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Once Upon a Time in the West

Cult Movies and Westerns movie directed by Sergio Leone

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An epic masterpiece that ranks amongst the finest films ever made

  • Aug 22, 2006
  • by
At the end of the 1960s, having had major success with his "Man With No Name" trilogy (starring Clint Eastwood), writer/director Sergio Leone was ready to give up westerns and try his hand at making some American productions. His first project was to be ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA - which would finally be made and released in 1984 - but American studios wanted another western first. Eventually, Leone was convinced to make another western, and another trilogy as well, set through different periods in American history. Part two was to be GIU LA TESTA (a.k.a. A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE or DUCK, YOU SUCKER, released in 1971), and part three was to be ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. Part one was C'ERA UNA VOLTA IL WEST - ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, released in 1968.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is possibly the most epic western ever filmed, equalled in scale only by Leone's THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. The story, in simple terms, revolves around a beautiful widow (Claudia Cardinale), a mysterious man with a harmonica (Charles Bronson), a notorious desperado (Jason Robards), and a merciless assassin named Frank (Henry Fonda). The man with the harmonica teams up with the desperado to protect the widow when the assassin Frank sets his sights on her.

Though THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY is Sergio Leone's masterpiece, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST ranks right behind it. It sports, among many other things, some of the greatest camerawork in cinema history, ranging from intense close-ups to beautiful panoramas. Of course, no Leone western - or film, for that matter - is complete without an Ennio Morricone score, and Morricone's music for ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is quite possibly the greatest of the master composer's entire career. Fittingly, it's also Morricone's most grand score, filled with a haunting female vocal and a razor-sharp guitar part for the man with the harmonica's theme.

It's quite fortunate that Leone chose a cast of great actors to play a group of very interesting characters; not that Leone ever had a hard time choosing perfect casts. Henry Fonda makes Frank's ruthlessness completely plausible; he seems like an inhumane character and he is. Claudia Cardinale, whom I was previously familiar with only from her role in Blake Edwards' THE PINK PANTHER, is absolutely gorgeous in this film. She also made me a feel a little uncertain as to what the widow McBain would do next. Jason Robards is the Eli Wallach of this film, making the criminal Cheyenne quite a likable character. Most intriguing, of course, is Charles Bronson as the mysterious harmonica-playing wanderer.

At 165 minutes, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST doesn't seem long. Perhaps that's due to the wonderful visuals - Leone was always an immensely visual storyteller; or perhaps it's due to the mystery exuding from each member of the cast. What we know for certain is that ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is one of the finest films ever made, not to mention one of the two greatest westerns of all time. Though it wasn't his last great film, it was Sergio Leone's penultimate masterpiece before his directorial career ended, quite fittingly, with 1984's ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA.

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More Once Upon a Time in the West reviews
review by . July 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The quintessential Western - it epitomizes what a good movie whould be
Sergio Leone is the master of “Spaghetti Westerns” – there is not one director working today that can achieve the same tone, feel, and look as his films [though the Coen Brothers made a fantastic run with “No Country for Old Men”…who knows what their remake of “True Grit” has in store]. Besides the fact that he somehow managed to transform Henry Fonda with his steel blue eyes into a bad guy is impressive enough, let alone the 2-part masterpiece of …
review by . March 04, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
One thing I like about Sergio Leone's Westerns is that they start out slowly -- they don't erupt into violence but simmer and let the tension build until it reaches a boiling point and, only then, all hell breaks loose.    The opening of this film is probably the best example. Three men ride into a train station. It is obvious they are trouble, and aren't going anywhere. They stow the station master in a closet, and send away his helper, and wait. The creaking of the windmill, …
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Tom Benton ()
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Aspiring high school English teacher with dreams of filmmaking and a strong taste for music.
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The so-called spaghetti Western achieved its apotheosis inSergio Leone's magnificently mythic (and utterly outlandish)Once upon a Time in the West. After a series of international hits starring Clint Eastwood (fromA Fistful of DollarstoThe Good, The Bad, and The Ugly), Leone outdid himself with this spectacular, larger-than-life, horse-operatic epic about how the West was won. (And make no mistake: this is the wide,wideWest, folks--so the widescreen/letterboxed version is strongly recommended.) The unholy trinity of Italian cinema--Leone, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Dario Argento--concocted the story about a woman (Claudia Cardinale) hanging onto her land in hopes that the transcontinental railroad would reach her before a steely-eyed, black-hearted killer (Fonda) does. (The film's advertising slogan was: "There were three men in her life. One to take her ... one to love her ... and one to kill her.") Meanwhile, Leone shoots his stars' faces as if they were expansive Western landscapes, and their towering bodies as if they were looming rock formations in John Ford's Monument Valley.--Jim Emerson
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Director: Sergio Leone
Genre: Western
DVD Release Date: November 18, 2003
Runtime: 175 minutes
Studio: Paramount
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