This one only gets better with each viewing. Leone's masterful storytelling and Morricone's crazy, beautiful, epic soundtrack; desperate, haunted faces which look like the barren landscapes the story is set in and a plot that unfolds with impeccable pacing to culminate in THE ultimate western finale.
As in Leone's previous films, music isn't just used to add to the atmosphere but is essential to the story, or perhaps even more: Morricone's main musical theme plays the actual role of a (or rather: the) protagonist in the film.
Anyone who thought that the so called "Spaghetti westerns" were nothing but cheap, violent B-movies had to reconsider after seeing this film. It doesn't get any better than this: this is movie history; iconic, classic, unforgettable, epic. For this film, I just run out of superlatives.
I can't quite find the words to even come close to describing the pure brilliance of this movie. When this movie was made, the western genre was dominated by the big hollywood studios. The western was taken by these studios and transformed into an opportunity to portray classic superheroes like John Wayne and Burt Lancaster in their fight against all sorts of smalltime crooks and outlaws in smalltime stories and smalltime towns. It was a genuine effort to portray 'Americanism', the American Way, along with a romanticised view of the west as 'Frontier country' where good always triumphed over bad and where the life was hard but honest. It was the American Way.
And then came this film. The title, 'Once Upon A Time In The West' must have seemed to mean nothing more than 'just another western' to the unexpecting viewers at the time. Oh boy were they wrong. With this movie, Sergio Leone singlehandedly redefined the western genre and no American western would ever match the brilliant spirit in which it was made. While the story is basically the same as in any other western, it is the WAY in which it is presented that so clearly distances this western from others. Whereas other westerns are simply stories that are designed to entertain, this movie is an emotional masterpiece that will move your heart. Sergio Leone takes the ordinary western and replaces words with looks, and conversations with feelings and emotions. With his brutal but honest portrayal of the sheer hardness of life and death in those times he thoroughly destroys the old romantic idea of the west as a 'generally-hunky-dory-kind-of-scene with the occasional bad guy and indian' and replaces it with an eerie, dark, hot and dry place where life is cheap and only the strongest will survive.
I cannot adequately convey in words the way in which Sergio Leone deepens and defines the characters by pure means of visual persuasion. It starts with the three gunman in the beginning of the movie, waiting for some reason at a train station for someone or something that obviously is going to be on the next train. No explanation, no conversation; not a word is said. Even the stationmaster is ushered into captivity without a single audible threat. Then comes the waiting... Any other director would have skipped directly to the moment of arrival, but Sergio Leone takes minutes of boredom and translates it into a visual feast, deepening the characters that are portrayed and making them more human, more real to the viewer, while at the same time encompassing us with a deep dark sense of foreboding. This way in which the story is not just augmented but in times completely replaced by the sheer visual drama, is perfected by the absolute fantastic music, directed by Ennio Morricone. Who needs words and explanations when the combined forces of cinematic mastery and heart-tearing music are not just able to carry the story, but pick it up and push it up to such heights of excellence that it has no equal in it's genre?
Another great feat that adds to the power of this movie is the minimalistic way of portrayal of the characters as real, emotional people. Not a single word is said that isn't required for the understanding of the story, yet the characters feel more true than those in movies where whole conversations are added merely to explain their motives. Instead of words, the camera focuses on the characters...so that you can simply read the emotion off their faces. Often no explanation is given other than than a mere facial expression. No superheroes or supercriminals, just real, desire-laden, traumatised, obsessed people that act upon motives inherently understood by the viewer.
All in all this is without a single doubt in my mind the greatest western of all times, and even though Sergio Leone has made many more mindblowing, heart-shattering westerns like this one, like 'A Fistful of Dynamite', 'The Good The Bad and The Ugly', and 'For a Few Dollars More', none could equal 'Once Upon A Time In The West' in sheer magnitude of perfection. Western has never been the same since....
I only wish I'd have been there in 1969 when the movie was new and see it, for the first time with fresh innocent eyes and an unexpecting mind..just like 2001: A Space Odyssey (also of 1969, a year of legends).
A tip for those who have never seen this movie: Bribe, beg, borrow, or steal yourself into possession of a Videobeam and Hifi-audio equipment if you can't find a cinema that is showing this movie. Turn the audio up WAY HIGH (never mind the neighbors) and prepare never to be the same again.........
I (obviously) gave this movie a 10 because no matter how hard I try I can't find anything less than perfect about it.
