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Once Upon a Time in the West
USA, Italy, Spain
IMDB rating:
Sergio Leone
Henry Fonda as Frank
Claudia Cardinale as Jill McBain
Jason Robards as Cheyenne
Charles Bronson as Harmonica
Gabriele Ferzetti as Morton (railroad baron)
Woody Strode as Stony - Member of Frank's Gang
Jack Elam as Snaky - Member of Frank's Gang
Keenan Wynn as Sheriff (auctioneer)
Frank Wolff as Brett McBain
Storyline: Story of a young woman, Mrs. McBain, who moves from New Orleans to frontier Utah, on the very edge of the American West. She arrives to find her new husband and family slaughtered, but by whom? The prime suspect, coffee-lover Cheyenne, befriends her and offers to go after the real killer, assassin gang leader Frank, in her honor. He is accompanied by Harmonica, a man already on a quest to get even.
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Once upon a time in the west
Fantastic casting. None of that low paid new actors kind of thing like the ones used these days. At first when I saw this film I did not think of it much because I was brought up in the typical Hollywood type of westerns of shiny cowboys and Indians but, when I saw this film again it struck me how much it resembled the real colonial old west just before the turn of the 20th century. Sergio Leone was brilliant in this regard and should be up among the top directors of the the last century. The sound track is magnificent, of-course it portrays an extension of the film in terms of creating the correct feeling for the scene but it is in my view that if Argento was not involved with the soundtrack that the film would have had a different atmosphere to the viewer.
Leone goes a new route with the same results.
With a style very much unlike that of his previous three Westerns, Once Upon a Time in the West takes a long time to tell this epic and powerful tale of three men all connected by their past and all destined to connect in the future. The acting is universally excellent with Fonda playing a very uncharacteristic part, but since he is such a great actor he has no problem filling the shoes of the merciless gunslinger, Frank. Jason Robards is great as the outlaw with a good heart, Cheyenne; and Charles Bronson is very Eastwood-like as a man known only as Harmonica with a mysterious past and a quick draw. The central character, though, is that of the beautiful Claudia Cardinale as Jill, a widow seeking revenge.

Sergio Leone used a slower, more romantic style for this Western, but he still was able to produce some great images and a story that will forever be remembered. He doesn't deal too much with character development, rather showing us their actions and letting that speak for themselves. And, of course we cannot forget the score by Ennio Moriconne. Though not as memorable as The Good, Bad and the Ugly, it adds a great deal to the film. Certainly one of the best Westerns ever made, this is film making at a very high degree.
One of the greatest western ever!
The so-called spaghetti Western achieved its apotheosis in Sergio Leone's magnificently mythic (and utterly outlandish) Once upon a Time in the West. After a series of international hits starring Clint Eastwood (from A Fistful of Dollars to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly), Leone outdid himself with this spectacular, larger-than-life, horse-operatic epic about how the West was won. (And make no mistake: this is the wide, wide West, folks--so the widescreen/letter boxed version is strongly recommended.) The unholy trinity of Italian cinema--Leone, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Dario Argento--concocted the story about a woman (Claudia Cardinale) hanging onto her land in hopes that the transcontinental railroad would reach her before a steely-eyed, black-hearted killer (Fonda) does. (The film's advertising slogan was: "There were three men in her life. One to take her ... one to love her ... and one to kill her.") Meanwhile, Leone shoots his stars' faces as if they were expansive Western landscapes, and their towering bodies as if they were looming rock formations in John Ford's Monument Valley
"I have a feelin' when he stops whittlin', somethin's gonna happen."
When composer Ennio Morricone first got the script for "Once Upon A Time In The West", he was so impressed with the story that he began writing the music for it immediately. The entire movie was scored before even a single frame was shot, and Sergio Leone liked it so much that he had portions played for the actors while rehearsing to get them to 'flow' with the music. One could go so far as to say that a good part of the picture was filmed to the score!

It took me a long time to get around to this film, but it was certainly worth the wait. Any movie that opens with Jack Elam and Woody Strode has got to get your attention, but when their characters didn't survive the opening sequence, I knew this was going to be something special. Actually, having seen Elam in countless movies and TV Western episodes, I can safely say that this is the best performance I've ever seen him in. His sparring with the fly to the omnipresent creak of the windmill was an inspired piece of work, and if you didn't know anything about the story going in, you would think that these players would have a major role in the story to come. And then Bronson appears!

And then Henry Fonda appears. Curiously, his character's name was Frank. It didn't take until the end of the movie to make the connection to Frank James, brother of outlaw Jesse, and the character Fonda portrayed in two much earlier movies - 1939's "Jesse James", and the sequel, 1940's "The Return of Frank James". It made me wonder if Sergio Leone's original script named the character Frank, or if it was a result of getting Fonda for the part. It's no secret that Leone had been after Fonda to appear in one of his Westerns for a few years, with Fonda declining because every script he ever read was in Leone's fractured English. Fonda eventually relied on friend Eli Wallach's (Tuco/The Ugly in "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) advice, who said he would have the time of his life.

