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Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

R | | Crime, Drama | 1 June 1984 (USA)
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A former Prohibition-era Jewish gangster returns to the Lower East Side of Manhattan over thirty years later, where he once again must confront the ghosts and regrets of his old life.

Director:

Writers:

(novel), (screenplay) | 6 more credits »
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1,090 ( 56)
Top Rated Movies #70 | Nominated for 2 Golden Globes. Another 11 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
... Noodles
... Max
... Deborah
... Jimmy O'Donnell
... Carol
... Joe
... Frankie
... Police Chief Aiello
... Cockeye
James Hayden ... Patsy
... Eve (as Darlanne Fleugel)
Larry Rapp ... Fat Moe
Dutch Miller ... Van Linden
... Sharkey
... Chicken Joe
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Storyline

Epic tale of a group of Jewish gangsters in New York, from childhood, through their glory years during prohibition, and their meeting again 35 years later. Written by Andrew Welsh <andreww@bnr.ca>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

Italian American "mafia" actors trying to play Jewish ones. See more »

Genres:

Crime | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for strong violence, sexual content, language and some drug use | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

|

Language:

| |

Release Date:

1 June 1984 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Once Upon a Time in America  »

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Box Office

Budget:

$30,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$2,412,014, 3 June 1984, Wide Release

Gross USA:

$5,321,508
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (re-cut) | (extended cut)

Sound Mix:

Color:

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

It reportedly took many years for Sergio Leone to secure the rights to Harry Grey's book "The Hoods", on which this film was based, because another Producer, Dan Curtis, held the rights, and wasn't willing to give them up. So in 1976, Leone turned to Producer Alberto Grimaldi, who persuaded Curtis to give up the rights in exchange for Grimaldi financing Burnt Offerings (1976), a replacement movie starring Oliver Reed and Bette Davis. See more »

Goofs

Early, when the guy is being beaten, the thugs shoot the punching bag next to his head to scare him - the shot is fired with a semiautomatic pistol with a silencer. The thug then puts the silencer in the guy's mouth and cocks the hammer of the pistol - since it is a semiautomatic, the hammer should have already been cocked. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
[In 1933, two goons rudely question a young woman]
Beefy: Where is he? Where's he hiding?
Eve: I don't know... I've been looking for him since yesterday.
[second goon slaps her harshly; she falls onto the bed]
Beefy: I'm gonna ask you for the last time: Where is he?
Eve: I don't know... What are you gonna do to him?
[Two shots are heard]
Beefy: [to his partner] Stay here in case that rat shows up...
See more »

Crazy Credits

Joey Faye is credited as the "adorable old man." See more »

Connections

Spoofed in Street of Pain (2003) See more »

Soundtracks

St. James Infirmary Blues
(uncredited)
Traditional., sometimes credited as written by Irving Mills (1930)
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
Complex, but not a 'masterpiece'.
8 April 2004 | by See all my reviews

I concede that the film is well made and quite intricate in its structure (and that it takes time and patience to attempt to come up with an explanation for the unfathomable gray areas in the screenplay). Leone evidently had an eye for detail, composition, lighting and camera movement. I am sure that no-one will deny that the technical side of the film was handled with care and it does show.

The screenplay is a mess. I expect to be lambasted by angry fans that will claim that I am an unimaginative watcher and would like all aspects of plot and character explained to me instead of having to think and immerse myself. Fine. I also know that art defies easy definition, and that all the best art in the world offers itself up to multiple interpretations. Fine. I maintain that Leone is being wilfully obscure in his attempts to cover up the head-scratch-inducing narrative techniques that he conjures up. He does so by claiming an opium/dream logic: some kind of remembrance of childhood and prohibition (an immutable, fixed past) as well as a progressive imagining (regarding the "future") on the part of the focaliser Noodles as he lies in the opium den. This may not be the case as he could not possibly know of the exact styles, decor and music of the sixties without having lived through them to some extent. So here we have an organic problem with the screenplay: claims to dream logic to confuse and inspire debate regarding the plot's many unsure points (e.g. was that Max in the dumpster? How Why? What does that wry smile at the end mean? Etc. Was it all a dream of the past and possible future?) counterpoised with the impossibility of this evident in the physical and cultural environment presented to us in the visuals. This, to me, is just vague and sloppy. It is not just a case of great art being unfathomable, it is a case of sloppy art trying to be unfathomable. Take that incessant telephone sound and its related imagery. Did Leone himself know what effect he was trying to achieve when he put it in there? I would say yes in one respect: in order to mystify his audience. I do not think that it stands for much more than that. Perhaps also to establish the confusing and ultimately untenable nature of the film's time structure (he is literally 'calling into the past') and it's relation to Noodle's 'dream' (which the film quite clearly can not be).

Also, the film's attitude towards women is just plain nasty, containing two of the screens most unapologetic rape scenes. We could claim that it is merely the nasty attitude of our enigma focaliser Noodles. He most obviously is not a very nice guy when it comes to women and the film does present itself as an exploration of his singular consciousness (if it is a dream). To put it crassly: he is nasty to women so the film has also got to be nasty to women if it claims to be deeply related to his attitudes and point of view. If it is a film of dream and imaginings, then certainly Noodle's dream is mutable (as we know all dreams are) and what he 'does' to the characters played by Tuesday Weld and Elisabeth McGovern is heightened by his desire and imagination. This is the only way in which to explain why Tuesday Weld's character seems to enjoy rape, that it is Noodles imagining her enjoying the rape. This is vague, but it at least validates the epic romanticization that pervades this ugly world (of which rape is only a part) when the main character is an absolute lout: it is him who romanticizes it. This is a sneaky way around a touchy subject. But, as has been established by many, this world may not be a dream- back to that inconsistency in the plot. Is it? Isn't it? If not then there is not much of an excuse for the rape sequences.

The dialogue is also slightly off, too often it sounds stiff and mechanical, and it is too self-consciously scripted to sound like naturalistic street parlance. Ennio Morricone's score is alright. It is evocative in places (when he sticks to the minimalist piano melody) and far too saccharine in others (that pan pipe stuff I find grating and kitsch).

So to be sure, it is a complex film. It is a rewarding film. It requires more than one watching. It falls far short from a masterpiece, though. Too inconsistent when it should be incisive. It bears the marks of a troubled production and evidence of Leone himself not quite knowing what to do with the beast he had created.


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