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C'era una volta il West (1968)
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.
The Last Rebel (1971)
Everything about this film was beyond awful. I can't think of any more criticisms than what previous reviewers have said. I gave it 2 stars for both of the only attractions I had to look at the movie: the attractive profiles & physiques of both Joe Namath & Woody Strode. They are both very nice to look at. I'll give 1 more star for a total of 3/10 for The Black Boy who almost silently serves as a catalysts for some of the action, out acts the rest in perhaps the best role in the film. But for this film you better turn the volume off. The sound editing and off the wall 70's sound track is torture. The plot was ridiculous and the ending provides no satisfaction. It doesn't even warrant achieving camp status. Its just irritating. Not too mention having to cringe through the repeated use of the N-word. Being the movie geek I pressed forward to the end in order to added to my list, but I will never put myself through viewing it a second time.
Kings Go Forth (1958)
Recommended despite some flaws
Basically I enjoyed the movie and would recommend watching, but there were some major flaws that prevent me from calling it a great movie. In my opinion the basic plot was novel and appealing, but there are some glaring problems with the movie. The first problem was the substitution of a well written dialog, with the monotonous voice over by Sam; Frank Sinatra's character was used as a narration throughout the entire movie. Despite some decent lines from the character, Monique, Natalie Wood's French accent made me cringe each time she spoke. The story line of the two soldiers seeking the affections of a woman that turns out to be biracial was intriguing. A story explaining the reality of interracial love was novel for those days. The movie courageously lets Monique use the "n" word when she exclaims, "I guess 'nigger' is one of the first words you learn in America, isn't it?" Then Sam's character realistically illuminates American racism through his initial reaction to learning the girl he loves is part Negro. Unfortunately, the overall story lacked unity, the plot was forced and the sequence of events seemed unnatural. For example, the way Monique suddenly turns all of her attention to Britt during the first date with Sam after he had made her so happy with his return and acceptance her blackness was not realistic. It made the supposedly sensible good girl, Monique turn fickle and the otherwise dominating lieutenant, Sam turn passive as he set back and let the charming handsome Britt, Tony Curtis, take over his date.
Although the film was classified under the war movie genre, the parallel plot involving Allied military operations was disconnected and irrelevant to the primary romantic drama. In fact the battle scene with the Germans seemed created just for an opportunity for Sam to extract vengeance on Britt lying about his intentions with Monique. After Sam's long narration on his intent to kill Britt, I felt frustrated and disappointed when he fails to take advantage of the perfect opportunity to carry out his vengeance with the dead Germans gun. Although, it may have been quite natural that he could have decided not sully his own character by resorting to murder, I don't think he would have forgiven Britt's transgression just because Britt admits his own lack of character. Despite these flaws, the unique story and the three starring actors make this movie worth watching.
***I won't revise my original post, but I will make an addendum now that I have knowledge that the screenplay was based on novel by Joe David Brown. The book was written in stream of consciousness, which explains the heavy narration and limited dialog. The movie script has significant deviations from the books plot which explains its disjointed flow and unnatural character evolutions. I'd like to find a documented reason for the change from the books ending.