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
This is Leone's last and best ever Western. Therefore, it is the best western ever made.
'I wouldn't say when you've seen one Western you've seen the lot; but when you've seen the lot you get the feeling you've seen one.' Katharine Whitehorn Sunday Best (1976)

The traditional accusation is that Once upon a Time in the West offers nothing new to the genre but merely replays highlights from his previous classic Western movies. This is, however, a simple evaluation demonstrating a simple prejudice against the director or the genre. It is not a true evaluation of the film itself which is a stunning melodrama filmed in breathtaking manner, garnished with stars (including Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Keenan Wynn and Western movie favourite Jack Elam) and, to top it all off perfectly, one of the greatest film scores ever written from Ennio Morricone.

While it is astonishing in hindsight to note that this masterpiece from one of cinema's most talented directors was not even nominated for the Best Picture Oscar (the dreary and inexplicably popular musical [Oliver!] won), it borders on criminal that Morricone's incredible score was not nominated either (it was won by [The Lion in Winter]). As seems typical of masterpieces, they simply are not appreciated in their own time but masterpiece this is.

Given that Leone also directed all three of the 'Dollars' trilogy ([A Fistful of Dollars], [For a Few Dollars More] and [The Good, the Bad and the Ugly]), it is truly remarkable that this movie proved to be even better. There are very few films that can claim to be the greatest Western of all time and this is one of the strongest contenders. I would probably shortlist [For a Few Dollars More], [The Good, the Bad and the Ugly], [High Noon], [The Magnificent Seven] and [The Shootist] in the search for the best Western of all time. Leone also directed the first two of that list and the star of this movie, Charles Bronson, also appeared in [The Magnificent Seven]. However, Once Upon a Time in the West is, in my opinion, even better than all those films.
2003-04-06
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.
2006-09-09
A Landmark Spaghetti Western
Once Upon a Time in the West is an Italian epic spaghetti western film directed by Sergio Leone for Paramount Pictures. It stars Henry Fonda cast against type as the villain, Charles Bronson as his nemesis, Jason Robards as a bandit, and Claudia Cardinale as a newly widowed homesteader with a past as a prostitute. The screenplay was written by Leone and Sergio Donati, from a story devised by Leone, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Dario Argento. The widescreen cinematography was by Tonino Delli Colli, and Ennio Morricone provided the film score.

In this epic Western, shot partly in Monument Valley, a revenge story becomes an epic contemplation of the Western past. To get his hands on prime railroad land in Sweetwater, crippled railroad baron Morton hires killers, led by blue-eyed sadist Frank, who wipe out property owner Brett McBain and his family. McBain's newly arrived bride, Jill, however, inherits it instead. Both outlaw Cheyenne and lethally mysterious Harmonica take it upon themselves to look after Jill and thwart Frank's plans to seize her land. As alliances and betrayals mutate, it soon becomes clear that Harmonica wants to get Frank for another reason -- it has "something to do with death."

As in his "Dollars" trilogy, Leone transforms the standard Western plot through the visual impact of widescreen landscapes and the figures therein. At its full length, Once Upon a Time in the West is Leone's operatic masterwork, worthy of its legend-making title.If only the first 10 minutes of this movie still existed, this most hyperbolic of oat operas would still be acknowledged as one of the genre's greatest exhumations.Overall,it is a a landmark Leone spaghetti western masterpiece featuring a classic Morricone score.
2012-02-27
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.
2010-12-31
pure cinematic paradise
Thank god that I'm a Bronson fan. This was my first Leone movie, and dumb kid that I was, I actually watched it thinking I was in for a typical Bronson "vehicle"! Looking back I'm thankful, because if it wasn't for his involvement, I would never have discovered the beauty and majesty that is Once Upon a Time in the West.

I absolutely love this movie. It's probably my all time favourite, certainly one of the few that I can watch OVER and OVER again without losing interest. I love the way Leone creates intrigue and mystery around what is a relatively thin plot. He can make even the smallest twist of fate seem like an epic turn of events, with that amazing sense of revelation that he generates out of old hackneyed situations (something Argento has since picked up). Leone proves in this film that he could seemingly take anyone, even peripheral characters, and give them screen charisma without using dialogue as a crutch.