There's two things that stand out to me always about this movie, and indeed about all of Sergio Leone's movies. One is his understanding of pacing events, and the other is using his actors/actresses to actually act. When you see Claudia Cardinale riding up to the ranch, all you see is her face, but you can tell instantly what she is looking at and everything she's feeling. You know Henry Fonda's the bad guy, but when he smiles faintly at the young boy, you feel there's something more to him, a personality and human qualities, even if he is evil. The final shoot-out itself is a masterpiece. The two protagonists say nothing, but as they face off the music lets you know the moment as come. As they stand ready the scene that's been hinted at throughout the movie plays out like a dream, revealing what the whole story was about. Then, without warning, they draw and fire. Just as in real life, it's over before you notice it. What today's movies lack is how quickly they cater to MTV video inspired nonstop action and endless clichés. The bad and good guy duke it it out, the violence is so extreme that no human could actually survive it, and always just when you think the bad guy is dead he gets back up for one last shot. How much I wish today's film makers would learn Leone's lesson about TIMING, and let suspense build rather than force it in. The music score, which had certain pieces and sections for various moods and to signify the main characters, is one of my favorites. Even if Clint Eastwood wasn't in it, Charles Bronson fills the role of the mysterious stranger and adds his own elements to the character. How I wish they still made movies like this
Thank god that I'm a Bronson fan. This was my first Leone movie, and dumb kid that I was, I actually watched it thinking I was in for a typical Bronson "vehicle"! Looking back I'm thankful, because if it wasn't for his involvement, I would never have discovered the beauty and majesty that is Once Upon a Time in the West.
I absolutely love this movie. It's probably my all time favourite, certainly one of the few that I can watch OVER and OVER again without losing interest. I love the way Leone creates intrigue and mystery around what is a relatively thin plot. He can make even the smallest twist of fate seem like an epic turn of events, with that amazing sense of revelation that he generates out of old hackneyed situations (something Argento has since picked up). Leone proves in this film that he could seemingly take anyone, even peripheral characters, and give them screen charisma without using dialogue as a crutch.
OUATITW features the most tense two man stand-offs ever, with some serious deja-vu in the direction of his "Dollars" trilogy. In fact, it does feel like those three movies were warm ups, practice sessions in the build up to OUATITW. Here though, he perfected everything; despite the long running time, it's all focused, and without a single irrelevant scene. For me, the two hours plus just fly by, I wish it would never end. Leone was without question at his artistic peak when he made this, that's not to say that he went downhill from then on, but I honestly don't think he ever did another film where everything came together so perfectly.
The cast is flawless. Fonda eclipsed every good guy he ever did in one fell swoop, truly chilling. Robards is a great comic character, the lovable rogue with an edge. And Cardinale is more than just (incredible) window dressing; she switches between passionate, angry, delicate and sentimental at all the right moments.
Which leaves the hero; I'm a huge Eastwood fan, but I honestly don't believe he could have done the role justice. His "man with no name" was a cool, sly character with hidden complexities. Eastwood always does these layered personalities, with some kind of mental baggage. Bronson, on the other hand, mostly does himself; simple, uncomplicated figures with only one state of mind, that's why he's put in so many revenge flicks. Plus, he looks like he's been seriously wronged at some point in his life, Eastwood doesn't have that quality. Bronson is the genuine hard-as-nails article. You can readily imagine that, had he been born decades earlier and been put in the same situation, he would resolve the problem in much the same way as his character in the movie (sometimes I affectionately refer to this movie as Deathwish part 0- could Harmonica be the great granddaddy of Paul Kersey?).
Of course the other great contribution is the music. I still think that the main theme is one of the most breathtaking pieces of music I have ever heard. It affects me deeply whenever I hear it, regardless of the mood I'm in. Maybe I should listen to more opera or something, I don't know, but that's the way I feel. And the individual character themes are just so well integrated into the film, it's unbelievable. Leone replaces words with music, and it conveys so much more in return. Bronson just plays that melancholy tune on the harmonica instead of answering people back, it consistently cracks me up.
High Noon, Naked Spur, Shane, The Searchers, etc. are all classics of the genre, but I really don't think it's possible to compare those "traditional" westerns with OUATITW. For me, it exists on a plane of it's own, it's the kind of film experience that you let wash over you, a waking dream. I recommend this movie to anyone, if you're on the right wavelength you'll be greatly rewarded.