More than most, this is a Western that in turn, defines and is defined by the music. Even Bronson's character is called Harmonica, and his tunes are played to haunting effect. They mask a much deadlier nature to the quiet stranger - "He not only plays, he can shoot too".

It took me a bit into the story to figure out it was Jason Robards under the beard of Cheyenne. I think it was interesting the way his character was written, leaving it ambiguous whether he was a lawman or an outlaw. The bigger surprise though had to do with a female character in the lead role, capably performed by Claudia Cardinale. She manages to arc through a wide range of characterizations throughout the story as situations call for, holding her own well against each of the male principals.

This is certainly a film I'll have to watch a few more times for some of the points noted above. In particular, the single scene I could watch over and over, one that is inextricably linked with it's musical score, is Fonda's death scene set to the strain of Morricone's dying harmonica. Not only creative, but as effective as any finale in a Western I can think of.

As a final thought, I was considering how Sergio Leone could have used the title "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" for this movie if it hadn't already been taken by another one of his legendary classics. But then again, Robards wasn't that ugly.
Epic, visionary and Charles Bronson a total Bad-Ass!!!
In one of cinemas greatest debates, the question remains: Which is Sergio Leone's best film? The answer would boil down to a choice of three epic masterpieces. Once Upon A Time in either the West or America and of course The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It is a question I dare not answer because it is so hard to choose between the sheer class of the three. Leone's epic western Once Upon A Time In The West remains one of the greats of all Westerns, the last great one in fact. While many would still prefer Good, Bad and Ugly, this is undoubtedly the more sweeping and epic as this was a big budget affair. Then it also boils down to your preferred choice of bad-ass, Clint or Charles? Well Charles Bronson is a superb bad-ass.

OUATITW is such a gorgeously shot piece of work it must be said. Leone uses he camera like no one else. The sheer rhythm and timing of each movement and the flair is remarkable making the film stand up to the visually superb films of the last 20 years from such visionaries as Ridley Scott and John Woo. Leone's style is perhaps the most influential in cinema, aside from Kurosawa. Leone is of course someone who likes to stretch scenes to the limit, get to the heart of the characters at that point and increase tension to near the breaking point. His sense of timing is unrivalled. In The West we have a number of brilliantly constructed scenes that tease the audience before finally releasing the tension, usually in stylised violence. The face-off between Bronson and Fonda is absolutely the epitome of tension of just coolness.

As far as the cast goes, Leone always gets a good performance. Even with a guy like Bronson and indeed Eastwood in his earlier career, two guys not noted for their acting prowess, however he gets a subtle, superb performance from Bronson, which is almost entirely told through Bronson's eyes. It's an understated performance of such cool and such toughness that he barely has to raise an eyebrow for us to know exactly what's going on in his head. There are some actors great at acting visually but not too many. Bronson gives a great performance. Leone's gift in choosing actors with a visual intensity is genius. Not only is Bronson good but in a similar way Henry Fonda gives a great performance, again with minimal dialogue. Fonda's sadistic cowboy is one of cinemas great villains, but one filled with depth. Fonda's steely cold stare is chilling. Then there is Jason Robards who perhaps steals the show, narrowly. Claudia Cardinale is also excellent. I do believe that some of the best directors can pull big performances form the actors, with the littlest dialogue. People like Leone, John Woo, Ridley Scott and Scorsese for example have always been great at this.

Once again Ennio Morricone gives a marvellous score that is full of grandeur and atmosphere. While the films use of sound is excellent. This is without doubt a film that any movie buff should have in their collection. *****
This film was beautifully filmed with impressive scenery and well-designed sets against a beautiful musical score. The story line is pretty standard, but okay. Water rights, railroad coming in, new town, etc. However this film can't quite decide whether it wants to be a horse opera or a soap opera. At over three hours it's something like watching a full season of Days of our Lives meets The Young and the Restless in the Old West. A good half of that three plus hours is spent on close ups of the different characters staring at each other, or into mirrors, or just staring with gritty expressions on their weathered faces.

Henry Fonda gets to show us how bad a bad guy he can be, but that's just not the Henry Fonda we knew and loved and it didn't really work for me. But he was really bad. I'll give him that. Overall I found this film very tedious and I had to watch it in short increments or I'd never have got through it at all.
Another epic western from Sergio Leone
I never thought Leone could ever top The Good The Bad The Ugly, one of his greatest works, but with Once Upon A Time In The West he comes really close.

Once Upon A Time In The West (I'll just call it The West for this review) tells the tale of Jil McBain(Claudia Cardinale)who comes from New Orleans to be with her husband in the west. Once she gets there she discovers she has been widowed because her husband and his entire family have been wiped out by a ruthless assassin named Frank(Henry Fonda). The land, which was owned by her late husband, was going to be used to build a railroad station which would've made them all rich. However Frank and a railroad baron named Morton (Gabrielle Ferzetti) have there own plans for getting rich the same way and that's why Morton had Frank kill them. Neither one of them knew about Jil though, and soon their vile plans turn on her.