OUATITW features the most tense two man stand-offs ever, with some serious deja-vu in the direction of his "Dollars" trilogy. In fact, it does feel like those three movies were warm ups, practice sessions in the build up to OUATITW. Here though, he perfected everything; despite the long running time, it's all focused, and without a single irrelevant scene. For me, the two hours plus just fly by, I wish it would never end. Leone was without question at his artistic peak when he made this, that's not to say that he went downhill from then on, but I honestly don't think he ever did another film where everything came together so perfectly.

The cast is flawless. Fonda eclipsed every good guy he ever did in one fell swoop, truly chilling. Robards is a great comic character, the lovable rogue with an edge. And Cardinale is more than just (incredible) window dressing; she switches between passionate, angry, delicate and sentimental at all the right moments.

Which leaves the hero; I'm a huge Eastwood fan, but I honestly don't believe he could have done the role justice. His "man with no name" was a cool, sly character with hidden complexities. Eastwood always does these layered personalities, with some kind of mental baggage. Bronson, on the other hand, mostly does himself; simple, uncomplicated figures with only one state of mind, that's why he's put in so many revenge flicks. Plus, he looks like he's been seriously wronged at some point in his life, Eastwood doesn't have that quality. Bronson is the genuine hard-as-nails article. You can readily imagine that, had he been born decades earlier and been put in the same situation, he would resolve the problem in much the same way as his character in the movie (sometimes I affectionately refer to this movie as Deathwish part 0- could Harmonica be the great granddaddy of Paul Kersey?).

Of course the other great contribution is the music. I still think that the main theme is one of the most breathtaking pieces of music I have ever heard. It affects me deeply whenever I hear it, regardless of the mood I'm in. Maybe I should listen to more opera or something, I don't know, but that's the way I feel. And the individual character themes are just so well integrated into the film, it's unbelievable. Leone replaces words with music, and it conveys so much more in return. Bronson just plays that melancholy tune on the harmonica instead of answering people back, it consistently cracks me up.

High Noon, Naked Spur, Shane, The Searchers, etc. are all classics of the genre, but I really don't think it's possible to compare those "traditional" westerns with OUATITW. For me, it exists on a plane of it's own, it's the kind of film experience that you let wash over you, a waking dream. I recommend this movie to anyone, if you're on the right wavelength you'll be greatly rewarded.
1999-07-26
Fonda's favorite, and mine too
There are few movies that can combine great directing, acting ,music, cinematography, and writing into one movie, but this one does. There are no weak points. Every scene is a piece of art. I know of no other film that affects the senses as this one. Henry Fonda said this was his favorite film and role. It's easy to see why. He created 1 of the great "bad guy" roles in history. In a side note, Leone wanted to put brown contacts in Fonda's eyes,("who ever saw a villain with blue eyes", Leone said), but Fonda wouldn't have it, and the effect is magic in the famous Leone close-ups. Bronson, Cardinale, and Robards are equally powerful, all have great lines and the camera loves them. Speaking of cameras, the visuals are stunning. There is nothing fancy about this movie. Raw power is what you see and feel. Simply the best western if not film ever made.
1999-01-15
Greatest Western Movie of All Time
The title of this would sum it all up! The main reason this is the best Western of all time is simply because of Henry Fonda. I'd place him in the top 10 of All-Time Greatest Movie Villains because of his role as Frank. I'm not a big fan of Charles Bronson but he does a pretty good job in this film as well. This is one Western movie (with the exception of Leone's other films) that has both great story, action, characters, scenery, etc... Even the minor characters in this movie do great in their respective parts. Also probably one of the best directed movies of all time as well. I would highly recommend this film to anyone who likes western movies.
2006-04-20
Nowhere near the level of the Dollars trilogy
Great visuals; great soundtrack; Sergio Leone directing; Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, and most important (for those of us whose tastes run in that direction) Claudia Cardinale. What could go wrong with this movie? judging from the IMDb rating, nothing. But since I liked very much the Dollars trilogy and Once Upon a Time in America, I am writing this review to warn others that they might, possibly, be as disappointed as I was.

