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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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Great movie, but overrated
I saw this movie as a youngster when it first came out and was enthralled by it. Subsequently, I re watched it over the years a number of times and it has always been one of my favorites.

However, recently I decided to begin a hobby of becoming an amateur critic of the Western genre. I have begun a multi-year project to review and rank all "A" Westerns ever released.

I understand why some fans may consider this one of the best Westerns of all time. It is a high psychedelic opera that can be mesmerizing. I am sad to say, however, that "OUTITW" if fairing very poorly in my rankings.

As much as I used to like it, when I take a harder look at "OUTITW" and compare it against other top Westerns, it comes up woefully short in a number to critical categories I use to rank the great Westerns.

I'll start with a list of positives:

- Of course, this movie is mostly about style and Leone gives this movie the full treatment. For me this is both a positive and a negative. A positive because style is what's great about a Leone Western. A negative, because in this case he overdoes it. Details in my negative list below

- The casting of Henry Fonda is a stroke of genius. Frank might be the most effective heavy in the history of Westerns. His blue eyes are perfect for the Leone close-ups

- The opening segment "High Noon" tribute is classic Leone

- Claudia Cardinale is one of the sexiest females to ever appear in a Western. She is also well characterized and her role is integral to plot developments i.e. she's not a gratuitous sex object.

- It's not often remarked on, but Morton, the railroad baron, is very well characterized. Nice touch to have him be a cripple, but the important thing is that he is not one-dimensionally evil. He is humanized not just by his infirmity, but also by the painting of the ocean on the wall of his train car.

- The soundtrack is very effective, as usual with Leone.

- It's a good looking film and Cardinale's carriage ride through Monument Valley is one of the most visually beautiful segments in the history of cinema, let along Westerns.

Now for the negatives:

- Leone's strength is his style. In "For a Few Dollars More" and "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly" he managed to integrate his style into a compelling storyline, replete with clever plot twists, snappy dialog and excellent comic relief. "OUTITW" has none of these things. To make matters worse, he slows the pace down to a crawl and adds an hour of running time.

- This might have worked if he had created another compelling character except Frank. The fact is that we don't care about anybody in this movie. The only sympathetic character is Harmonica, but we don't have any reason to feel for him until the movie's final scene.

- There is virtually no comic relief, outside of Harmonica's "two horses too many" line at the beginning and Cheyenne's antics on top of the train. Compare to "TGTBTU" where Eli Wallach created one of the most fascinating comic villains in the history of cinema. Not only that, but you actually CARED about Tuco more than you do anybody in "OUTITW". What an achievement!

- Leone even messed up the landscape. After Cardinale's stunning buggy ride through Monument Valley, we are immediately aware that the movie is really being filmed in Spain or somewhere, certainly not in Monument Valley. The film then gets stuck in the ugly town they built and stays there.

- Jason Robard's character is beyond dull. The movie would have been much better if they had just deleted this character, who really serves no purpose. And Cardinale can't act her way out of a paper bag. First billing over Fonda too. Go figure that.

- The fundamental plot is too thin to support a three hour film.

- Finally, Leone seems to think that all Indians had been fully exterminated from the region in the 1880's Arizona. I didn't see one. In fact, Leone deserves some kind of career Razzie award for making five Westerns without a single Indian. I don't mean no Indian characters, I mean not even the presence of a single Indian. Some "student" of Westerns.
Excruciating Slow Or Fascinating: Your Choice
This was a unique western, one in which sometimes the action moves excruciatingly slow, which can either be fascinating or boring. Unfortunately for me, after spending big bucks for the DVD when it first came out, I found it more boring than fascinating. In my previous viewings, I always found it fascinating. Maybe I just had a bad day.

The movie is filled with gaps of silence while closeups of the main characters' faces are shown. That's director Sergio Leone's trademark, and I believe he does it more in this film than in any of his others. When you get closeups of chiseled faces like Henry Fonda's or Charles Bronson's, it quite interesting but most of the movie feels like slow motion. At 165 minutes, this movie takes a lot of patience. By the way, the closeups of Claudia Cardinale's face were with a soft lens, so the wrinkles didn't show. That's so typical of older films with the vain female stars. Cardinale looks cheap, anyway, with all that 1960s-type eye makeup.

