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I may have commented on the movie, but I was compelled to write after
watching the wonderfully- prepared feature DVD. The video quality is
absolutely excellent, IMO, with hardly any foreign artifacts (specks). Every
now and then there was some digitizing in some dark scenes, but overall, the
picture quality was outstanding, considering the age of the film. I wasn't
so impressed with the enhanced stereo (5.1 mix) that was used. Sounds from
things like the train in the opening sequence didn't follow the subject
consistently, but the mono track is also included and it was enhanced to
make the audio range more spatial.
I urge those OUTW fans to access the optional commentary track that gives viewers a sharp insight into the making of this classic. Things that are discussed include the fact that Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) is actually the hub for the principal characters who weave their paths towards the climax. Also, watch for the use of water, which is vitally important to the story. It comes up so often and in so very many ways. Strange, since the very first frame shows such a parched and desolate land. The discussions also yield more about how director Sergio Leone was deeply influenced by many other filmmakers in his film that pays homage in so many obvious and even subtle ways (like using the song "Danny Boy" -- regarded as a "goof" in imdb -- sung by Maureen McBain [Marilu Carteny], which pays homage to a film that has a similar scene). It's ironic how so many filmmakers now pay homage to OUTW.
And one other interesting note in the commentary was how the decision was made to use amplified ambient sounds in the opening scene instead of the music of Ennio Morricone. Those who have patience and are well- rested should thoroughly enjoy OUTW. Those who just want to see stuff blown up and have the patience of Indiana Jones with a gun may grow restless with this movie, which really takes its time to develop the story. Even Harmonica (Charles Bronson) urges Frank (Henry Fonda) not to rush things. Once Upon a Time in the West allows you to take a close look into the faces of all the characters in ways that no other filmmaker has ever succeeded in accomplishing so well. So get plenty of rest, cancel all your plans, pop the DVD in, crank up the volume.... and watch those false notes.
This weekend I got the chance to watch this movie (again) on tv after not
having seen it for so many years. And in my opinion it is still a fantastic
movie. Although if you've got the chance, you should watch it on the big
screen, not on tv.
Best of all is the cinematography. How shall I explain it? The movie starts with three men waiting for a train at a train station in the middle of nowhere. Apart from the station master who wants to sell these men tickets, not a single word is spoken. You don't know anything about these men, you can only guess that the person they are waiting for must be on the next train. The scene is thirteen minutes (!) long, but it never gets boring. The whole film is made like that: many scenes are extremely long, and there is not much talking throughout the whole film, but it never gets boring. Despite its slow pacing the film manages to draw you in completely and despite its 165 minutes the film is not one minute too long.
The characters are portrayed as real people, not 100% good, not 100% bad. The actors are really great. During the movie I was thinking: 'who else could play that role?' and I came up with no answers. Best of all was Jason Robards as Cheyenne and Henry Fonda as the villain (Frank). Charles Bronson as Harmonica is also excellent. But I also liked Claudia Cardinale's character (Jill). She plays a strong woman, quite untypical for a western and for the time in which this film was made (1968).
This film focuses more on the dark side of the west, and the dark side of human nature as well. Contrary to "The Good The Bad And The Ugly" this film is not funny. As a matter of fact it is deadly earnest.
Ennio Morricone's score is just great. It fits perfectly into the scenes and the main characters all have their own theme.
All in all a brilliant film, a must see.
Brett McBain, an Irish farmer widower, lives with his children in a
poor, desert of the American West. He has prepared a welcome party for
his new wife, "Jill" (Claudia Cardinale), who comes from New Orleans.
When "Jill" arrives, she finds that a party of bandits murdered MacBain
and his children.
Among films as "The Searchers", "Rio Bravo", "The Wild Bunch", "Unforgiven" we put "C'era una volta il West". All are excellent, superb and unique.
The meager Sergio Leone's film career is an exemplary example of qualitative change. Leone film after film exceeded the expectations created by their own fans by carrying out increasingly larger. Upon completion of the "Dollar Trilogy", Leone decided to show the final extinction of the "spaghetti-western".
With "C'era una volta il West" the great Leone decided to stage a slow and agonizing death dance and had the help of a childhood friend, the famous composer Ennio Morricone.
"C'era una volta il West" is primarily a recreation for the senses, we face a pure mixture, the better hybrid achieved between the spaghetti-western and western American classic, where Sergio Leone made one of the best jobs his career, showing that besides being a real movie buff and know the western and few have enough quality to also make something new.
The film has some sharp dialogue, memorable and accurate, nothing is superfluous and nothing lacking. The actors act unusually, with a beautiful Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson showing that will always be the best in that character. Jason Robards made a character that excited Peckinpah and was hired for "The Ballad of Cable Hogue". Henry Fonda has forged one of the best villains.