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.
As a fan of Westerns, I saw this film many times in the early 90s. Saw this recently again on a DVD aft many years. The plot- Claudia Cardinale arrives at her ranch, to find that her husband has been murdered by hired gun Henry Fonda. Mysterious gunman Charles Bronson wants an appointment with Fonda. Bronson teams up with outlaw Jason Robards to help protect Cardinale n her ranch from Fondas evil intentions. There are long scenes where you get close shots of a person's face. Sergio Leone loves the stare-down, and you can see it in virtually all of his films. In this movie he allows the camera to linger longer than ever before. You get those quiet scoreless scenes where the natural sounds of the environment are greatly exaggerated. Leone's opponents take a long time to feel each other out before they act. One may find the long stretches of silence and inaction tedious n boring. Honestly, even i found some scenes boring, especially the opening scene. Henry Fonda is terrific. No one expected him to play such a ruthless and brutal killer. Bronson was decent but Jason Robards was much better with his tip on guys patting females bottom n the tip on don't get shot by a person who doesn't know to shoot. One of the best part bah the film was Ennio Morricone's score, especially the recurring harmonica music during the final closing fight. This is Morricone's best moment in a long, treasured career. I was surprised to know that the story was written by Dario Argento.
I thought I knew westerns, I'd seen John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Glen Ford, Audie Murphy, Richard Widmark, Alan Ladd, all of them save the day many times. I was wrong, I was 14 yrs old when I went to the local movie house to see this movie in 1969. My grandmother took me, she had always been a huge fan of Henry Fonda's, and even though she didn't care for western's, she dragged me to this one. I'll never forget how engrossed I was from beginning to end. And this one movie was the basis for all my future wish's to have been born a cowboy. Everything about this movie impressed me one way or the other.
Simply put, this movie is the most visually stimulating and engrossing movie I have ever watched.
I have seen plenty of great movies in my in my fifty years of life, but this one, is in my opinion more than a movie, it's a piece of history unfolding in front of your eyes with no censorship or BS added for flavor. True, the movie has been chopped up some for TV and other forms of presentation, but when I was in that theater in 1969, the movie was, to use a semi modern term "AWESOME".
No one, not even if you dislike westerns, should pass on this one.
"Once upon a Time in the West" is Leone's masterpiece and certainly one of the best Westerns of all time... It is beautifully shot, perfectly cast, ambitious, erotic, humorous and wonderfully scored by Leone's regular composer Ennio Morricone, whose haunting melodies are just as important as the widely separated dialog occurring on the action..
The film opens with an extreme close-ups of Jack Elam, Woody Strode and Lionel Stander waiting at a station for Charles Bronson... Henry Fonda has sent them to kill him...
The railroad wants a property for its water well belonging to the newly widowed Claudia Cardinale, a fancy lady from New Orleans who just arrived in Flagstone and learns about the tragedy... We would come to understand, much later, Claudia Cardinale's role as the bearer of water, life, and continuity to the civilization of the New West...
Fonda, a despicable hired gun, kills her husband and orders, without a twinge of guilt, the slaughter of the entire family, innocents women and children...
Henry Fonda, in a chilling performance, plays the cold-blooded murderer, the most vicious villain in Westerns history to ever ride the big country... the blue ice-eyed child killer, gunning down a 9-year old boy...
Bronson as 'The Man' is like Clint Eastwood 'The Man With No Name,' with only one thing in common: they are the most ruthless heroes in Westerns history sharing the same character in their quality 'not' to say much in their need of emotions, in their fast draw, in their disinterest in women, in their air of mystery and in their macabre sense of humor...
Their differences are also very clear: 'The Man With No Name' has no past whatsoever, and 'The Man' is motivated by revenge to settle an old personal score...
Claudia Cardinale plays Jill, the well-proportioned, husky-voiced beauty, the lady, the businesswoman, the maker of coffee involved with Fonda in an incredible perverse erotic sequence...
The blood, the violence, the humor, the several gunfights and the final showdown have been constants in Leone's Westerns since "A Fistful of Dollars"...
The highlights of his movie are so many: Leone's overwhelming shot when he raises his camera over the Flagstone train station office revealing the sprawling town; when he replaces a shot of a smoking gun with a shot of a smoking train; when he uses close-ups instead of dialog to reveal what a character is thinking; and the striking use of his extreme close-up in the final shootout... Leone builds up tension by slowly circling his two characters, focusing with his camera on their eyes, hands and guns while the level of the music is raised to evoke the action...
