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Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

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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:

Sergio Leone

Writers:

Harry Grey (novel), Leonardo Benvenuti (screenplay) | 6 more credits »
Reviews
Popularity
434 ( 44)
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:
Robert De Niro ... Noodles
James Woods ... Max
Elizabeth McGovern ... Deborah
Treat Williams ... Jimmy O'Donnell
Tuesday Weld ... Carol
Burt Young ... Joe
Joe Pesci ... Frankie
Danny Aiello ... Police Chief Aiello
William Forsythe ... Cockeye
James Hayden James Hayden ... Patsy
Darlanne Fluegel ... Eve (as Darlanne Fleugel)
Larry Rapp Larry Rapp ... Fat Moe
Dutch Miller Dutch Miller ... Van Linden
Robert Harper ... Sharkey
Richard Bright ... 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:

As boys, they said they would die for each other. As men, they did. 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:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA | Italy

Language:

English | Italian | French

Release Date:

1 June 1984 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Once Upon a Time in America See more »

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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 IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (re-cut) | (extended cut)

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Fat Moe's 1968 bar was based on an actual location where Sergio Leone met Harry Grey. This bar, which was Grey's recommendation, was situated near New York City's New Calvary Cemetery, just off Greenpoint Avenue, and was, as Leone described, "dark and sordid, with people sitting at little tables in the shadows having secret conversations in whispers." Leone claimed the bartender even looked like Fat Moe himself. See more »

Goofs

A guy in 1933 cuts cheese with a knife model Buck 110 that was created in 1962. 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 »

Alternate Versions

In 2012, The Film Foundation together with the Leone estate exhibited the 250-minute version of the film at Cannes. However, due to settlement of copyright issues for international releases, the version first exists in Italy before it was released in October 2014. The restored version adds the following six additional scenes:
  • Before the opening credits are displayed, additional disclaimers about the restoration are introduced first, including the film restored and color corrected in 4K. The restoration adds more yellow layer to the film's look. However, the new scenes are based on the work print, which does not have the same color quality as the original prints could not be found, hence the semi-monochromatic look.
  • After Noodles looks upon his name on the memorial stone, he meets the cemetery director (an appearance by ) and gets more information about the memorial. He sees a car nearby, realizing he's being watched. He's able to write down the license plate number.
  • A flashback where after the car falls into the water, the boys fooled around longer. But they were scared of Noodles as the freighter's shovel keeps aiming at the water. Back to 1968, Noodles eventually traces the car's license plate to Senator Bailey's address. The car that tailed him earlier in the cemetery emerges out of the compound and explodes shortly after.
  • After Noodles comes out of the door, the chauffeur criticizes his lifestyle (explains why he interferes during the rape). Noodles counters him with the financial benefits.
  • Eve's actual introduction: Noodles is left alone in the street after the rape. He visits a prostitute bar and had sex with Eve, the call girl whom was allowed to be called Deborah. The real Deborah walks out of the restaurant in disappointment.
  • Deborah performs the final scene of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra before Noodles goes to visit her backstage.
  • There's a pivotal scene of Max / Senator Bailey with Jimmy. Jimmy and his other associates want him dead because of his many mistakes but there still remains some final organization details to be sorted out. Finally, Jimmy suggests that he commit suicide with the line "I'd be very happy for you tonight, if during all the noise of the party I'd hear a shot." This scene explains things like: why the car bomb went off during the second additional scene; dramatizes Max's motivation with Noodles in the next scene; completing the character arc of Jimmy from an idealistic union boss to a full-fledgling hoodlum; creates more uncertainty of what happened at the end with the garbage truck.
See more »

Connections

Featured in Pet Sematary II (1992) See more »

Soundtracks

Childhood Memories
Music by Ennio Morricone
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more »

User Reviews

 
Complex, but not a 'masterpiece'.
8 April 2004 | by noilieSee 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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