Photography of Almeria and Monument Valley are unforgettable and were taken by the same director of photography film and Godard Pasolini, Tonino Delli Colli. Morricone's music with songs like "Like a judgament", one of the best soundtracks of all time, so good that Kubrick thought only hire Morricone but ultimately failed.
Sergio Leone that is devoted to this film, the performance you get from this simple story of revenge to make it a work of art is incomparable.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
On the heels of "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," is this equally sprawling and archetypal Western, this time with less obvious dubbing, and Henry Fonda as a kind of tie in to Hollywood's hero paradigm. It's indescribably beautiful, one of the most gorgeous Westerns ever photographed, indeed a model for good visual directing and cinematography in any genre. That alone makes the almost three hours a pure pleasure.
But it's not a fast movie in any other way. It can't be. It depends on lingering over delicious details, small ones, shot up close in startling detail and ever deadpan looks and steely eyes. Nothing is believable and it's not meant to be. It's not even a fable, quite, but more a celebration of being inside an incredible film, as strange as that sounds. Not that the scenes are not believable--even the very last shots of the makeshift town and the railroad being built is about as realistic as it gets. Great stuff.
Plot? You might, at times, wonder where the plot went. There are lots of bad guys, and you're not totally sure there's a protagonist, unless the one woman in the movie is the center of our concerns, even if she is clearly a bystander to it all. When it gets clear, in the last twenty minutes, it's again archetypal (and has echoes of the over the tops showdown in "Good Bad and Ugly"). A small bit of slow motion (not needed normally in a movie where everything is slow already) makes clear this is the key moment in the film, the thing that made the rest of it, with all its confusing and violent layers, sensible.
For my money, I'd love all this incredible visceral stuff, the sounds and sights, filled in with some kind of deeply felt conflict, not a purely dramatic one. I watch and am shocked, or swept away, or impressed, or dazzled, but I'm actually never moved, not from the heart. And there are plenty of aspects here that should really move us--including feeling for the woman's plight, rather than simply recognizing that it is, after all, quite a plight.
Still, another landmark Sergio Leone movie.
Its odd how one comes to a film. I saw this one nearly 40 years ago in
an edition that was chopped up. The sound and score was reprocessed and
muted. It was terrible. I lumped it in with the Clint Eastwood trilogy.
Those movies were fun in the manner of an then new extreme style. But
the concept was thin and knowing that one was an exact copy of a
Kurosawa samurai movie sort of took the American link out of them.
(That specific film was remade again starring Bruce Willis and was
Now after all this time, I come back to it and find it whole, a new thing. Its wonderful. Its as wonderful as advertised. There are all sorts of joys. One is the many references to ordinary, series westerns. Another is the meditative pace; a sort of an anti-action movie rooted in place and place-derived intents. These two things alone would place it as high as IMDb readers have chosen.
But there are two other things that matter more to me. The first is obvious: the sound design. Few filmmakers seem to want to leverage sound much. Malick is one, but the idea there is to make an independent layer over the images. Here, the sound saturates the images. In my experience, it is unique in its effectiveness. And that's one of the other shocks: I don't think I would have been able to appreciate it as much as a young man. I've been watching films more lucidly for only a few years now and though all the other components here are ordinary but perhaps extended, this strikes me as wholly new.
The other thing probably requires one to have gone through a couple stupid American wars. The second one makes all the difference, because the first was still based on the notion of doing good even if the means were bankrupt. Now, a world can look at westerns and not automatically make the John Ford connection: that Monument Valley and open spaces mean freedom. Frontier gunplay and violence automatically invoked populist justice.
It took this movie to break things. And it took this long for them to break. Westerns are a notation for America, a story about an accidental nation. A collection of simple notes for us to grasp. This movie is about westerns in precisely the same way. I study these constructions and nearly always say that the underlying or original goal is to increase the viewer's engagement. But this case is different: the layers provide a distance. It allows us to see the notation about the notation about what will always be a notation: national identity.
Of the sections, the opening is the best. At some point when the web grows to allow clips to be annotated online and ranked separate from the movie, that sequence will rate very high.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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.
Most westerns are actually about the death of the old, wild, west; and 'Once Upon a Time in the West', with its story centred on the coming of the railroad, is no exception. One thing that Sergio Leone has done in this movie is to make a truly cinematic film: it's hard to imagine how the script read, as so much of the meaning is conveyed in the facial expressions of the actors or by Enrico Morricone's score - there's a balletic quality to Leone's work. Unfortunately, I found the music intrusive, the exaggerated grimacing of the characters merely comic, and the plot contrived, difficult to follow and arbitrarily bloody; I don't believe that even in the wildest west, six people would be killed outside a bar and everyone inside would just carry on drinking as if nothing had happened. Personally, I prefer Robert Altman's treatment of a similar storyline in 'McCabe and Mrs. Miller', a film that uses rather fewer of the conventions of the western, but which seems closer to life as a result.
