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USA, Italy, Spain
IMDB rating:
Sergio Leone
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
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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Once Upon A Time...There Were Westerns!
I first saw this film as a 20 year old in the late 80's on VHS & ended up thoroughly disappointed. Every scene seemed to stretch to near-infinity and the action was too sporadic for what I normally expected from a western. Now, however, things are different! I saw it again a few days ago after reading so many positive reviews & I must admit to pretty much being bowled over! 'Once Upon A Time In The West' is not your traditional shoot-em-up western. Its an acquired taste and I wouldn't be too far off the mark if I say that it resembles a dish with near-perfect proportions of ingredients, slow cooked over an intense fire. Director Leone doffs his hat to several classic westerns and ends up with a film thats greater than the sum of its parts. The lovely Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) arrives in the old west to join her new husband & family only to find them all brutally shot dead. Clues apparently point to the bandit Cheyenne (Jason Robards) though the dastardly deed has in fact been perpetrated by the magnificently evil Frank (Henry Fonda). Also in this lethal mix is a mysterious harmonica-playing stranger (Charles Bronson) with his own covert agenda. From the classic opening scene to the explosive climax, 'Once Upon A Time In The West' sucks the viewer into its vortex of emotions as layers upon layers are gradually peeled away revealing each characters true motivations. Featuring a stellar cast who have probably never been better, and a haunting, evocative score by maestro Ennio Morricone, 'Once Upon A Time In The West' is mandatory viewing for all film aficionado's. My only (small) complaint is the occasional self-indulgence displayed by Leone when he tends to give style precedence over narrative.
Groundbreaking, riveting, exquisite.
This is Leone at his best, absolute genius. I don't even know how to begin to describe it. In the beginning, it is all just sounds. There's nary a single word of dialogue. Three figures, their identity unknown, walk into the foreground. They wait for a train. One tries to rub off an annoying fly on his face. Another has a problem with water droplets on his head and catches them with his hat. At last the train comes and no one gets off. The three men turn to leave, but at the last moment, the notes on a harmonica start to play. A man appears from behind the train. 'Did you bring a horse for me?' 'Looks like we're shy one horse.' 'You brought two too many.' Seconds later, all three of the killers are down, and the man (being dubbed Harmonica) is shot in the shoulder.

Thus, Once Upon a Time in the West begins. The acting is absolutely marvelous. Claudia Cardinale is absolutely perfect as Jill. Her eyes show all the emotion, making her face the story of the shot. Charles Bronson plays the silent and mysterious character. He is a reincarnation of the Man With No Name and is perfect for the part. Silent and distant. Who could ever forget Jason Robards? He plays Cheyenne with an amazing silliness that it just seems natural for him. Of course, they're Henry Fonda as Frank. He plays the coolest villain, so seemingly natural that he seems almost good. He plays it with smoothness to the role, like a prince. Thus, the four roles become the great centerpiece of the story.

The plot itself is complex, taking time to build up. There are many minute sub-plots that all tie into the motives of the characters, specifically Harmonica's past, that along with smooth editing, keep you guessing until the end. The focal point in the story concerns the woman called Jill, and her attempts to try and keep living after the massacre of her husband and his entire family. The man behind the massacre, Frank, learns all too well that there is a surviving member of the McBain's, and attempts to go after Jill. Cheyenne is the outlaw wrongfully accused of the murders of the McBain's, but tries as best he can to protect Jill. And of course, Harmonica is the loner, the Man with No Name, out to destroy the evil of Frank.

The direction is perfect, as are the cinematography and editing. However, a great triumph here is Morricone's score. Fantastic. Each individual character is assigned his or her own theme that, as the relations grow between characters, interplays and combines to form truly fantastic cues. Just listen to the music at the final showdown, or the part when Jill first arrives at the station. It is truly beautiful. This whole movie is truly beautiful.
A Landmark Spaghetti Western
Once Upon a Time in the West is an Italian epic spaghetti western film directed by Sergio Leone for Paramount Pictures. It stars Henry Fonda cast against type as the villain, Charles Bronson as his nemesis, Jason Robards as a bandit, and Claudia Cardinale as a newly widowed homesteader with a past as a prostitute. The screenplay was written by Leone and Sergio Donati, from a story devised by Leone, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Dario Argento. The widescreen cinematography was by Tonino Delli Colli, and Ennio Morricone provided the film score.