At any rate, the action scenes are a decent and not bloody and the characters are quite real, meaning believable. I liked Fonda in here best even though I am not particularly a fan of his but his against-type villain role of "Frank" was excellent. I read where he said this was his favorite role. I'm glad to hear that. The best character in the film, though, was "Cheyenne," played by Jason Robards.

The opening credits - spaced out over 11 minutes (which was rare in "classic movie" days) - are considered by many as the most famous ever, in any genre. The music in this film is different, too. It's not as memorable as the score from "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly," however, done by the same composer, but it has its moments. Early in the film we see some shots of Monument Valley which are the prettiest I've ever seen. I wish there had been more of that.

Overall, this is a western in which patience is rewarded, I suppose. It certainly looks beautiful on DVD and the sound has been enhanced as well. Note: when this came out on disc, the rating of the film changed from PG to PG-13.
Once Upon a Time in The West: Love Poem to the American Western
Once Upon a Time in The West is my all time favorite film as well as my favorite movie score. Bernardo Bertolucci, the co-writer of Once Upon a Time in The West, later directs The Last Emperor, which is my second all time favorite film as well as my second favorite movie score. Beware this is not your usual western. It is epic poetry. It is opera. It is a perfectly crafted art film that expresses Sergio Leone's true love for the great American Westerns. Leone doesn't necessarily romanticize the American West, he romanticizes American Western films. He makes references to High Noon, 3:10 to Yuma, The Comancheros, Shane, The Searchers, My Darling Clementine and many other great American Westerns very much the way Quentin Tarrantino has made films that pay homage to the gangster film genre. BTW Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds pays tribute to this film with an opening sequence entitled Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France.

Although most of the film was shot in Spain & Italy like most spaghetti westerns, Leone traveled to John Ford's Monument Valley to capture the authentic Western United States panorama. Like Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar, it has a poetic quality that uses strong symbolism; but instead of symbolic words and lyrical phrases in the dialog, Leone relies on the alliteration of sights and sounds to formulate poetic stanzas out of every scene. The length of the film is a result of Leone's choice to direct in a sometimes painstakingly slow pace that builds up incredible tension before key action scenes. He allows us time to imbibe the majestic landscapes, and appreciate the details of the authentic sets and costume design documenting this pivotal period in American history. Instead of cluttering the beauty of his carefully photographed frames with dialog, close shots of these actor's iconic faces express all that needs to be said.

