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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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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.
The ultimate Western - Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
The movie opens. Three men are waiting at a deserted train stop appropriately located in the desert. They're hot, they're nasty, they're restless and bored. There's minimal action on the screen: one rocks a chair; another hunts a fly. For 15 minutes this continues: the tumbleweed rolls and they wait; the credits roll and you wait. Trying to imagine what will eventually happen, you look into the eyes on their hardened faces, trying to find some sign of a soul. Frustrated, you too become restless with anticipation, their anticipation.

Suddenly, in the distance, you hear a train. As it stops, you examine the screen for the reason they're waiting. Are you looking for something good or something bad? You don't know. Then the train starts to move. Silently you yell at the train "Wait, I haven't found it yet!

As the train exits stage right and out of view, you see a man on the other side of the tracks. He speaks to the three men:

"Did you bring a horse for me?"

"Err... looks like we're shy of one horse..." comes the reply.

Not at all surprised by the response, this kind and gentle man teaches the three some simple addition. "No. You brought two too many!"

Sounds like something Mr. Eastwood might say, doesn't it? ("Get three coffins ready.") It should since this film is directed by Sergio Leone, the man who gave us Clint in "A Fistful of Dollars", "For a Few Dollars More", and "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" - the biggest hit film in the trilogy.

With such an impressive portfolio, why did "Once Upon a Time in the West" fail to attract the attention it deserved when it hit theaters? Can the studio be blamed for mutilating the masterpiece? (It is a masterpiece, but how good was it before it was hacked?) Did audiences pass like Clint passing up the lead? (What about the drawing power of the stars?) Was America too full of spaghetti already? Who knows? Who cares?

Sergio Leone created some of the most memorable westerns ever to hit the screen. He sparred us the whiskey drinkin', Injun killin', white-is-right sanitized version of the Duke's west (sans "The Shootist") and gave us the stubble and squint of Clint. Did he spend all his creativity on the opening scene? Had he taken the genre as far as it could go?

No way! Think about his casting decisions, the haunting, soulful notes of the harmonica, the dialogue:

* Henry Fonda playing the evil villain: "People scare easier when they're dyin'."

* Jason Robards playing the good villian: "You remind me of my mother. She was the biggest whore in Alameda."

* Charles Bronson as "The Man": "I saw three of these dusters today. Inside the dusters there were three men. Inside the men there were three bullets."

Let's face it, you either like this stuff or you don't. If you like it, you won't find anything better. This movie doesn't need to be discussed, it must be felt. Period.

If you feel the need to review something, review the reason it hasn't been released on DVD. There must be an original version hidden somewhere, and I want a copy. Don't you?

Remember: Don't trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders. The man can't even trust his own pants!
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.
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.
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.
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
**** out of ****
Sergio Leone set out to create the ultimate western here, and succeeded. Combining pieces from all of the great westerns that preceded it, he made a one of a kind film. Showing the natural progression from his first three westerns to here, he more or less takes a lot of the same themes and ideas from those and pulled them together. More epic and operatic than `The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,' and without the lightheartedness that gave that film it's undeniable uniqueness. Instead, Leone focuses more on the dark side of the west, and the dark side of human nature as well. The four main players, Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, and Claudia Cardinale, all give the performances of the lifetime. From a filmmaking standpoint, few movies have ever been so perfect – the combination of gorgeous cinematography, incredible music, and the sheer style are second to none. A true masterpiece.
this one's for you, Claudia
That peculiar feeling stayed with me after watching this movie - I was sure of it - I was in love!!

I was in love with Claudia Cardinale "the whore with a heart of gold".

The movie itself is excellent, but what gives just that little more, is, in my humble opinion, Claudia Cardinale's corrupt uncorruptable character. She is the quintessential westernwoman; the woman every man who would ever intentionally watch a western, didn't know it was possible to dream of.

Sometimes I may forget her for a day or two, but I have a picture of her on my refrigerator and she's been with me for 3-4 years now.

And such is the entire movie; as Nietzsche ended western metaphysics, Sergio Leone effectively ended the western genre.

9/10 for the movie - plus that 1 extra just for Claudia = 10/10
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.
The classic Western it sets out to be
Everything about this film indicates that Leone set out to make a masterpiece. Having set the bar so high for himself it is even more remarkable that he has succeeded. The slow pacing, Monument Valley setting, typical Morricone score and all star cast are testament to how memorable he wants this film to be. You can picture him poring over each detail of every scene, even before shooting any footage.

The story is a familiar Western tale of a railway baron trying to get his hands on the land he needs by hook or by crook. Unfortunately for him his chief henchman has not bargained on a figure from his past returning to wreak long awaited revenge.

As the plot advances Leone treats us to a series of set pieces, with plenty of lingering looks, unspoken hatred and usually a dramatic and violent conclusion.

The coup de grace is the casting of Henry Fonda, so often the good guy in his movies, as the black-hearted henchman who clearly loves his job. Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson and Jason Robards are all excellent.

There isn't much point in going into much more detail in a mere review. The only way to appreciate this film is to set aside about three hours, draw the curtains and let Leone transport you to his vision of the coming of the railways to the West.
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