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Year:
1968
Country:
USA, Italy, Spain
Genre:
Western
IMDB rating:
8.6
Director:
Sergio Leone

 

          Once Upon a Time in the West IMDb    Once Upon a Time in the West Wikipedia    Once Upon a Time in the West Soundtrack

Henry Fonda as Frank
Claudia Cardinale as Jill McBain
Jason Robards as Cheyenne
Charles Bronson as Harmonica
Gabriele Ferzetti as Morton (railroad baron)
Woody Strode as Stony - Member of Frank's Gang
Jack Elam as Snaky - Member of Frank's Gang
Keenan Wynn as Sheriff (auctioneer)
Frank Wolff as Brett McBain
Once Upon a Time in the West Storyline: Story of a young woman, Mrs. McBain, who moves from New Orleans to frontier Utah, on the very edge of the American West. She arrives to find her new husband and family slaughtered, but by whom? The prime suspect, coffee-lover Cheyenne, befriends her and offers to go after the real killer, assassin gang leader Frank, in her honor. He is accompanied by Harmonica, a man already on a quest to get even.
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Reviews
An epic western – with all the pros and cons that come with that
As the railroad spreads western, bringing with it progress and development, the west is a changing place. The rule of gunmen is ending with the new men of power being land owners and developers. A young woman arrives in one such small town to find her new husband and family murdered by gunman Frank under the lead of a railroad developer. Meanwhile a mysterious man arrives in the town looking for Frank for some reasons. Both he and convict Manuel Gutierrez join forces to try and hold onto what remains of `their' west and deal with Frank.

From the opening ten minutes you should be able to judge whether or not this film will frustrate you or not. The opening scene is one of the best of cinema but, on paper, very little actually happens. This is what you need to carry into the film – as it is so very long there is plenty of silence and pauses. If you feel that these are unnecessary then the running time of this film will feel even longer to you. On the other hand if you, as I do, feel that the silences in this film are just as important and telling as the dialogue or action, then this film should move quite quickly.

The plot is a mix of revenge western while also looking at the death of the West associated with the American movies – the strong gunman, the frontier town etc, they exist here but are being pushed out with every frame of the film. What Leone manages to do which confounds me is he fills the film with so much silence but yet little of it brings boredom, instead the film has it's steady pace and never lets it dip into flagging but just keeps enough happening to keep things moving. I must admit that some of the deeper meaning was lost on me but still felt that the central threads of the three or four main characters were more than enough to hold my interest on their own. Of course, bits did work better than other bits but that is to be expected – I know I got more from the cat and mouse between Harmonica and Frank than I did from the relationship between Gutierrez and Jill. However these minor problems are lost in the sheer scale of the film itself.

The acting is great and some of it could be considered the actors at their best. Certainly I can't think of another role where Charles Bronson was required to do so well. Here he has to have a stone face but still give over character – he manages it and pulls off an iconic type of cool that I'd usually associate with big stars. Fonda plays very naturally as a bad guy. When I first saw this film I was quite young and hadn't seen a lot of his more famous roles, now that I have it is very strange to see him as a bad guy, but the counter casting of him does work anyway. Cardinale is a strong role but I must confess that her character was lost to me a little – this was one of the threads I was weakest on and I'll watch the film again with more focus. Support cast are all pretty good and have a few famous western faces in there.

One of the strongest parts of the film is the score. From the first time you hear that scarring harmonica you know to associate it with bitterness, likewise other parts of the score are very strong and used well. Part of it did remind me of Steptoe & Son but it still worked in it's context! The plot all goes sort of where you expect it to but we are left with the wider picture of the West of Frank coming to an end and the West of Morton moving unstoppably to replace it – the film never suggests that one is better than the other, in fact it highlights that there may be no difference at all. Meanwhile the frontier men are pushed on into a shrinking horizon.

Overall this is an epic, which means it is sweeping in scope, resulting in the occasional stretch showing. The running time is sparsely filled with dialogue which may frustrate some, however Leone has made the silence as loud as the dialogue and the actors provide him with performances that deliver so much without words at times that the time is easily eaten up. Not the most accessible western he made (simply because others are more entertaining) but still an epic and well worth three hours of anyone's time.
2003-09-21
A beautiful western
Once Upon A Time In The West is no ordinary western. Despite the non-descriptive title, this is a film that redefined the genre. With his dollars trilogy, director Sergio Leone proved that he was the master of the spaghetti western; with Once Upon A Time… he transferred the conventions of that genre – the operatic sense of drama, the nihilism, extreme close-ups, epic widescreen photography, Ennio Morricone music and moral ambiguity – into Monument Valley, the setting of the traditional American western. The result is pretty unforgettable. Leone tells a simple story via images. Looks, as opposed to dialogue, are used to convey meaning wherever possible. When characters do speak, their lines are significant. Every bit of dialogue is considered, no one talks unnecessarily. This combined with the phenomenal cinematography and unforgettable music results in a sort of operatic minimalism. The western has never been depicted so artistically.

