Once Upon a Time in the West
Year:
1968
Country:
USA, Italy, Spain
Genre:
Western
IMDB rating:
8.6
Director:
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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Reviews
Probably my favorite movie.
The fourth Leone movie was supposed to be his last western movie. It may not have been that since he made "A fistful of dynamite" and co-directed "My name is Nobody" later but it is without doubt the one I'll remember best. It's a Leone's requiem to the Western movies and it may well be the best movie ever made.

The dialogue is simply amazing, it's said that the script consisted of just ten pages of lines, however it's all so well written that it makes my spine chill. I mean Bronson can't have more than twenty line throughout the movie, and all of them a remarkable.

The shooting is superb, I can almost remember every single shot in this movie, the blend of extreme close-ups and wide shots is just perfect and creates a wonderful result.

An awesome score written by Morricone makes this movie even better. Every one of the main characters have their own score and every score is great.

Fantastic performances by everyone is the final reason why you should stop read this now and go and by the movie instead. Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards and Claudia Cardinale are all playing on the top of their abilities.

Now some people may have trouble with the slow pace of it but for me it actually adds to the atmosphere, you can almost smell the dust and death in the air when you watch this movie.

Just go and buy it. OK?

10/10
2004-06-21
"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. ****
2007-06-27
One for all time !!!
I thought I knew westerns, I'd seen John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Glen Ford, Audie Murphy, Richard Widmark, Alan Ladd, all of them save the day many times. I was wrong, I was 14 yrs old when I went to the local movie house to see this movie in 1969. My grandmother took me, she had always been a huge fan of Henry Fonda's, and even though she didn't care for western's, she dragged me to this one. I'll never forget how engrossed I was from beginning to end. And this one movie was the basis for all my future wish's to have been born a cowboy. Everything about this movie impressed me one way or the other.

Simply put, this movie is the most visually stimulating and engrossing movie I have ever watched.

I have seen plenty of great movies in my in my fifty years of life, but this one, is in my opinion more than a movie, it's a piece of history unfolding in front of your eyes with no censorship or BS added for flavor. True, the movie has been chopped up some for TV and other forms of presentation, but when I was in that theater in 1969, the movie was, to use a semi modern term "AWESOME".

No one, not even if you dislike westerns, should pass on this one.
2006-01-24
The entire history of the Western - in two-and-a-half hours.
I'm sure this has been said before, perhaps I even read it somewhere or listened to it - but it's worth repeating. This film is not "a' Western - it is all Westerns.

Almost at the same time this was released, Peckinpah released the Wild Bunch. That film took a whole host of Cowboy movie conventions and turned them inside out, first by its infamous portrayal of violence, but more importantly by treating the "bad-guys" with respect while presenting all the supposed "good-guys" as cruds - with the exception of the Mexican revolutionaries; but then, even this was a violation of an unacknowledged convention - ever since the murder of Villa by the American Army, Hollywood has covered over that criminal trespass by portraying Mexican rebels as little better than bandits - which of course was Washington's official line on the Villa case.

At any rate, the point is that Peckinpah's film blew traditional cowboy clichés right out of Hollywood. It hasn't been really possible to make a traditional Western since then.

So it's dam' fortunate for all of us that Leone made OUATITW when he did, because one of the goals he appears to have set for himself is to use practically every Cowboy movie he could remember without actually slipping into overt cliché. And, quite amazingly, he pulls it off.

The chief means of accomplishing this, as a number of reviewers have noted, is structuring the film as an Italian opera, using the character's actions and responses (both physical and verbal) to take the place of opera's lyrics, performed before the magnificent music by Ennio Morricone, enhanced by editing that's so smooth, it's often not noticeable. For instance, on repeated viewings it becomes clear that certain scenes - the massacre of the family, the final shoot-out - which are so tense on first viewing that they seem to go on forever, actually happen rather quickly; other scenes that at first seem to snip along - such as the scene when Cheyanne and Harmonica first meet - are actually fairly leisurely paced.

The ability to manipulate his audience's sense of time is one of Leone's greatest talents. In all four of his major Westerns - this film and the Eastwood films - the final shoot-out (always staged as a set-piece) seems to bring time to a halt; when the smoke clears, we're left wondering what day of the week it is, because even if we have a watch,we don't trust it any more, since it is clearly not in synch with the film. Leone accomplishes this with an editing approach that is musically timed (quite literally, he is editing it to Morricone's score), utilizing long shots as melodic riffs and extreme close-ups for heavy beats.