Leone's film is a brave epic Western, extremely violent, immensely powerful... It's above all fable and fantasy, as the desire for revenge is childish and fruitless... It is the essence of a great filmmaker...
Once Upon a Time in the West (OUTW) is a piquant cocktail of style and substance in equal parts, potent enough to catapult the viewer into a whirlpool of incessant excitement transcending him beyond the usual realms of an adrenaline rush. Vintage Leone, OUTW is inarguably the best Western ever made and undoubtedly features amongst the very best works of cinema, period. Leone incredibly surpasses the brilliance of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (TGTBTU) with OUTW by blending his favorite theme of Greed with that of Revenge. The only thing that TGTBTU lacked was the presence of a strong female character and Leone more than makes up for it in OUTW. Its eccentric yet consummate plot revolves around a female protagonist, thereby revolutionizing the very tenets associated with the genre where machismo and chivalry had solely held sway, hitherto.
OUTW is a juxtaposition of the lives of five individuals, viz. Harmonica - a mysterious stranger, Cheyenne – a notorious desperado, Frank – a ruthless assassin, Jill – a beautiful widow with an obscure past, and Morton – a railroad baron, whose motives inevitably make them cross each other's paths albeit through an act of fate.
Henry Fonda is a revelation as the cold-blooded assassin, a portrayal that is remarkably contrasting to his usual 'good guy' on-screen image. He goes about his business with a sublime touch of feral grandeur that makes him equally chilling and fascinating as 'Frank'.
Charles Bronson plays his part with utmost conviction and incredibly manages to conjure up an element of mystery in his portrayal that not only brings 'Harmonica' to life, but also gives it a very distinct identity despite Harmonica's conspicuous similarities with Eastwood's 'Man with no name'.
The role of 'Cheyenne' is played with equal brilliance by Jason Robards. He has taken care of the various subtleties and nuances to such an extent that he perfectly fits into the shoes of notorious, yet likable, 'Cheyenne'.
Claudia Cardinale is ravishing as the beautiful, yet vulnerable, 'Jill McBain'. She has fully justified the trust shown by Leone in casting her and by Bertolucci in penning down a strong feminine part in a Western. She truly entrances the viewers with her mystifying pulchritude and enigmatic charm. She meticulously highlights the flaws in Jill's character while also managing to depict the elements of tenacity and grit which represent the true spirit of femininity.
Gabriele Ferzetti is quite effective in his cameo as the crippled railroad baron, 'Morton'. He suffers from the tuberculosis of bones and each passing day brings him closer to his end, thereby further intensifying his desperate urge to fulfill his far-fetched ambition of taking the railroad to the Atlantic. He truly represents a man worthy of achieving the impossible, unfortunately cut short by his haplessness. Despite the inhuman and unjust means adopted by him to fulfill his naked ambition, one finds it excruciatingly hard to derive pleasure from his perpetual plight and eventual doom.
Contrary to the popular belief, the slow pace of the movie and laconism in dialogue pose no impediment to the viewing and in fact this deliberate pacing enormously adds to the detail and beauty of the movie, and also helps in brewing the desired level of tension before it is finally punctuated suddenly with quick bursts of action.
Tonino Delli Colli's cinematography is vividly descriptive and has elements which have become his and Leone's trademarks like the extreme close-ups, the quick panning of the terrain, the rotating camera shots etc.
The haunting score written yet again by the master composer, Ennio Morricone enhances the grandeur of the movie tenfold. If Leone's direction and Colli's cinematography are the backbone of the movie, then undoubtedly Morricone's plaintive score is its heart and soul. The surreal score has shades of melancholy, intrigue, and romance that become more obvious with each passing moment. The music features leitmotifs (a melodic phrase that accompanies the reappearance of a character) that relate to each of the main characters (each with their own unique theme music). The soundtrack to the opening scene is a creative orchestration of ordinary sounds like that of the dripping water, the clicking of a telegraph, a buzzing fly, and the screech of a windmill after Morricone experienced a musical performance created by the medley of these sounds. This created an exaggerated version of what had come to be known as 'Spaghetti sound'.