There is a real feeling of time and space. The opening credit sequence where the three gunmen wait at the train station typifies this. Instead of launching straight into the initial confrontation, Leone waits. Insignificant details become epic. The fly and the dripping water for instance, are given real significance, and are integral to the pace of the scene. Nothing of narrative significance happens, not a word is said but the pacing and magnification of the smallest details add human depth to what would otherwise be cardboard characters.

There are four stand-out performances from Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale and Jason Robards. Bronson plays Harmonica the mysterious stranger, Fonda brilliantly cast against type is the cold-eyed killer, Cardinale is the stunningly beautiful woman in the centre of the narrative and Robards is the grizzled outlaw. Together, they are terrific. And Leone moves them around the widescreen frame quite beautifully. Morricone's score once again is quite outstanding. The haunting harmonica theme is a particular standout; only Morricone could make a harmonica sound so sweeping, evocative and mystical.

Once Upon A Time In The West is truly epic film-making of the very best kind. It's a western of intense emotions and brilliant acting; of peerless photography and ground-breaking music. It illustrates perfectly how to use cinematic space and how to pace events within it. It refashioned the western and brought the highest cinematic artistry to Monument Valley. It goes without saying that it is a masterpiece.
2010-12-30
A beautiful masterpiece!
Once upon a time in the west is a true masterpiece. In my opinion it has the best opening of all time. And his line with 'You brought two to many.' Love it!

The ending is also very beautiful. The duel with Frank is perfect! It's very intense. I love the part when you get a flashback when he met Frank for the first time. I always get the chills whenever I see that part. Because there is so much meaning in that scene. And when Frank puts the harmonica in his mouth and the music starts playing.... Just perfect!

Speeking of the music let's not forget the amazing soundtrack of this movie. Thanks to Ennio Morricone. His music makes those intense moments even better. Thanks to the music it has become a true masterpiece.

So that's why I believe that this movie is a masterpiece! And this movie is most certainly worth a 10 out of 10.
2015-10-23
Beautiful score and great film
Perhaps the most famous of Leone's western with unforgettable music score. The story of lone hit-man Harmonica (Charles Bronson) going for his revenge is a classic. Leone in this move hired Bronson for his hero with no name instead of his usual Eastwood. Instead of Eastwood here are another actor heavyweights as Fonda, Cardinalle and Robarts. This story is very good; it follows more plot line for them to cross at the end. Also until the final shootout it is not clear why does Harmonica seeks revenge. Acting is overall very good, weakest links is Bronson who was the worst of main actors, but as he is not required to act much he is good. Fonda is great as villain and is clearly enjoying playing main antagonist. Robarts is very convincing as good natured bandit. Cardinale is very beautiful and also very good as prostitute trying to get a new life. Score is amazing as in all three preceding Leones westerns.
2011-03-17
"I have a feelin' when he stops whittlin', somethin's gonna happen."
When composer Ennio Morricone first got the script for "Once Upon A Time In The West", he was so impressed with the story that he began writing the music for it immediately. The entire movie was scored before even a single frame was shot, and Sergio Leone liked it so much that he had portions played for the actors while rehearsing to get them to 'flow' with the music. One could go so far as to say that a good part of the picture was filmed to the score!

It took me a long time to get around to this film, but it was certainly worth the wait. Any movie that opens with Jack Elam and Woody Strode has got to get your attention, but when their characters didn't survive the opening sequence, I knew this was going to be something special. Actually, having seen Elam in countless movies and TV Western episodes, I can safely say that this is the best performance I've ever seen him in. His sparring with the fly to the omnipresent creak of the windmill was an inspired piece of work, and if you didn't know anything about the story going in, you would think that these players would have a major role in the story to come. And then Bronson appears!

And then Henry Fonda appears. Curiously, his character's name was Frank. It didn't take until the end of the movie to make the connection to Frank James, brother of outlaw Jesse, and the character Fonda portrayed in two much earlier movies - 1939's "Jesse James", and the sequel, 1940's "The Return of Frank James". It made me wonder if Sergio Leone's original script named the character Frank, or if it was a result of getting Fonda for the part. It's no secret that Leone had been after Fonda to appear in one of his Westerns for a few years, with Fonda declining because every script he ever read was in Leone's fractured English. Fonda eventually relied on friend Eli Wallach's (Tuco/The Ugly in "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) advice, who said he would have the time of his life.