OUATITW is actually the first movie Leone made where he is fully aware of this. Thus he is taking real risks in his choices of which Western conventions to highlight, and which to let drift into the background. Just as example: All three of the Eastwood films have a horse-chase sequence. There is none in OUATITW. Leone wants the horse to begin drifting into the backdrop of history - this is a film about the coming of the 'iron horse' - the railroad. The second to last image of the film is a man riding off on horseback; the final image is the train facing us as the laborers lay down track leading it directly towards us, as the music we know to be the woman's theme swells, reminding us that she is there with the laborers, and that somehow, while the old West (the West on horseback) has breathed its last, the new West, still a land of promise and new beginnings, remains.

A magnificent farewell to an era - not just an era of American history, but an era in film history as well.
2006-06-28
A western for everyone
There is no shortage of reviews here proclaiming Once Upon a Time in the West as the greatest western ever. They may very well be right. The beauty of this film is its almost universal appeal. The cinematography and musical score alone would allow this film to stand even without a plot. But there are enough reviews here that read like film class dissertations, let me just hit on a few of my favorite aspects of the movie and offer a general recommendation.

As I mentioned before, the visual aspect of this film is so rich that it risks overpowering the film's other aspects. If you've seen other Leone films (then I can't imagine you not having seen this one), then you will recognize many of his characteristic camera angles and close-up shots. The two most striking examples of this for me was the revelation of Fonda's character (Frank) and the close-up zoom on Harmonica's (Bronson) eyes before the final showdown. Sure it sounds like stock Leone camera work, but I think that in this movie he incorporates set and scenery much more fluidly and completely with his camera tricks than compared with the Dollars trilogy. And while writing about the opening scene seems like a spoiler to me, let me just say that if you have any patience at all, you will be rewarded well to sit through it quietly with the sound set at the loudest bearable level.

I've mentioned Leone's Dollars trilogy multiple times already. For those who don't know, it consists of his first three (and genre-creating) Spaghetti Westerns: "Fistful of Dollars", "For a Few Dollars More", and "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly". My recommendation is to watch these movies, if you haven't already, before seeing Once Upon a Time in the West. This isn't necessary of course, the movie easily stands on its own. But the Dolars movies seem to build off the previous ones in a way that enhances each sequential viewing. The first three movies will condition you towards Leone's film making and style, which, while totally groundbreaking and rewarding, may be a bit of an overload to the uninitiated trying to sit down and view all 2hrs 45mins of Once Upon a Time. Viewing the other movies first will also allow you to appreciate what this film is not: another Dollars movie. Oh, and speaking of running time, I don't know if it's even possible to find the studio-butchered original American release running, but do yourself a favor and make sure you rent or buy the full-length, letterboxed DVD with 5.1 Dolby Surround.
2005-03-25
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.
2006-12-31
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.
2006-07-04
The Best Western ever made??? Not quite, but still is AMAZING!
After the great success of the masterpiece "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" which perfectly finished the "Dollars" trilogy. Sergio Leone get bored with nothing to do, and decided to start another trilogy, the "America" trilogy with "Once upon a time in the West". That today is considered the best Western ever made in the history of cinema.

"Once upon a time in the West" begins when the farmer Brett McBain (Frank Wolff) and his sons are murdered in cold blood by the hands of the ruthless bounty-killer Frank (Henry Fonda) who puts the blame on the criminal Cheyenne (Jason Robards). Frank was hired by the legged-rail baron Morton (Gabrielle Ferzetti) to just scare away McBain and his family of their land, because she would be much valued with the advancement of the railroad. But on the same day Jill (Claudia Cardinale) arrives in town, coming from New Orleans, and when she finds out of the crime she reveals that she married Brett McBain weeks before in New Orleans and therefore the land still had a owner. On the same day, Jill meets a mysterious man who is known for Harmonica (Charles Bronson) because he always carries with himself a harmonica, and offers itself as a protector of Jill. And when the criminal Cheyenne knows that he is being unfairly prosecuted, he decides to join forces with Harmonica to help Jill keep the lands of her deceased husband. But a web of mystery and deceit circulates between the contradictory relationship of the characters.

