Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) Poster


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Henry Fonda prepared for his role as the villain "Frank" by arriving in Italy with a pair of brown colored contact lenses and a mustache. When Sergio Leone saw them, he ordered them removed. Leone had planned an important close-up shot of Frank's entrance and wanted the audience to instantly recognize Fonda with those blue eyes.
Al Mulock, who played one of the three gunmen in the opening sequence, committed suicide by jumping from his hotel window in full costume after a day's shooting. Production manager Claudio Mancini and screenwriter Mickey Knox, who were sitting in a room in the hotel, witnessed Mulock's body pass by their window. Knox recalled in an interview that while Mancini put Mulock in his car to drive him to the hospital, director Sergio Leone said to Mancini, "Get the costume! We need the costume!" Mulock, who had appeared as the one-armed bounty hunter in Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), was wearing the costume he wore in the movie when he made his fatal leap.
For the opening sequence where the three dusters waited for the train, filmmakers lightly coated the face of Jack Elam with jam and began filming close-ups while letting a fly out of a jar filled with flies, attempting to get Elam's reaction as one would land on his cheek.
When Henry Fonda was trying to decide whether to be in this film, he asked his friend Eli Wallach, who had just made The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) with Sergio Leone, if he should take the part of Frank. Wallach said that he had to do it and told Fonda, "You will have the time of your life." (Similarly, it was Fonda, saying he considered Leone one of the greatest directors he ever worked with, who persuaded James Coburn to take the part of Mallory in the second "Once Upon a Time..." film, Duck, You Sucker (1971).)
The main selling point to producers for the use of the Techniscope process was the savings in camera negative; but, another advantage was being able to derive the 2.35:1 aspect ratio while shooting with spherical lenses which avoided the distortion created by anamorphics during certain camera moves and extreme close-ups (such as those used by Sergio Leone). This film, together with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) (also directed by Leone and shot by Tonino Delli Colli) are now considered masterpieces in the use of the Techniscope system.
This marked the first of the last three films to be fully directed by Sergio Leone. All three of his last films would be edited for U.S. distribution, resulting in box-office failure in the U.S. (although the longer international versions would be successful in other countries). In Italy an even longer version of the movie was released. It does not exist in an English dubbed version.
The original intent for the opening scene was to use music already composed by composer Ennio Morricone; however, the attempted blend didn't seem to fit well. The decision was made to drop Morricone's score from the opening train station sequence and record the ambient sounds relating to the scenes (including the squeaking windmill and individual footsteps) after Morricone experienced a musical performance created by using only the sounds of a metal ladder. This created an exaggerated version of what had come to be known as "spaghetti sound."
After completing the Dollars trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)), Sergio Leone didn't want to do another western and began working on Once Upon a Time in America (1984); however, after the huge success of the Dollars Trilogy in the States in 1967, Leone wanted to produce films in the US and he began selling the idea for "Once Upon a Time in America", but studios wouldn't let him do it until he made another western for them. Eventually Leone decided to create another trilogy which begins with Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), develops into Duck, You Sucker (1971) and ends with Once Upon a Time in America. The ''Once Upon a Time'' trilogy, as it is often referred to, is effectively about "three historical periods which toughened America".
The credits, concluding with Director Sergio Leone, last over ten minutes into the start of the film.
The final duel between Frank and Harmonica is shot almost exactly like the one in Robert Aldrich's The Last Sunset (1961) between Rock Hudson and Kirk Douglas, a film, of which, Bernardo Bertolucci was a huge fan.
Jason Robards showed up at the set completely drunk on the first day of filming, and Sergio Leone threatened to fire him if he ever did that again. Robards was generally well-behaved thereafter, though in June 1968, after receiving word of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, he broke down and refused to perform until the day was over, and Leone decided to stop filming for the day.
Sergio Leone originally offered the role of Harmonica to Clint Eastwood, but he turned it down, as he was no longer interested in working for Leone. James Coburn was also approached for the role of Harmonica, but demanded too much money. The role went to Charles Bronson, who had previously turned down roles in the Dollars Trilogy (Eastwood's in A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and Lee Van Cleef's in For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)).
