Up close and very personal...
12 December 2006
All good stories come full circle, laying the seeds of the denouement in the opening chapter or, in this case, the opening scene. Once again, Sergio Leone invokes a man with no name (Charles Bronson) who dispatches three hired killers in quick succession, after alighting from a train at a windswept desert station; at the denouement, the same man disposes of his nightmare, in the same fashion – a bullet – at another windswept desert station. In between, we have a complex, psychological drama encompassing a corrupt railroad tycoon, Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti); a delicious, reformed gold-digger, Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) recently married to Brett McBain (Frank Wolff); a sociopath, Frank (Henry Fonda) who simply delights in killing; and a bank robber/killer, Cheyenne (Jason Robards) who is wrongly accused of mass murder and thus determined to set the record straight.

If that isn't enough to get your interest, this story is also a mystery on two levels: why does the man with no name (but, in the story, everybody calls him Harmonica – because he is often playing one that hangs around his neck) want to meet with Frank? And, where is the gold that Brett McBain told Jill was at his farm, when they married in New Orleans a month ago? If you like Westerns, you'll like this one; if you like Sergio Leone's work with westerns, you'll just love it... I know I did.

At 165 minutes though, some will probably complain that it's too long. Don't listen to them at all! Sergio Leone, of all directors, probably used the close-up and extreme close-up more than any other director I can recall, letting the camera explore very millimeter of the actors' faces, searching for the emotion, the feeling, the expression to tell much more than mere words. So, there are long wordless sequences. However, the acting, direction and camera work provide the narrative perfectly. This is a masterfully constructed film by a trio of master story-tellers (Dario Argento, Sergio Leone and Bernardo Bertolucci) and a director (Leone) whose attention to detail is legendary. Couple all that with a musical score from the ever productive and imaginative Ennio Morricone, and you have one of the truly great westerns.

Purists who know guns, of course, will laugh at the accuracy of those who manage to kill at over ten yards; six-shooters are notoriously inaccurate. The final battle, at five or six paces between the antagonists, however, is exactly right and must be seen to be appreciated.

So, if you've not seen this one yet, then I highly recommend it; if you have seen it, why not have another look?
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