So, once again, what can go wrong with this movie? for starters, one can figure out, very early on, that it is going to end with a gunfight between the two main characters, and therefore that they are not in any danger at any point in the movie. That is true of many other westerns, but I cannot think of any other western where the entire plot consists of a series of diversions with the sole purpose of delaying the final gunfight -- for nearly three hours. Good westerns, and good action movies in general, build up the tension, which is not the case here: the final gunfight might as well have happened in the first scene, if both of the main characters had shown up at the train station. Apart from that, there were other excellent opportunities which the main characters let go to waste. They should have seized their chances and saved us a lot of time, part of which could have been used in finding images of Ms. Cardinale on the web.

On the positive side, the final gunfight is worth fast-forwarding to.

As is often the case, my rating is lower than it would have been without high expectations.
2009-07-05
Disappointing
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.
2014-04-26
A dying breed.
A beautiful lady, Jill arrives in the town Flagstone, Arizona to where she would meet up with her husband, after the two just recently got secretly married. But upon arrival she discovers he and the children had been killed by a hired gun, Frank. Because the McBain family were in the way of railway bighead, Morton's track layout. But they didn't see Jill coming and so their plans face another hurdle. Plus add another couple when the mysterious gunman, Harmonica, and an extremely wanted outlaw, Cheyenne join in to see Jill get want she deserves.

After really enjoying the Dollar trilogy, upon every repeat viewing and seeing the heavy influence of Leone's style breaking through. Well, I knew I just had to see his western epic. I finally got around to watching Leone's supposed masterpiece of the western genre, but here comes the sacrilege. It just didn't entirely grip me as a whole. There's no doubting the high quality of the picture and the skill behind the camera that explodes on the screen, but I found it to be a rather empty experience. More so in the ponderous, wind-out feeling, than anything else. What made it a whole lot easier to take on aboard with this opera style story of raw emotional was that of Ennio Morricone's tailor made score. His usual unique and trademark sounds draw upon very strongly in the heartfelt, but also stinging moments of pure sublime touches that simply drains the energy out of you. Leone used that asset beautifully and crafted more emotion then words could display. Each tune had its own character and organic feel by finding its way into each shot and Harmonica's theme was simply breathtaking. Of course the sound effects was the film's most important and striking component.

Also stimulating, grand landscapes cover the surface with splendidly, dynamic photography capturing the sombre mood and colourful faces. Leone's cunning direction is so composed and spacious by giving the film grit and a coldness, but with a certain elegance that never can be matched. He stages some cracking scenes and the showdowns are simply unforgettable. My eyes were certainly, glittering after the powerfully precise opening 15 minutes and it would go on to be one expansive stage show with authentic settings worked into the presentation by innovative composition. But his direction and storytelling is inspired from the music cues that control the actions and emotions. The fragmented story has a more serious and level approach to it and a death stench lingering within its context of the dying west (the railroad making headway) that emerges from these characters' journeys into the new frontier. And also a certain cycle of western references creep into the feature. Like his other films it doesn't glorify its actions, but its hard not to be taken by the visionary that's on show, despite the slow moving pace, flawed story (seems rushed and convoluted towards the end with some continuity shifts) and the way it milks out its scenes. But there's certain perfection in this craftsmanship that can tell many stories with out too much effort and it finishes up with a Zen like awe.

Now the magnificent performances were very capable and Charles Bronson really surprised me in his sensational role as Harmonica and the doll face Claudia Cardinale is perfect as Jill. Especially since her character is the heart of the film. Ironically, the epitome of total cold-hearted and barbaric ominous fitted Henry Fonda like a glove here, as Frank. Jason Robards is the life of the party with the wise words, as Cheyenne and Gabriele Ferzetti was jarringly, good as power hungry, but psychically ill Morton. Also you have Woody Strode and Jack Elam in cool minor roles.

Simply a ravishing, haunting and baroque looking western epic that deserves to be watched. Nothing short of high art, but I don't see it as the masterpiece like some do. But saying that, watching the special features on the disc has made me appreciate it even more to up it from an 8 to 9.
2006-08-06
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