The Indian woman who flees from the train station in the opening sequence was actually played by a Hawaiian princess, Luukialuana (Luana) Kalaeloa (aka Luana Strode). She was the wife of actor Woody Strode.
Over half of the film's budget was spent on the actors' salaries.
Co-writer Bernardo Bertolucci says on the film's DVD that when he first suggested to director Sergio Leone that the film's central character be a woman, Leone was hesitant. Leone first budged on this subject by suggesting the introductory shot of Jill would be from below the train platform so the camera could see under Jill's dress and show she wasn't wearing any undergarments. Claudia Cardinale says she was never told this idea and says she probably wouldn't have agreed to be in the movie if it required this shot (suggesting that Leone, mercifully, gave up on the idea in the writing process).
Although Lionel Stander's establishment is located in Monument Valley, the interiors were actually shot at Cinecitta. Cheyenne's men enter with a cloud of red dust. The red dust was actually dust imported from the Monument Valley location.
Ennio Morricone composed the musical score to the original screenplay by Sergio Leone and Bernardo Bertolucci. The plot was subsequently changed, and in many places, Leone directed the film to the existing musical score.
In the opening scene, when Stony (Woody Strode) is under the water tank, water kept dripping onto the brim of his hat, causing him to flinch and Sergio Leone to stop filming. Leone was going to move Strode but, at the actor's suggestion, kept him in the same spot. Strode wanted his character to be viewed as so cool as to not let dripping water affect him. On the spur of the moment, Leone had Strode take off his hat and drink the collected water.
Sergio Leone made hundreds of references to films that influenced him. Some were quite obvious (like three men waiting for the train as in High Noon (1952)) and some were very subtle, like the choice of Woody Strode's sawed-off Winchester rifle, similar to the weapon Steve McQueen carried in the TV series Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958). McQueen referred to this unique weapon as a "Mare's Leg".
The McBain house was built of solid logs that remained following production of the Orson Welles' movie Chimes at Midnight (1965).
The first draft of the script was 436 pages long.
John Landis was one of the stunt men on this film.
If you look carefully at Claudio Mancini's lip movements during the flashback in the final duel, Harmonica's brother calls Frank a 'son of a bitch'.
The Flagstone set reportedly cost as much as the entire budget for Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (1964).
Harmonica's unfortunate brother is played by the film's production manager, Claudio Mancini.
For this film Claudia Cardinale and Paolo Stoppa take the longest buggy ride in movie history. It begins in Spain and goes through Monument Valley.
Kirk Douglas, an admirer of Sergio Leone, lobbied for the role of Cheyenne.
Sergio Leone originally wanted Sophia Loren to play Jill McBain, and Carlo Ponti, her husband, was willing to provide a considerable amount of financial backing if she was in the film. However, Leone decided not to cast her because he feared that she would try to gain too much dominance and influence on how the film was made, given her famously headstrong and temperamental personality. He instead cast Claudia Cardinale, a personal friend of his, whom he convinced to play Jill without showing her the script.
There is a deleted scene where Harmonica, following the opening shootout, is beaten up by the Sheriff and his deputies. This is why there is a scar on his face.
The McBain farmhouse location in Almeria turns up in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).
Afraid of being typecast having made 3 spaghetti Westerns in a row with Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood declined the opportunity to appear in the film. This led to a breakdown in Eastwood and Leone's relationship which was only resolved in 1988 when Eastwood was in Rome promoting Bird (1988) and got a call from his former director. They met for dinner. A few months later, Leone died from a heart attack.
Sergio Leone originally intended to reunite the three stars of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) (Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach) in cameo roles as the three gunmen waiting for Harmonica at the start of the film, but when Eastwood was unavailable the idea was scrapped.