Ennio Morricone, also my favorite movie composer, scored five distinct musical themes that embody each of the main characters: widowed new bride Jill (Claudia Cardinale), mysterious harmonica-playing gunman (Charles Bronson), bandit Cheyenne (Jason Robards), hired gun Frank (Henry Fonda) and railroad tycoon Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti). Instead of a musical prelude, the movie opens with a symphony of natural sounds using a screeching windmill, a buzzing fly, dropping water and a ticking telegraph. Meticulous sound editors maintain continuity throughout this mostly visual narrative, composing a perfect harmony between each of the main character's musical motifs along side the multitude of natural sounds mostly inspired by the two major symbols, the railroad and the water. An impressive lengthy tracking shot introduces the "anti-heroine" Jill as well as the beginnings of a bustling railroad town. Don't miss the first few minutes of this movie. Without music nor dialog, Leone creates one of the most suspenseful thrilling first few minutes of a movie whilst still rolling the opening credits. For all 168 minutes I was captivated by each and every frame! Once Upon a Time in the West is the finest example of Sergio Leone's creativity and perfectionism as a director, but most of all it is his greatest testament of love for the American Western.
"When you've killed Four, it's easy to make it five."
In the annals of western film lore, there are good and bad films. This is one of the finest. Because "Once Upon A Time in The West" is such a remarkable film, it is hard to define what makes it so memorable. The story centers on a beautiful former prostitute called Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) who arrives to assume the role of wife to a stubborn, crazy, red-headed Irishman with a dream. Waiting, instead is tragedy and 'Mr. Morton' who is a powerful, but ailing land grabbing baron (Gabriele Ferzetti) who desires to crush everything and everyone who stands in his way to reach the Pacific ocean with his railroad. To help him is an equally ruthless gunfighter named Frank (Henry Fonda; the success of this movie owes much to Fonda who plays a very convincing heavy) who has been removing obstacles for years and now targets the McBain family for death and that includes Jill. Unfortunately for Frank, he has accrued many enemies over the years with one particular, mysterious and deadly Harmonica playing stranger seeking revenge. Frank arranges for three of his best and fastest gun hands to meet and eliminate the stranger at the train-station. Joining the instrument playing stranger is an unpredictable, half-breed, renegade, who is a notorious gunfighter called 'Cheyenne.' ( Jason Robards ) The entire film is a triumph to the superb direction of Sergio Leone, who christens each major character with their own theme song. Each theme was created by Ennio Morricone and when the character makes an entrance, the theme prepares the audience for mood change, drama, action, and lifelong memories. Special guest appearances, by Woody Strode, Jack Elam, Keenan Wynn and Lionel Stander add to the classic nature of this excellent story. ****
One of the best
There's two things that stand out to me always about this movie, and indeed about all of Sergio Leone's movies. One is his understanding of pacing events, and the other is using his actors/actresses to actually act. When you see Claudia Cardinale riding up to the ranch, all you see is her face, but you can tell instantly what she is looking at and everything she's feeling. You know Henry Fonda's the bad guy, but when he smiles faintly at the young boy, you feel there's something more to him, a personality and human qualities, even if he is evil. The final shoot-out itself is a masterpiece. The two protagonists say nothing, but as they face off the music lets you know the moment as come. As they stand ready the scene that's been hinted at throughout the movie plays out like a dream, revealing what the whole story was about. Then, without warning, they draw and fire. Just as in real life, it's over before you notice it. What today's movies lack is how quickly they cater to MTV video inspired nonstop action and endless clich
So powerful and beautiful
As lives of mysterious man, gang, women and assassin that is hired to kill her interweave in a great story that will keep you amazed till the very end. Violent and intense start of the movie promised a great things and fulfilled every one of it. As we are more and more drawn into a characters stories and purposes plot gets way twistier. Now things are starting to get serious and Harmonica starts to really take his place as main focus. Frank and Mr. Morton are the guys responsible for all trouble and they are trying to kill Jill as she is the only one left but in all that Harmonica and Cheyenne are determined to keep them away. In magnificent turnout of things comes the brilliant ending. Cheyenne is returning obviously wounded, Harmonica is waiting for Frank and Jill is seemingly worried about everything. Cheyenne went to train and had a great shootout with Mr. Morton and Frank has come and gets ready for duel with Harmonica. Jill is shaken while Frank tries to realize why Harmonica wants to meet him. In shootout we realize he couldn't save his brother and only thing left to him by Frank was harmonica. As Frank dies he got same harmonica back. Amazing turnout of events left with great ending. Claudia Cardinale as Jill is absolutely amazing, as she is beautiful, charming but at the same doesn't hide what she really is temptress and prostitute. Fonda as Frank is powerful, leader that is not afraid of anything and cold blooded murderer. Bronson as Harmonica was incredible, as he is quiet but dangerous, calm and in seeking revenge shows that he cares for things being right. Some absolutely incredible scenery and amazing directing of the movie. Music was probably one of the best ever in western movies as it has some weight but also creates all sort of emotions and creates amazing situations feelings. 4/4
A beautiful masterpiece!
Once upon a time in the west is a true masterpiece. In my opinion it has the best opening of all time. And his line with 'You brought two to many.' Love it!

The ending is also very beautiful. The duel with Frank is perfect! It's very intense. I love the part when you get a flashback when he met Frank for the first time. I always get the chills whenever I see that part. Because there is so much meaning in that scene. And when Frank puts the harmonica in his mouth and the music starts playing.... Just perfect!