OUTW is a magnum opus unparalleled in direction, screenplay, cinematography and music. With its slower pace and relatively somber theme (compared to Leon's previous works), Leone managed to transform his image of a satirical showman into that of an accomplished auteur capable of producing much profound works. OUTW also served as the harbinger for Leone's surrealistic masterpiece, 'Once Upon a Time in America'.
P.S: OUTW is an absorbing masterpiece; an absolute gem of a movie and a must watch for those who understand the true meaning of 'A Timeless Masterpiece', and are willing to indulge themselves completely through the whole length of the movie. 10/10
I have recently commented on Leone's GBU and was intending on reviewing AFOD and FAFDM as well as this one - OUATITW, but after reading a number of the comments about these from all the avid fans on this great site, I will simply give you a short account of how these films have affected my life. I am 55years young and saw all these films on their first release in Sydney.(late '60's) They were cut, but it didn't stop me seeing the brilliance in them. I would imagine that a lot of the members of this site are much younger than myself and have only watched these films on DVD or TV quite recently. (Stood the test of time, eh!!) (WideScreen is a must for these.) Leone's films exhibit an idealism in art that surpassed his Hollywood models (eg: Ford). Although, at the time of creation, I doubt he would have thought he was. He simply had a vision.
From film to film he improved on this. Like most artists, I don't think he was too concerned with the financial gains that might or might not be realized.(This was probably his downfall). That these little films can impress all you younger fans so much says a lot about good taste and the sad lack of it in American films of recent times.
Great directors, like Leone, don't come along every day and it saddens me greatly to know he died before he was recognised for the genius he surely was. Morricone must be 75 now, soon we will loose him too. I am a successful composer in Australia and can tell you, without bias, that Morricone is in the top five best ever film composers just from these four films alone, if not one of the best composers in general (yes, this includes Stravinsky, Bartok, Debussy and Schoenberg.) of the 20th century. Eastwood is also reaching the end of his life and although I'm not a huge fan of his recent work, he is one of the last living greats. Without the inspirations put forth by these men, I might not still be writing and recording my music these days. Plenty of times I could have stopped when things got tough but all I had to do was revisit these gems of modern art to realise that greatness does still exhist , all you have to have is the love and desire and guts to make your visions a reality. Leone, Morricone and Eastwood: I salute you.
There are few movies that can combine great directing, acting ,music, cinematography, and writing into one movie, but this one does. There are no weak points. Every scene is a piece of art. I know of no other film that affects the senses as this one. Henry Fonda said this was his favorite film and role. It's easy to see why. He created 1 of the great "bad guy" roles in history. In a side note, Leone wanted to put brown contacts in Fonda's eyes,("who ever saw a villain with blue eyes", Leone said), but Fonda wouldn't have it, and the effect is magic in the famous Leone close-ups. Bronson, Cardinale, and Robards are equally powerful, all have great lines and the camera loves them. Speaking of cameras, the visuals are stunning. There is nothing fancy about this movie. Raw power is what you see and feel. Simply the best western if not film ever made.
The "fourth" and best of Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy, 'Once Upon A Time In The West' is a sprawling, operatic masterpiece of cinematography. The languid pacing only accentuates the meticulously presented scenes and the Ennio Morricone score is powerful, poignant and haunting. Each major character has his own musical theme. Henry Fonda's character has a menacing and jarring score which chills and thrills me every time I hear it (I bought the soundtrack too!). Fonda as Frank is the "coldest villain in screen history" as I have read in other reviews and was cast against type in this film. When the camera pans up into his passionless blue eyes early in the movie, one sees what a brilliant piece of casting it was to have him as the villain. This movie is a metaphor on the death of The Old West and the final word on how a (spaghetti) Western should be. Not to be missed!
No other films in the world have produced such sharp, raw, gritty and atmospheric yet absolutely beautiful cinematography as those directed by the Italian director, the great Sergio Leone. Audiences around the world saw first hand the power and influence "A Fistful Of Dollars" bought to the world. It made a director famous, a young Clint Eastwood a household name and the Western more popular than it had ever hoped to be since the master works of John Ford. However, Sergio Leone bought with him a whole new sub-genre - a whole new style - and the Western had never looked darker and grittier. 'The Man With No Name' bought with it a whole new meaning to a heroic protagonist. There was no more good guy/bad guy, but only a survivalist type - ignorant and self indulgent, yet still moral and fair, tough and smart and damn good with a gun. The world fell in love with him and anticipated its sequels which only became more violent, atmospheric and realistic and gave the authentic true feeling of the West.