More than most, this is a Western that in turn, defines and is defined by the music. Even Bronson's character is called Harmonica, and his tunes are played to haunting effect. They mask a much deadlier nature to the quiet stranger - "He not only plays, he can shoot too".

It took me a bit into the story to figure out it was Jason Robards under the beard of Cheyenne. I think it was interesting the way his character was written, leaving it ambiguous whether he was a lawman or an outlaw. The bigger surprise though had to do with a female character in the lead role, capably performed by Claudia Cardinale. She manages to arc through a wide range of characterizations throughout the story as situations call for, holding her own well against each of the male principals.

This is certainly a film I'll have to watch a few more times for some of the points noted above. In particular, the single scene I could watch over and over, one that is inextricably linked with it's musical score, is Fonda's death scene set to the strain of Morricone's dying harmonica. Not only creative, but as effective as any finale in a Western I can think of.

As a final thought, I was considering how Sergio Leone could have used the title "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" for this movie if it hadn't already been taken by another one of his legendary classics. But then again, Robards wasn't that ugly.
2007-09-23
The operatic tale of greed, lust and revenge.
Once Upon A Time In The West is directed by Sergio Leone and stars Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards & Henry Fonda. Leone co-wrote the screenplay with Sergio Donati, while the story was provided by Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci. Ennio Morricone scores the music and cinematography is from Tonino Delli Colli.

After finishing The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in 1966, Sergio Leone felt he had done all he wanted to do with the Western genre. Thankfully that wasn't to be the case as he was lured back into Oaterville to make the unique and quite superb C'era una volta il West in 1968. Greeted with negative reviews on its release in America, it was a financial flop. But in Europe the film was richly received and took the box offices by storm. Time has showed the film to have risen above cult status to be widely acknowledged as one of the finest Western film's of all time.

Everything about the film is bigger and bolder than previous Leone works. Opening with an almost silent ten minute sequence that has become legendary, the film follows four characters as they dovetail towards the reckoning. Harmonica (Bronson), Frank (Fonda), Jill McBain (Cardinale) & Cheyenne (Robards), all linked by death, and with each one represented in the narrative by a piece of music. Leone clinically weaves the four stories into one operatic whole. Not all of it makes perfect sense, which stops it being the masterpiece many consider it being. But its observations of Western mysticism, capitalism and progression of time; and with scores to of course be settled too, it makes for a fine story nestling in amongst the beautiful treats for the eyes and ears.

While Leone clearly homages the genre and pays tribute to the old America (you will lose count spotting the Western film steals), his film is ultimately very much a pastiche piece. But he gets away with that lack of freshness (the story at the core mirrors Johnny Guitar for example) due to the unique structure. It's meticulously paced as the characters are fleshed out to the max, sometimes even without dialogue. Smart directing as Leone makes the story more richer and weightier in substance. Morricone's score is magnificent and so is Colli's photography, with the latter's shooting of Monument Valley good enough to have featured in John Ford oeuvre. While the casting is inspiring, notably Fonda as a villain (the impact shocked many back in the day).

I can't call it a masterpiece because it does lift from many other sources, but it's darn close to being a perfect movie. One thing is for sure, that in it's uncut form the film is a work of art. Where repeat viewings keep rewarding and never dilute the enjoyment. 9/10
2010-11-07
Epic, visionary and Charles Bronson a total Bad-Ass!!!
In one of cinemas greatest debates, the question remains: Which is Sergio Leone's best film? The answer would boil down to a choice of three epic masterpieces. Once Upon A Time in either the West or America and of course The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It is a question I dare not answer because it is so hard to choose between the sheer class of the three. Leone's epic western Once Upon A Time In The West remains one of the greats of all Westerns, the last great one in fact. While many would still prefer Good, Bad and Ugly, this is undoubtedly the more sweeping and epic as this was a big budget affair. Then it also boils down to your preferred choice of bad-ass, Clint or Charles? Well Charles Bronson is a superb bad-ass.

OUATITW is such a gorgeously shot piece of work it must be said. Leone uses he camera like no one else. The sheer rhythm and timing of each movement and the flair is remarkable making the film stand up to the visually superb films of the last 20 years from such visionaries as Ridley Scott and John Woo. Leone's style is perhaps the most influential in cinema, aside from Kurosawa. Leone is of course someone who likes to stretch scenes to the limit, get to the heart of the characters at that point and increase tension to near the breaking point. His sense of timing is unrivalled. In The West we have a number of brilliantly constructed scenes that tease the audience before finally releasing the tension, usually in stylised violence. The face-off between Bronson and Fonda is absolutely the epitome of tension of just coolness.