Speeking of the music let's not forget the amazing soundtrack of this movie. Thanks to Ennio Morricone. His music makes those intense moments even better. Thanks to the music it has become a true masterpiece.

So that's why I believe that this movie is a masterpiece! And this movie is most certainly worth a 10 out of 10.
An epic western – with all the pros and cons that come with that
As the railroad spreads western, bringing with it progress and development, the west is a changing place. The rule of gunmen is ending with the new men of power being land owners and developers. A young woman arrives in one such small town to find her new husband and family murdered by gunman Frank under the lead of a railroad developer. Meanwhile a mysterious man arrives in the town looking for Frank for some reasons. Both he and convict Manuel Gutierrez join forces to try and hold onto what remains of `their' west and deal with Frank.

From the opening ten minutes you should be able to judge whether or not this film will frustrate you or not. The opening scene is one of the best of cinema but, on paper, very little actually happens. This is what you need to carry into the film – as it is so very long there is plenty of silence and pauses. If you feel that these are unnecessary then the running time of this film will feel even longer to you. On the other hand if you, as I do, feel that the silences in this film are just as important and telling as the dialogue or action, then this film should move quite quickly.

The plot is a mix of revenge western while also looking at the death of the West associated with the American movies – the strong gunman, the frontier town etc, they exist here but are being pushed out with every frame of the film. What Leone manages to do which confounds me is he fills the film with so much silence but yet little of it brings boredom, instead the film has it's steady pace and never lets it dip into flagging but just keeps enough happening to keep things moving. I must admit that some of the deeper meaning was lost on me but still felt that the central threads of the three or four main characters were more than enough to hold my interest on their own. Of course, bits did work better than other bits but that is to be expected – I know I got more from the cat and mouse between Harmonica and Frank than I did from the relationship between Gutierrez and Jill. However these minor problems are lost in the sheer scale of the film itself.

The acting is great and some of it could be considered the actors at their best. Certainly I can't think of another role where Charles Bronson was required to do so well. Here he has to have a stone face but still give over character – he manages it and pulls off an iconic type of cool that I'd usually associate with big stars. Fonda plays very naturally as a bad guy. When I first saw this film I was quite young and hadn't seen a lot of his more famous roles, now that I have it is very strange to see him as a bad guy, but the counter casting of him does work anyway. Cardinale is a strong role but I must confess that her character was lost to me a little – this was one of the threads I was weakest on and I'll watch the film again with more focus. Support cast are all pretty good and have a few famous western faces in there.

One of the strongest parts of the film is the score. From the first time you hear that scarring harmonica you know to associate it with bitterness, likewise other parts of the score are very strong and used well. Part of it did remind me of Steptoe & Son but it still worked in it's context! The plot all goes sort of where you expect it to but we are left with the wider picture of the West of Frank coming to an end and the West of Morton moving unstoppably to replace it – the film never suggests that one is better than the other, in fact it highlights that there may be no difference at all. Meanwhile the frontier men are pushed on into a shrinking horizon.

Overall this is an epic, which means it is sweeping in scope, resulting in the occasional stretch showing. The running time is sparsely filled with dialogue which may frustrate some, however Leone has made the silence as loud as the dialogue and the actors provide him with performances that deliver so much without words at times that the time is easily eaten up. Not the most accessible western he made (simply because others are more entertaining) but still an epic and well worth three hours of anyone's time.
This is my fav film. It is more like watching a piece of art. The look is fantastic. The director does a perfect job. The acting is wonderful. The story is not the strongest ever but it should be watched to experience it. If your a film lover you can't fail but admire this film.Charles Bronson is the perfect broody loner. Henry Fonda surprises everyone by giving a strong performance as a bad guy. The close up of his eyes is stunning. The camera work and close ups have never been done better. The music is as good as anything you will find in a movie. Throw in the scenes when you first see Henry Fonda. The scene at the railway station which the water dripping on the hat. The sound of the spinning water tower. To me the closet movie to ART i have ever seen and i have seen a lot of films.
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