Jill McBain travels to the wild frontier; Utah - where she and her new husband planned to settle down. Upon arrival, she finds him and his children dead. There's a lot of land, and potential, but there's those who want to take it - at any cost. Even if it means killing a man and his kids.Written by
DrGoodBeat / edited by statmanjeff
Charles Bronson plays a harmonica in this film and also played a harmonica in Robert Aldrich's Vera Cruz (1954) 14 years earlier, a film that had considerable influence on Leone. See more »
On the DVD case, Sergio Leone is quoted as saying "All of the characters in the film, except Claudia (Cardinale), are conscious of the fact they will not arrive at the end alive". He had apparently forgotten the ending. See more »
Cattle Corner Station Agent:
Hey. Hey-hey-hey-hey, if you want any tickets, you'll have to go around, eh, to, eh, the front of, eh, eh... oooh, well, I s'pose it'll be all right. The hell am *I* doin' around here if they walk in and can do as they damn please?
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Sergio Leone's director credit swings down in an arc as if to stop the train. See more »
Paramount cut the film down to 140 minutes for its U.S. theatrical release. The major scenes removed were (in chronological order): 1) The entire scene set at the watering station with the introduction of Cheyenne and his gang, and his encounter with Harmonica, 2) Mr. Morton's visit to Frank's cave, 3) Frank's return to the train where he discovers the bodies of both his and Cheyenne's gang as well as a near dead Mr. Morton, 4) the last and perhaps the most damaging removal: Cheyenne's death at the end was completely dropped; cut was directly from Jill looking at Harmonica and Cheyenne leaving to the train arriving. This version also ADDED one scene to the film that was not in the original 165 minute release, in which Harmonica gets up with a wounded arm after being shot in the opening scene. When it was run on U.S. network television, A.B.C. made edits to the 165 minute international version. Paramount's syndicated television version was also the international version (with edits). This meant that more of the film was shown on television than was seen in U.S. theaters. See more »
Sergio goes Hollywood for this big-name, big-budget Spaghetti Western. Fonda, Bronson, Robards and Cardinale queue up and take Leone's choreographic direction in an epic tale of blood and revenge.
Frank is a bad guy who has killed a lot of people. He now works for a railroad entrepreneur whose ruthless sterile tracks are spreading ever westward. The time has come for the real Americans to confront both the railroad and Frank.
Leone sat down with film intellectuals Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento and watched dozens of Hollywood westerns. From this saturation-viewing emerged a 300-page treatment which was eventually distilled into the script, penned by Leone and Sergio Donati. There are conscious echoes of "Shane" and "High Noon" in the meticulously-plotted screenplay. Ennio Morricone apparently sat in on the planning stage and had composed the score in toto before shooting began, the reverese of the usual process of fitting music to existing footage. The result is a tight matching of soundtrack and visuals. Robards, Bronson and Cardinale each have musical 'signatures' which play whenever their characters are onscreen. Bronson's is an eerily-wailing harmonica, Robards has the plonking banjo and Cardinale the lush strings. So intricately was everything structured that the themes were available to be played on set, so that the actors could co-ordinate every nuance of gesture to fit with the score.
The film is a grandiose lament to the death of the Wild West. Decay is everywhere to be seen. Streets, bars, buildings and people all have a beat-up, grungy look. When Cheyenne (Robards) pauses beside a rough-hewn wooden post, there is little difference in texture between his face and the post. Morton the cripple is killing the romantic West of open spaces with his "snail trail" of railroad tracks, leaving the fine adventurous men (Cheyenne and Harmonica) nowhere to go.
There can be few opening scenes with the visual and aural brilliance of this one. Three bad guys stake out Flagstone's railroad depot in a High Noon pastiche. Jack Elam (who was actually in "High Noon") leads the villains. The only spoken words throughout this long (but totally gripping) scene are uttered by the old station clerk. Haunting rhythms raise the tension to an unbearable pitch ... the squeaking windmill, the chattering tickertape, the creaking bench. This wonderful crescendo climaxes with the appearance of Bronson, a sequence as stylised and choreographed as a Shinto ceremony, all the more effective for the absence of spontaneity.
Equal to and counterbalancing this scene is the very next one, the introduction of Frank. This time it is "Shane" that gets the treatment as the McBain boy spots five men in yellow duster topcoats. A growing sense of unease on the McBain homestead is beautifully conveyed (was the stopping of a cicada chirp ever so effective?) A cinematic multiple orgasm ensues, with the musical theme crashing in as the boy sees the devastation, and the camera swoops round to reveal the baddie to be none other than Henry Fonda as Morricone's trademark solitary tubular bell peals out.
Cheyenne's entrance is also a piece of impressive cinema. Inside Lionel Stander's strange labyrinthine tavern, quite unlike any saloon ever filmed before, the violence which hovers around Cheyenne like a dustcloud is heard but not seen, preparing us for his appearance in person. The sliding of the lamp towards Bronson works brilliantly, the film's two good men sharing the light of humour, the symbolic forging of a meaningful friendship.
By a slow accretion, the plot reveals itself. The leviathan of the railroad must be stopped, and there must be a reckoning with Frank. Gradually the fates of the main characters converge, and swim into sharp focus for the shoot-out.
It is not the story, excellent though that is, which lingers in the memory, but rather a hundred individual flashes of brilliance: Claudia Cardinale (are those eyes for real?) filmed on the bed, viewed vertically downward, through a lace canopy: Cheyenne's surprise method of concealing himself on the train: Morton ("when you're not on that train, you're like a turtle out of its shell") imprisoned by the armature that helps him walk: the 'heartbeat' of the train's engine during the cardgame: the tension of the ambush preparations against Frank: the eruption of guitar music as Bronson enters the frame: Bronson's stillness and self-possession, the emblem of his righteousness: Fonda's eyes flickering rapidly in his motionless head, denoting the waning of his self-confidence: the amazing super-close-ups of Bronson: and the weird brick arch, the only man-made intrusion into the entire terrain, and the focus of human depravity.
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