However there is one man (Charles Bronson) who plays a harmonica and steps in to keep her safe. With the help of a desperado named Cheyenne (Jason Robards) they work to protect her from the evil clutches of Frank and Morton. Harmonica however has other reasons for wanting Frank dead, and it is left as a guessing game up to the end when we finally discover the real reason why Harmonica was after Frank in the first place.

Just like with The Good The Bad The Ugly, Leone uses extreme closeups of peoples faces as well as wide long shots of large opened settings to tell a wonderful story about the west. With TGTBTU he told a story during Civil War times, but with this movie he talks about the time period when railroads were being created to stretch across the country.

The acting in this film was phenomenal. I loved the expanded shots of the characters which said more than any words could ever say. Don't get me wrong though. The West had a lot of interesting dialoque which helped embellish the characters flaws and behaviors even more.

The movie is long, as was TGTBTU, but like that earlier film, this one never becomes boring either. If I were to compare the two films and make a choice, I would say that both were great movies. However TGTBTU would edge out The West as the better movie.
Leone and Morricone Do It Again
These two made one hell of a team, Leone with his marvelous directing/story telling and Morricone with his music. That HARMONCIA MAN theme tells you everything you need to know about Charles Bronson's character without him having to say a word (the same is true of all the characters.) This theme stays with you long after the last note has sounded, and it depicts pain and a desire for justice, and a determination to get it one way or the other. (Man, don't that harmonica sound like a wail of pain!!! It gives me chills every time I hear it.) The ending of this movie is perfect justice. Talk about make the punishment fit the crime! This gives a whole new meaning to that phrase.

My only gripe about this movie is what they did with Jill's character. At first, you're made to feel sorry for her because she comes up and finds her family murdered and she is in danger of losing her home, possibly her life. But when she makes love to Frank (Henry Fonda) later on in the movie, (oh, hell, let's be honest. She didn't make love to him, she f**ked him.)I lost my respect and sympathy for her. Instead of being a widow mourning for her dead husband, she seemed more like a common slut who would do anything to save her own neck and to hold on to her late husband's property. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this story line, but if we're supposed to feel sympathy for Jill, this scene kind of spoils that effect. Cheyenne and Harmonica were more worthy of respect than she was after that scene, although Harmonica has a score to settle big time and I found myself rooting for him throughout the whole movie.

My favorite western. 9 out of 10.
Trans-genre, highly influenced and influential, vengeance narrative
Normally I'm suspicious of Westerns, mostly because I really don't like the Cowboys and Indians sub-genre and I'm not very keen on the expansionist themes inherent in most Westerns, stated or otherwise. Like any genre, however, there are exceptions, and of course Once Upon a Time in the West is one of them. Sergio Leone creates a methodical, tension-rising piece of vengeance narrative set in the hard-grit reality of the West, featuring gorgeous vistas, compellingly brown-faced gunslingers, and a surprisingly unique rocking score by Ennio Morricone.

Four people arrive in a small town in one day. The first is a mysterious stranger later dubbed "Harmonica" because of his token entrance cue and prominent instrument playing, a man searching for a one "Frank." The other is Frank himself, psychotic yet conniving muscle-man of a railroad emperor, out to gain his own business prospects and kill a few men, women, and children in the process. The third is handsome Cheyenne, rascal bandit of the old-school type who has his honor but also his history. And the fourth, and most important, is Jill McBain, ex-prostitute from New Orleans come to a wedding destroyed by cause of death of the groom, who has to learn how to protect her own interests in an outlaw world of grit and steel as the three men connive over the various things they want from her.

Leone takes his time, building relationships like Kurosawa and allowing the camera to just soak in the imagery like his contemporary and script-writer, Dario Argento. Leone is famous for his "spaghetti westerns", Italian takes on what is quintessentially an American-themed genre, but he shows an awareness, respect, and even joy for the type of imagery and action that the genre creates. Furthermore, he sees the isolation as key--this vengeance narrative could not exist in the vigilante-style of a city, nor in a much more temperate climate, much less could the characters really grasp and engage with each other the same way had they closer connections. In a way, heck, one could consider this film something of a horror film, as the unknown (the motivations of Harmonica) drives anxiety and tension to an ultimate moment of revelation that stabs right for the gut. So fine, compare Leone to Hitchcock, too.

Excellent - I agree it is the best western, and...
The music and scenery are fantastic. Unlike the many westerns with good actors and actresses, the authenticity always left something to be desired. Indians depicted as "all" savages, and more nonsense.

This movie weaves a very believable story, and all the characters are awesome.

If you watch Andre Rieu concerts on public broadcast or see one of his concerts in person, he frequently does the main theme music.

Henry Fonda, Robards, Cardinale, Bronson - all look and act the part. Every scene hits home with a much different message than most of the westerns up to this point in time.

Of course, then you also wish that all women had the courage and beauty of Ms. Cardinale as displayed in this movie.
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