Sergio Leone liked to tell the story of a cinema in Paris where the film ran uninterrupted for two years. When he visited this theatre, he was surrounded by fans who wanted his autograph, as well as the projectionist, who was less than enthusiastic. Leone claimed the projectionist told him "I kill you! The same movie over and over again for two years! And it's so SLOW!"
Cheyenne's real name is Manuel Gutierrez, according to the script. Sergio Leone didn't feel that Jason Robards made a convincing Mexican, so he dropped this.
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According to most people involved, the Cheyenne character had not been in Bernardo Bertolucci's and Dario Argento's original writings, and was only introduced by Sergio Donati, who had written the part with Eli Wallach in mind. Sergio Leone thought audiences would identify Wallach too much with his role from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).
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In a deleted scene, Frank gets a shave at a perfume shop. Henry Fonda sits in the same position he did in My Darling Clementine (1946).
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John Carpenter, a huge fan of Sergio Leone and this film, had "Jill's Theme" by Ennio Morricone played as he walked down the aisle at his wedding with Adrienne Barbeau.
Enrico Maria Salerno was considered for Mr. Morton.
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The character name of "Brett McBain" was derived from two famous U.S. mystery writers, Brett Halliday and Ed McBain (Evan Hunter).
The film was dubbed into several languages following its completion, including Italian, English, Spanish, French and German. For the Italian track, Gabriele Ferzetti and Paolo Stoppa dubbed their own dialogue, while Claudia Cardinale was dubbed by her regular Italian voice-over artist, Rita Savagnone. For the English version, Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards, Frank Wolff, Keenan Wynn and Lionel Stander dubbed themselves. While none of the voice actors who re-voiced the other characters in the English version received a screen credit, it is known that actor Bernie Grant and his wife, Joyce Gordon, dubbed the voices of Ferzetti and Cardinale respectively.
Robert Ryan was offered the role of the Sheriff played by Keenan Wynn. Ryan initially accepted but backed out after being given a larger role in Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969).
Following the huge success of the " Dollars " trilogy, United Artists were prepared to finance Sergio Leone's ambitious epic but only if it featured top box office names. They put forward Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck and Kirk Douglas but Leone balked at the proposed casting, and moved over to Paramount instead.
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This was the first feature to involve Sergio Leone's newly formed company, Rafran, which was named after his two daughters, Raffaella and Francesca. The two young girls appear, uncredited, at the Flagstone station.
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French actor Robert Hossein, who was a good friend of Sergio Leone, was originally to play Morton, but due to scheduling conflicts he was unable to take the part and Gabriele Ferzetti was cast instead.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
Warren Beatty, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Terence Stamp were considered for Harmonica.
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The original treatment of the movie was written by Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci, who were friends at the time. They watched a lot of classic westerns and came up with a story that accommodated many of their favorite western scenes.
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At Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam Dario Argento said it was him that came up with the fly in the opening sequence.
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Bernardo Bertolucci has told in interviews that it was his idea to have a female character to be one of the leads. According to him, it took a lot of talking to persuade director Sergio Leone.
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"Premiere" Magazine voted this as one of "The 25 Most Dangerous Movies".
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Director Trademark 

Sergio Leone: [close-up] in most gunfight scenes.
Sergio Leone: [theme] Jill, Harmonica/Frank, Cheyenne, and Morton.
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The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

Henry Fonda originally turned down the role of Frank. Director Sergio Leone flew to the United States and met with Fonda, who asked why he was wanted for the film. Leone replied, "Picture this: the camera shows a gunman from the waist down pulling his gun and shooting a running child. The camera pans up to the gunman's face and...it's Henry Fonda" (until then - with one exception - Fonda had only been cast in "good guy" roles. Leone wanted the audience to be shocked).
Body count: 29.
When Cheyenne meets Harmonica early in the story, he reveals Harmonica's gunshot wound (at the time). At the end of the movie, when Harmonica last sees Cheyenne alive, he reveals Cheyenne's gunshot wound.
The scene where Frank and his henchmen in dusters kill the McBain family is meant to signify the weakness of innocence against the brutality of the power of progress.

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