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Once Upon a Time in the West

Cult Movies and Westerns movie directed by Sergio Leone

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The quintessential Western, with one of the greatest opening scenes in any film

  • Mar 4, 2008
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, the dripping of water from the cistern overhead, the buzzing of a fly all contribute to the atmosphere of waiting and the growing wonder over what will happen when the train arrives. Their faces, hardened and scarred, are impassive yet betray a combination of boredom and anticipation. One collects drops of water in his hat, one captures a fly in the barrel of his pistol. When the train finally arrives, it seems as if they had waited in vain. No one gets off. Then the train pulls away and a harmonica sounds from the other side of the track. The interchange between the three men and the lone arrival is both hilarious and unsettling and sets the stage for the action that will follow.

Leone knows that violence, here in the form of gunplay, has its greatest impact in the anticipation, not when it is incessant. He lets it build slowly out of conversations, out of atmosphere. I won't repeat here all of the excellent things that can be said about this film, but it really is an indispensable film -- to my mind the best of Leone's films, and among the most exemplary of Westerns, that showed again what is possible in the genre, when it seemed to have exhausted its themes. Not to be missed.

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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 . August 22, 2006
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 …
About the reviewer
Nathan Andersen ()
Ranked #68
I teach philosophy at Eckerd College, in Saint Petersburg, Florida.      I run an award-winning International Cinema series in Tampa Bay (www.eckerd.edu/ic), and am co-director of … more
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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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