As far as the cast goes, Leone always gets a good performance. Even with a guy like Bronson and indeed Eastwood in his earlier career, two guys not noted for their acting prowess, however he gets a subtle, superb performance from Bronson, which is almost entirely told through Bronson's eyes. It's an understated performance of such cool and such toughness that he barely has to raise an eyebrow for us to know exactly what's going on in his head. There are some actors great at acting visually but not too many. Bronson gives a great performance. Leone's gift in choosing actors with a visual intensity is genius. Not only is Bronson good but in a similar way Henry Fonda gives a great performance, again with minimal dialogue. Fonda's sadistic cowboy is one of cinemas great villains, but one filled with depth. Fonda's steely cold stare is chilling. Then there is Jason Robards who perhaps steals the show, narrowly. Claudia Cardinale is also excellent. I do believe that some of the best directors can pull big performances form the actors, with the littlest dialogue. People like Leone, John Woo, Ridley Scott and Scorsese for example have always been great at this.

Once again Ennio Morricone gives a marvellous score that is full of grandeur and atmosphere. While the films use of sound is excellent. This is without doubt a film that any movie buff should have in their collection. *****
2005-03-24
Who cares that Clint Eastwood isn't in this film?
It has been said many times that the role of "Harmonica" was intended for Clint Eastwood. But I think it's enormously unfair to Charles Bronson to endlessly speculate on what Eastwood may or may not had done. Who cares? Eastwood had his chance and turned it down. Bronson seized it and made the most of it. Not only do I think that "West" is Bronson's best movie, I think Bronson does a better job in this film than Eastwood in the "spaghetti trilogy".

If you think about it, all three leads in this film are cast against type. Charles Bronson is not the type of actor you'd think of for a lead as a hero (although he did a great job in "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Great Escape.") The average person thinks of Jason Robards as a crotchety grandfather, certainly not a cunning outlaw a la "Tuco" in "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly." And was there ever a more unlikely villain in screen history than Henry Fonda, who build a career on playing sincere, kind protagonists? (By the way, Fonda's role was originally intended for John Wayne, who turned it down.) And yet all of these great actors make you forget their other personnas and suck you into Sergio Leone's world...
1999-01-08
Once upon a time....
...they made amazing films like this one. This is my favorite western, one of the best ever made. The pacing and filming are pure brilliance and really build the tension as you work toward the inevitable final standoff.

The way each character is introduced makes them feel real and full of personality without the need for explanatory dialogue and I love how the music suits the movie, I can still hear Harmonica's haunting tune in my head. Bronson is excellent as the silent and mysterious good guy and Fonda adds a whole new meaning to the word evil.

The story is tight and all the threads weave together in the end to form an outstanding western of epic proportions that I can't fully describe in words.
2011-11-29
Another epic western from Sergio Leone
I never thought Leone could ever top The Good The Bad The Ugly, one of his greatest works, but with Once Upon A Time In The West he comes really close.

Once Upon A Time In The West (I'll just call it The West for this review) tells the tale of Jil McBain(Claudia Cardinale)who comes from New Orleans to be with her husband in the west. Once she gets there she discovers she has been widowed because her husband and his entire family have been wiped out by a ruthless assassin named Frank(Henry Fonda). The land, which was owned by her late husband, was going to be used to build a railroad station which would've made them all rich. However Frank and a railroad baron named Morton (Gabrielle Ferzetti) have there own plans for getting rich the same way and that's why Morton had Frank kill them. Neither one of them knew about Jil though, and soon their vile plans turn on her.

However there is one man (Charles Bronson) who plays a harmonica and steps in to keep her safe. With the help of a desperado named Cheyenne (Jason Robards) they work to protect her from the evil clutches of Frank and Morton. Harmonica however has other reasons for wanting Frank dead, and it is left as a guessing game up to the end when we finally discover the real reason why Harmonica was after Frank in the first place.

Just like with The Good The Bad The Ugly, Leone uses extreme closeups of peoples faces as well as wide long shots of large opened settings to tell a wonderful story about the west. With TGTBTU he told a story during Civil War times, but with this movie he talks about the time period when railroads were being created to stretch across the country.

The acting in this film was phenomenal. I loved the expanded shots of the characters which said more than any words could ever say. Don't get me wrong though. The West had a lot of interesting dialoque which helped embellish the characters flaws and behaviors even more.

The movie is long, as was TGTBTU, but like that earlier film, this one never becomes boring either. If I were to compare the two films and make a choice, I would say that both were great movies. However TGTBTU would edge out The West as the better movie.
2007-02-12
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