It is why I consider 'Once Upon A Time In The West' to be Sergio's definitive masterpiece. He took everything that he ever felt about the West and made some of the most intriguing 3 hours of film ever produced. The budget had never been bigger. The plot had never been more riveting. The music and setting had never been more epic and the cinematography had never been more powerful. This film is perfect, start to finish!
This time our premise intersects the stories of five people - yes five people - and it is brilliantly crafted. And this time it isn't a chain smoking son of a gun without a name that carries the film, but rather a female prostitute. This isn't the 'Rocky Horror Picture Show', so please continue reading. The plot revolves around a certain family and its moist establishment in the middle of a desert with hopes for it to one day be a thriving town with a railway station. It is this future town that brings our five protagonists into relation. The family is murdered by a gang led by Frank (Henry Fonda) who works the hit-man for a corrupt railway boss who wants the town out of the way so he can reach the coast and view the sea before he dies. However, unaware of her arrival, Jill (Claudia Cardinale) - the family's patriarch's fiancée - comes to claim her property and therefore possesses a threat to the railway boss. Meanwhile a man with no name nicknamed 'Harmonica' (he always plays a Harmonica before making a kill) has come to town looking for Frank for personal reasons. Charles Bronson nails the role with extreme prejudice. Also a fugitive going by the name of Cheyenne (Jason Robards) assists in his journey to prove his innocence regarding being the wrongly accused murderer.
No spoilers, but just an assurance that this film will blow you away. It is impossible to comprehend the overwhelming powerful epic experience in one sitting. This is what motion pictures are meant to be. Masterful storytelling, a larger than life score by the brilliant Ennio Morricone, cinematography yet unmatched and a cast made in heaven. Performances from all the actors are some of the best you will ever see.
It is films like these that redefine genres and that honorable of all words, a 'classic'. Prove me wrong. For those who experienced it, I hope it has impacted you in much the same way it has me. Upon its release, this film was unsuccessful, because the world wanted another Clint Eastwood picture. But they couldn't see for a mile what was coming. Sergio Leone is platinum. May the force be with him...........always!
This is one true masterpiece, I can't remember any other movie (and I have seen a lot of movies) that is so powerful like this one. This movie has everything great ambient, scenes larger then life, hypnotic Morricone music and what is most important great acting. In this move Sergio Leone proved that he is one of the most unique directors in movie history. If you saw this movie you know that almost every scene is great piece of art in almost every scene you are amazed by visual style of Leone. In all other great movies (like: Godfather, Casablanca, Citizen Cane, Notorious,Big Sleep, The Third Man, etc.), you won't find these many great scenes like in this one. This is an ultimate Western and i want to say: Thank you Sergio Leone for your great vision and this masterpiece, after this one there is no need for any other western, in compare to this one John Fords westerns are movies for kids and women.
This is my fav film. It is more like watching a piece of art. The look is fantastic. The director does a perfect job. The acting is wonderful. The story is not the strongest ever but it should be watched to experience it. If your a film lover you can't fail but admire this film.Charles Bronson is the perfect broody loner. Henry Fonda surprises everyone by giving a strong performance as a bad guy. The close up of his eyes is stunning. The camera work and close ups have never been done better. The music is as good as anything you will find in a movie. Throw in the scenes when you first see Henry Fonda. The scene at the railway station which the water dripping on the hat. The sound of the spinning water tower. To me the closet movie to ART i have ever seen and i have seen a lot of films.
I won't claim to have the ability to say anything new about this movie. It's been around for nearly fifty years, and is widely regarded as not just one the best Spaghetti Westerns of all time, but one of the best Westerns full stop. And it's not hard to see why: an incredible soundtrack, strong performances from the entire main cast, some surprisingly good humour and funny one-liners, a few tense sequences, a well-told story that doesn't rely on excessive dialogue or exposition, and consistently amazing cinematography and direction throughout. At least half the frames in this movie would probably make good paintings- no exaggeration.
It's probably the marriage of the great visuals and soundtrack that make Once Upon a Time in the West work as well as it does. There's a good number of dramatic camera movements and interesting reveals that are tied up perfectly with the music- almost like some kind of singing-free musical at some points.