When the film premiered at the time it was poorly received by critics and was a box office failure, only today that the critics and the public praised the film as not only the best Sergio Leone's movie, but also the best Western ever made. Well, not quite (in my opinion), but I understand why people praise him as such. The main complain of the critics to the film at the time, it was that the film was extreme slow. But this slowness is caused by some reasons.

The first one is that the film was completely different from all the Western films ever made, even from the "Dollars" trilogy because Leone gives the film a dramatic tone. What Leone tries to show in the story is the end of the Old West, the title shows that perfectly. The original translation from Italian to English was "Once upon a time THE West", that is, the end of the Old West. And that originally came in the time of the advance of the railways, and the grand corruption and death that she brought to the population. Leone shows that giving the film an excellent script (written by him and Sergio Donati), which gives the film a superb narrative with beautiful dialogs between the characters, but like any Leone's film, it never loses his great sense of humor.

The other reason is, as always. the magnificent direction of Leone, which once again shows advanced for its time. With its perfect close-ups on characters and enormous scenarios, making everything beautiful and epic. But there it comes the problem that prevents the film to even beat "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly". Leone was known for his quiet moments brilliantly filmed, and "Once upon a time" is full of them (but maybe too much). Without considering the first 10 minutes of the film (which is brilliant, putting us in the heat of the scene), but others seem to boring taking the power of narrative and our investment on them.

Another problem with the film is the relevance of the characters. Not that they are not superb and memorable (which they are): Jill is nothing more nor less than the representation of the women in the world of men in the Old West and its extreme strength and intelligence, along with an excellent performance from Cardinale; Cheyenne can be compared with Tuco from "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly", both characters are cruel bandits, but in several times they are shown to be simple human beings with their problems and their kind and innocent side; Frank is another cruel-badass villain that Leone built in his films, Frank is a bounty-killer who in previous films its showed that they are honored to their "job", do whoever they were told and paid for and nothing more. But Frank in the film betrays its own principles, and gets into the corrupt world of the railways; Harmonica is almost the same character that Clint Eastwood was in previous Leone films. Mysterious, don't talk much, and never shows his true motives (only at the most epic and badass moment of the film). All characters are fantastic, but thanks to the silent moments of Leone, their relevance and relationship fails in several moments in the history.

I don't agree that this is the best Western film ever made, but I understand why people consider it so. From a fabulous story that shows excellently the end of the era of legends with a flawless script, magnificent direction and unforgettable characters. All this makes "Once upon a time" not only one of the best Western films ever made, but a beautiful masterpiece of cinema and the beginning of another amazing trilogy!

10/10
2013-10-23
Films and music
This is the kind of movie one could watch over and over again or every year just to enjoy the perfect camera movement, angles and synchronization with the so great score from Ennio Morricone. Movies like these show that you have to have a great composer and good view of using sounds and music together with movement, shots and story, if you want to make a great movie. Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone show that fact in so many a movies and this one is possible the highlight of all of them. Someone on the DVD comment track said that Leone especially concentrated fitting the the movie to the music and even changing some parts just to do that and it certainly shows!
2005-08-10
Epic story about a mysterious stranger with a harmonica and a notorious desperado to protect a beautiful widow from a ruthless assassin working for the railroad.
I watched this for a month ago, and as soon as the opening scene begun I was hooked. The mood, the silence and the wind blowing in the sunlight. I consider this as one of the greatest openings for any movie. It goes on for like ten minutes and when the train appear, you wish the scene could have been lasted a little bit longer.

Charles Bronson plays the main character, his performance is similar to Clint Eastwood in the Dollars trilogy. But he pulls it off pretty good, and through out the movie you get to know more about his past and why he's playing on the harmonica. You get to know a dark secret at the end, which makes the character fully developed. This right here makes the movie stronger then ''The Good The Bad and The Ugly''. Because in that movie you don't really get to know Clint Eastwood character, which makes him interesting. But you wish sometimes that you just could have get to known the character a little bit better.

But what is a western without an incredible soundtrack, well ''The Good The Bad and The Ugly'' is most known for Ennio Marricones fantastic soundtrack. But ''Once Upon A Time in The West'' is in my opinion better, it's so fantastic to listen to, that I can not even describe how amazing it is. You just got to listen.

Anyways, there is much more I love with this movie. But I don't wan't to ruin my hands writing every single detail I love. But I highly recommend this movie, even if your not a western fan it is worth watching.
2011-08-10
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