Silence: The Happy Ending
The Great Silence, or in Italian Il Grande Silenzio (1968, Sergio Corbucci) is generally referred to as 'that western in the snow'. Snow-capped hills are an unusual, but not unique setting for a western, and what really sets the movie apart is the bleak ending that seems to turn ever western cliché upside down, including the often heard idea that in a western the good guy always wins. Yes, in this movie the bad guys win, in gruesome fashion. People who watch the movie unprepared, are often shocked by the grim, ultra bleak ending. I remember that I was nearly blown out of my socks when I first saw the movie, in the Eighties, on a French VHS. Mon Dieu, good grief, what the hell was that ?
Upon its original release, The Great Silence was not very successful in Italy, even though several reviews were positive. Very violent for its time, with thumbs shot off and blood dripping from fractured skulls, the film got an ’18 rating’, which meant young Italians, who loved spaghetti westerns, weren’t allowed to see it. And those Italians who were allowed to see it, didn’t like the bleak ending: in Sicily a man reportedly fired at the screen out of rage when Silence was killed.
Corbucci also shot a 'happy ending', with both Silence and the sheriff coming back from the other side (so to speak) and eliminating the bad guys in a furious shootout. Some think it was shot because the producers weren't happy with the original outcome but it has also been suggested that it was shot for foreign markets, notably North-Africa and Japan. The alternate ending was added as an extra to some DVD releases, but all versions were as silent as the film’s titular hero. A few gunshots were heard on some versions of it, but no voices. This seemed to indicate that the happy ending was never used, but not too long ago a spoken version popped up on the Italian Medusa release.
The alternative ending with sound
The quality of the audio varies, some lines are very clear, others are quite hard to decipher (luckily there are subtitles HOH). From a technical point of view, it’s a great scene, with brilliantly staged, vintage Corbucci action, but the lines are horrible and the scene seems to betray the entire movie. It will also give you the feeling you’re entering some kind of alternative universe, in which the outcome of familiar events has been radically altered: Nixon beat Kennedy in the 1960 elections, Elvis lives, and so does Silence. You can watch this ‘sound version here :
Here's the dialogue, Italian/English:
Sheriff (to Silence):