Outside of the Sergio Leone films, most spaghetti westerns fall somewhere between terrible at worst and reasonably good and pretty entertaining but not great at the very best. Sergio Sollima’s The Big Gundown though is probably the best spaghetti western outside of the Leone films. And I think you could make it an argument that it’s as good as A Fistful of Dollars and better than Duck You Sucker. Sollima tells a fairly familiar story–an American expert bounty hunter (Lee Van Cleef) chases a crafty Mexican bandit (Tomas Milan) wanted for the rape and murder of a young girl. They go through a series of confrontations and the story gets more complicated. Did Milan actually do it? Or does it have something to do with ambitious American railroad builder (Walter Barnes) who wants to run a railroad through Texas into Mexico and is promising popular bounty hunter Van Cleef a seat in the Senate if he will support it.
Why this works is that it avoids most of the half-baked scenes of most spaghetti westerns. The script (written by Sergio Donati and Sollima) actually makes sense. There are comedic scenes, good action scenes, few massive plot holes. When you take that and add the high level of entertainment even a mediocre spaghetti western provides and you have a really fun movie. There’s also the outstanding Ennio Morricone soundtrack, among his very best work. Good stuff.