175 Min. | Western | December 1968
IMDB Rating: 8.6
Director: Sergio Leone
Staring: Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale
Once Upon a Time in the West Review: Once Upon A Time In The West is directed by Sergio Leone and stars Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards and 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.
Everything about Once Upon a Time in the West is bigger and bolder than previous Leone works. Opening with an almost silent ten minute sequence that has become legendary, Once Upon a Time in the West follows four characters as they dovetail towards the reckoning. Harmonica, Frank, Jill McBain and Cheyenne, 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, his film is ultimately very much a pastiche piece. But he gets away with that lack of freshness 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. Overall, Once Upon a Time in the West is an excellent film.
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