In this epic Western, shot partly in Monument Valley, a revenge story becomes an epic contemplation of the Western past. To get his hands on prime railroad land in Sweetwater, crippled railroad baron Morton hires killers, led by blue-eyed sadist Frank, who wipe out property owner Brett McBain and his family. McBain's newly arrived bride, Jill, however, inherits it instead. Both outlaw Cheyenne and lethally mysterious Harmonica take it upon themselves to look after Jill and thwart Frank's plans to seize her land. As alliances and betrayals mutate, it soon becomes clear that Harmonica wants to get Frank for another reason -- it has "something to do with death."

As in his "Dollars" trilogy, Leone transforms the standard Western plot through the visual impact of widescreen landscapes and the figures therein. At its full length, Once Upon a Time in the West is Leone's operatic masterwork, worthy of its legend-making title.If only the first 10 minutes of this movie still existed, this most hyperbolic of oat operas would still be acknowledged as one of the genre's greatest exhumations.Overall,it is a a landmark Leone spaghetti western masterpiece featuring a classic Morricone score.
A perfect western movie! Highest recommendations.
Awe-strucked! A completely different type of Cinema.. Who needs words and explanations when the powerful force of cinematic mastery and some heart- tearing music can do it all! Leone blends all the actors also beautifully and typically into his style... None of these actors would have acted again in the way they did for a Sergio Leone movie, I'm sure!

A beautifully shot movie and those typical Sergio Leone Close Up scenes just build the tension and suspense... I'm waiting to see these typical Leone Close Ups in 'Django Unchained' as promised by Tarantino!

Leone's best movie for me! A full 5; nothing I could come up with that was less than perfect about this movie.
irresistibly stylish
From the opening sequence of three non-verbal gunmen waiting for someone at a train station, grimly determined through the flies, dust, and leaky roof, to the inevitable quick-draw climax shot in extreme close-up with little or no dialogue, Once Upon a Time in the West astounds and entertains with its inventiveness, referencing of other westerns, and its judicious use of actors' reactions to tell the story.

The influence of this film on modern movies is unmistakable. In the sudden demise of pseudo-protagonists in A History of Violence, or the complete vision-and-sound opening 20 minutes of There Will Be Blood, we see the ripples of Leone's first American masterpiece. At the time of writing revisionist westerns like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford are having their day in the sun. But put a Colt 45 to my head and make me choose between these two great movies, and I'll take Bronson's revenge-driven cool over Pitt's sado-masochistic angst every time.

Leone is a master of timing and pace. There isn't a missed beat here, but the sequence that most impresses is Henry Fonda's saloon exit into a street populated with assassins. In one sequence we have rising tension, new questions for the audience about Harmonica's motivations, and evidence that Frank is a formidable antagonist when he cleanly and economically picks off three gunmen.

Often acclaimed for its visual storytelling, the dialogue in Once is spectacularly high-calibre. From the first punched beat about the number of horses, through to Fonda's throwing down the gauntlet to a waiting Bronson, the dialogue continually stays true to the characters while moving the story forward and telling us something new. And sometimes it's funny.

It could reasonably be argued that this is the best western ever made, and will no doubt be number one on many people's all-time best film list. In short, a timeless classic.
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.
once upon a time in the west is the greatest western, and in my opinion, the greatest movie ever made. the cinematography, dialogue, music, and sets are flawless. the best dialogue in the film occurs before the showdown between harmonica and frank. harmonica is whittling on a piece of wood when frank rides up on his horse. harmonica says, "I knew you'd come. frank says, "nothing matters now, not the money, not land, not the woman." harmonica says, "so you found out you're not a businessman after all." frank says, "just the man." harmonica says, "a dying race. other mortons will come along and they will kill it off." one innovative feature of leone's work is the closeups of characters' faces that was perfected in this film. any film critic who doesn't rate this one in the top ten of all time isn't worth his salt.
A Spectacular Movie
I just saw Once Upon a Time in the West on TV last night...probably for the 10th time, and it still blows me away. It is one of the greatest movies of all time, and along with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, High Noon, and Red River, one of the best westerns ever made. Every scene, every word, every musical note is magnificent. For scale and pure cinema it is on par with Lawrence of Arabia, another of my "10s". Henry Fonda made a great bad guy; another example of how effective casting against type can be. I was thinking it would be interesting to see a sequel, where the Charles Bronson character returns to Sweetwater to be with the Claudia Cardinale character... But these days, who would play those parts?
The ultimate Western - Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
The movie opens. Three men are waiting at a deserted train stop appropriately located in the desert. They're hot, they're nasty, they're restless and bored. There's minimal action on the screen: one rocks a chair; another hunts a fly. For 15 minutes this continues: the tumbleweed rolls and they wait; the credits roll and you wait. Trying to imagine what will eventually happen, you look into the eyes on their hardened faces, trying to find some sign of a soul. Frustrated, you too become restless with anticipation, their anticipation.