Sergio Leone was one of the greatest directors of all time. It's a real shame that he apparently never got the kind of recognition he gets nowadays while he was still alive. Out of all his films, there's a strong argument to be made for this one being the closest to perfect. Honestly, there's not a lot that could be changed to make it better. My biggest direct gripe is the way the title pops up at the very end of the film, and rotates in a full circle before it disappears. It looks really cheesy, and comes close to killing the mood the otherwise extremely strong ending creates. While we're on complaints, another minor one would be that I want to say the film feels a little too long- maybe about 10 to 15 minutes. But at the same time, I wouldn't really know what to cut. Every scene is so well-constructed and orchestrated, and there's always something interesting to look at or listen to or think about, so I'm not really sure what should be cut. It's a pretty weak complaint, I know. Like I said, this thing's close to perfect.
The Good The Bad and The Ugly might be a tiny bit more entertaining, and Once Upon a Time in America might have a slightly better soundtrack and stronger emotional moments (for me, personally), but it's still really hard to find much to complain about here. Absolutely recommended to any Western fan, and it gets a little better every time I watch it (four for me now, and counting).
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.
In the annals of western film lore, there are good and bad films. This is one of the finest. Because "Once Upon A Time in The West" is such a remarkable film, it is hard to define what makes it so memorable. The story centers on a beautiful former prostitute called Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) who arrives to assume the role of wife to a stubborn, crazy, red-headed Irishman with a dream. Waiting, instead is tragedy and 'Mr. Morton' who is a powerful, but ailing land grabbing baron (Gabriele Ferzetti) who desires to crush everything and everyone who stands in his way to reach the Pacific ocean with his railroad. To help him is an equally ruthless gunfighter named Frank (Henry Fonda; the success of this movie owes much to Fonda who plays a very convincing heavy) who has been removing obstacles for years and now targets the McBain family for death and that includes Jill. Unfortunately for Frank, he has accrued many enemies over the years with one particular, mysterious and deadly Harmonica playing stranger seeking revenge. Frank arranges for three of his best and fastest gun hands to meet and eliminate the stranger at the train-station. Joining the instrument playing stranger is an unpredictable, half-breed, renegade, who is a notorious gunfighter called 'Cheyenne.' ( Jason Robards ) The entire film is a triumph to the superb direction of Sergio Leone, who christens each major character with their own theme song. Each theme was created by Ennio Morricone and when the character makes an entrance, the theme prepares the audience for mood change, drama, action, and lifelong memories. Special guest appearances, by Woody Strode, Jack Elam, Keenan Wynn and Lionel Stander add to the classic nature of this excellent story. ****
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.
"Once upon a time in the west" symbolizes the quintessence of theatrical ceremonial. Sergio Leone seized the traditional western and, helped by his scriptwriter Dario Argento, the future reference of giallo and baroque slaughter on large screens, enriched it with emphatic approach and humorous disenchantment. In fact, he builds a myth with modest elements - an organ mouth, a blue-eyed glance, long coats - and introduces lyricism and immoderation, to sublimate the manners of this specific spectacle. The daring of realization - inverted or encircling shot - and artistic choice (Henry Fonda becomes a tough guy) express an authentic will to break the common rules, in order to confer sensible density on his characters and an aesthetic energy on his scenery. Paradoxically, this glittering vision of Redemption, which was hesitating between homage and parody, belongs now to the classics. Looking for ruins poetry and contemporary genesis, the director has created an absolute. A story beginning by "Once upon a time" contains always some scraps of eternity...
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!
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 superior.)
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.
I was drawn in from the opening sequence. Three hard men (led by Jack Elam) stake out the train station, waiting. We watch them for EIGHT MINUTES, learning their personalities, watching how they work. 8 minutes with almost no dialog, no sound other than the creaking of the turning windmill in the background. Then within a minute of the hero's arrival, they are dead. Eight minutes dedicated to developing characters we will never see again. No, this is not a movie for the average 1990's viewer; 3 minute attention span between explosions, but for anyone willing to watch and see the craft involved on all levels this is one of the most brilliant movies ever made.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is undoubtably the best remembered of Sergio Leone's "spaghetti westerns" but this is by far his best work. Never a more evil villain than Fonda. Eastwood's Man With No Name was never as inscrutable as Bronson's Harmonica. The viewer knows from almost the beginning of the movie that Fonda and Bronson are destined to meet, and that one of them will die. We spend the entire movie figuring out, Why? As trite as it sounds, it's true; they don't make them like this any more and the world is poorer for it, thank God we have these to enjoy.
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 Frank.
"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.