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.
Really not my kind of film. I thought my tastes were quite broad, but
apparently not broad enough to encompass this one. The best writers and
directors can make a point quickly and effectively without seeming to
hurry. Sergio Leone, it seems, can't do that - at least, not in this
movie. He takes his time over every scene, whether it has a point to
make or not.
It takes ages to get started (whatever happened to grabbing the attention of the audience to make them want to find out more?!) and ages for anything to actually happen once it has started. The word "lean" cannot be applied here; I suppose the best phrase I can offer is "elegantly lumbering".
I saw the director's edition rather than the theatrical release, and as far as I could tell, the long scenes didn't achieve anything that ones half or even a tenth of the duration could have achieved (boredom aside).
Yes, there were some "pretty" camera angles. Yes, there were one or two clever lines of dialogue. But the impression I came away with was, I'm sorry to say, that the director put his self-indulgence firmly above the audience's entertainment. The music was noticeably repetitive; the sound-effects intrusive beyond the point of distraction; and the dialogue invariably too quiet.
I suppose I must be missing something given the absurdly high (IMHO) position of this film in the top 250. I really can't imagine what that might be!
A railroad magnate named Morton, Gabriele Ferzetti, hires a cruel gunman
named Frank, Henry Fonda, to "remove obstacles from the track." One of the
obstacles is Brett McBain, who owns some water rich land the railroad must
pass through. Frank massacres McBain and his family, framing a local bandit
named Cheyenne, Jason Robards, in the process. Unbeknownst to Frank, McBain
married Jill, Claudia Cardinale, on a recent trip to New Orleans. Jill
arrives to find her new family dead and herself in possession of the land
Frank will certainly kill again to obtain. Jill's survival depends on
Cheyenne, who wants to find out who framed him, and a mysterious stranger
called Harmonica, Charles Bronson, who has his own business to conduct with
"Once Upon A Time In The West" is perhaps the most beautiful western ever filmed. Employing his signature style, director Sergio Leone uses the wide screen format with the skill of a master painter, alternating breath-taking vistas with stunning close-ups against the magnificent score by Ennio Morricone. Leone lets the story unfold slowly. Characters surrender their motivations only grudgingly, all the while slowly building to a powerful conclusion. The pace of the film, which I credit as one of its strengths, may also be its main drawback today. Many members of the post-MTV generation accustomed to quick editing may not have the patience to let themselves be swept up by this film. That is a pity.
"Once Upon A Time In The West" stands as Leone's homage to the great, and not so great, western films that came before him. "Johnny Guitar" certainly springs to mind and the opening sequence makes an undeniable nod toward "High Noon." However, unlike Quentin Tarantino's recent homage to his roots, "Kill Bill, Vol. 1," this film not only stands on its own two feet, it expands the genre.
These characters are more than a group of archetypes wandering about under the western sun. Jill isn't your traditional victimized widow. A New Orleans prostitute taking a chance on a new life on the frontier, she's an independent woman who knows men. If sleeping with Frank is the only way to save her life, she will, knowing that after a hot bath she'll be the same as she was before. Frank, in a brilliant performance against type by Henry Fonda, is also a man in transition. He envies the power flowing from Morton's money. He would like to become more like Morton, but his propensity toward baser evil deprives him of the discipline he needs to become a businessman. Cheyenne seeks revenge for being framed and pretends to interested in the wealth the McBain land will bring, but he is mainly motivated by growing feelings for Jill. He's the most sentimental character in the film. He's a bandit with a heart of gold, which is more than can be said for Harmonica. Harmonica, the man with no name, develops a liking for both Jill and Cheyenne, but one gets the feeling he would sacrifice either or both of them if there was no other way to get Frank. He is not the classic, selfless western hero of old.
When I originally saw this film, I was disappointed by Bronson. I didn't think he made the most of a role obviously tailor-made for Clint Eastwood. I was mistaken. Bronson brought nuance to the role I doubt Eastwood would have at that stage of his career. In his three films with Leone, Eastwood's "Man with No Name" character tended toward smug amorality motivated only by self-interest. Harmonica has a little more depth and introspection than Eastwood's characters. He plays him with a certain sadness in his eyes; a doomed self-awareness. Harmonica realizes when he kills Frank the remainder of his life will be devoid of meaning or purpose. He doesn't speak much, but he tellingly attempts to wax philosophically with Frank about the nature of men of like themselves and the changing West. In a sense, he knows Frank is the only person who could understand him, since he had to become a gunman like Frank in order to achieve his well- deserved revenge. The characters Eastwood played for Leone were less troubled about their place in the universe than Bronson's Harmonica. This might be Bronson's best performance.
"Once Upon A Time In The West" deserves an esteemed place among the canon of great westerns.
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