Suddenly, in the distance, you hear a train. As it stops, you examine the screen for the reason they're waiting. Are you looking for something good or something bad? You don't know. Then the train starts to move. Silently you yell at the train "Wait, I haven't found it yet!

As the train exits stage right and out of view, you see a man on the other side of the tracks. He speaks to the three men:

"Did you bring a horse for me?"

"Err... looks like we're shy of one horse..." comes the reply.

Not at all surprised by the response, this kind and gentle man teaches the three some simple addition. "No. You brought two too many!"

Sounds like something Mr. Eastwood might say, doesn't it? ("Get three coffins ready.") It should since this film is directed by Sergio Leone, the man who gave us Clint in "A Fistful of Dollars", "For a Few Dollars More", and "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" - the biggest hit film in the trilogy.

With such an impressive portfolio, why did "Once Upon a Time in the West" fail to attract the attention it deserved when it hit theaters? Can the studio be blamed for mutilating the masterpiece? (It is a masterpiece, but how good was it before it was hacked?) Did audiences pass like Clint passing up the lead? (What about the drawing power of the stars?) Was America too full of spaghetti already? Who knows? Who cares?

Sergio Leone created some of the most memorable westerns ever to hit the screen. He sparred us the whiskey drinkin', Injun killin', white-is-right sanitized version of the Duke's west (sans "The Shootist") and gave us the stubble and squint of Clint. Did he spend all his creativity on the opening scene? Had he taken the genre as far as it could go?

No way! Think about his casting decisions, the haunting, soulful notes of the harmonica, the dialogue:

* Henry Fonda playing the evil villain: "People scare easier when they're dyin'."

* Jason Robards playing the good villian: "You remind me of my mother. She was the biggest whore in Alameda."

* Charles Bronson as "The Man": "I saw three of these dusters today. Inside the dusters there were three men. Inside the men there were three bullets."

Let's face it, you either like this stuff or you don't. If you like it, you won't find anything better. This movie doesn't need to be discussed, it must be felt. Period.

If you feel the need to review something, review the reason it hasn't been released on DVD. There must be an original version hidden somewhere, and I want a copy. Don't you?

Remember: Don't trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders. The man can't even trust his own pants!
Excruciating Slow Or Fascinating: Your Choice
This was a unique western, one in which sometimes the action moves excruciatingly slow, which can either be fascinating or boring. Unfortunately for me, after spending big bucks for the DVD when it first came out, I found it more boring than fascinating. In my previous viewings, I always found it fascinating. Maybe I just had a bad day.

The movie is filled with gaps of silence while closeups of the main characters' faces are shown. That's director Sergio Leone's trademark, and I believe he does it more in this film than in any of his others. When you get closeups of chiseled faces like Henry Fonda's or Charles Bronson's, it quite interesting but most of the movie feels like slow motion. At 165 minutes, this movie takes a lot of patience. By the way, the closeups of Claudia Cardinale's face were with a soft lens, so the wrinkles didn't show. That's so typical of older films with the vain female stars. Cardinale looks cheap, anyway, with all that 1960s-type eye makeup.

At any rate, the action scenes are a decent and not bloody and the characters are quite real, meaning believable. I liked Fonda in here best even though I am not particularly a fan of his but his against-type villain role of "Frank" was excellent. I read where he said this was his favorite role. I'm glad to hear that. The best character in the film, though, was "Cheyenne," played by Jason Robards.

The opening credits - spaced out over 11 minutes (which was rare in "classic movie" days) - are considered by many as the most famous ever, in any genre. The music in this film is different, too. It's not as memorable as the score from "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly," however, done by the same composer, but it has its moments. Early in the film we see some shots of Monument Valley which are the prettiest I've ever seen. I wish there had been more of that.

Overall, this is a western in which patience is rewarded, I suppose. It certainly looks beautiful on DVD and the sound has been enhanced as well. Note: when this came out on disc, the rating of the film changed from PG to PG-13.
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