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Once Upon a Time in America (1984) Poster

Alternate Versions

For its U.S. theatrical release the film was cut by 90 minutes from 3 hours and 47 minutes to 2 hours and 19 minutes after savage reviews from American critics after the film's premiere at Cannes. Many film critics gave two separate reviews for the film. While the complete European version was highly praised outside the USA (but slated by many American critics when given a limited US release a few months after a heavily cut version was released) the edited US theatrical release was critically butchered.
UK cinema and video versions were cut by 10 secs by the BBFC to remove shots of a gun being pressed against a woman's breasts and to briefly shorten the rape scene in the car. The 2002 DVD is fully uncut.
When the 'complete' film was released on laser disc in America, it still had to be trimmed slightly from 229 minutes to 227 minutes, to secure an 'R' rating. Cuts were made to the two rape scenes, and some of the violence at the beginning. The final flashback montage of Max and Noodles as children was also eliminated from their final scene.
A network television version of three hours (without commercials) was briefly available in the early-to-mid-1990s, which retained the film's non-chronological order but still left out several key scenes. This version has recently turned up in viewings of the film for the AMC TV channel.
The infamous 139 minute American version was the version given wide release in America. Heavily cut by the Ladd Company against Leone's wishes, the film's story was rearranged in chronological order, which had the effect of making it even more difficult to follow. Most of the major cuts involved the childhood sequences, making the 1933 sections the most prominent part of the film. All of the scenes in 1968 with Deborah were excised, and the scene with "Secretary Bailey" ended with him shooting himself (albeit off-screen), rather than the famous garbage truck conclusion of the 229-minute version. The shortened version, while briefly on VHS in the 1980s, is in little demand and almost impossible to find.
The Brazilian DVD (Warner) is heavily censored by blurring and re-framing in the scene a woman pretends to be dead in the back of a hearse by blurring and re-framing. These cuts were originally made in the Korean release. The first Brazilian release by Flashstar is uncut.
For the DVD release in Germany, the film was completely redubbed. The reason for this is unknown since the VHS releases contained the original dub and were distributed by the same company as the DVD, Warner Home Video.
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 Louise Fletcher) 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 also

Trivia | Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Connections | Soundtracks

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