Big Gundown, in other words, is simply a very good Spaghetti Western indeed.