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Once Upon a Time in the West (Collector's…
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Once Upon a Time in the West (Collector's Edition) [Region 2]

de Henry Fonda (Actor)

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A man preparing to welcome his new wife to his home is killed, along with his entire family.
Títol:Once Upon a Time in the West (Collector's Edition) [Region 2]
Autors:Henry Fonda (Actor)
Informació:, Edition: Special Collector's Edition
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Once Upon a Time in the West [1968 film] de Sergio Leone (Director/Screenwriter)

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Once Upon a Time in the West

Claudia Cardinale – Jill McBain
Henry Fonda – Frank
Jason Robards – Cheyenne
Charles Bronson – Harmonica
Gabriele Ferzetti – Morton

Screenplay by Sergio Donati and Sergio Leone
Directed by Sergio Leone

First released in Italy, 21 December 1968.
First released in the US, 28 May 1969.

Paramount, n.d. 159 min. Colour. Widescreen. Dolby Digital.


That this is the greatest western ever made is obvious. What’s more, it’s one of the greatest movies ever made. What’s even more, it’s one of the very few perfect movies. Everything is of the highest quality here. Nothing leaves anything to be desired.

It is common for westerns to suffer from ridiculous plots, preposterous gunfights and entirely black-and-white characterisation. Not so here. I admire the mental resources of people who find the story predictable. I don’t. I find it intriguing and full of surprises, with sparse but highly effective dialogue and not a scene wasted. The pace is slow but steady. I have seen this movie at least a dozen times and it has never felt long. The sets and costumes are evocative and believable; the scrupulous search for veracity extends to plenty of dust, shabby clothes, sweaty skins and all sorts of tiny details usually neglected in lesser productions. The main characters are quite unforgettable, partly because all of them are perfectly cast and played, but partly also because they are very well written in the first place.

Spoilers ahead!

I am not familiar with the filmography of Jason Robards, but I would wager anything that this is one the finest achievements in his career. Cheyenne is the proverbial criminal with charm. Under the hard shell, he is a good-natured gentleman with a fine sense of humour which is a welcome relief from an otherwise dark and violent story. He wouldn’t shoot a child. “Be like killin' a priest. Catholic priest, that is.” While he is slowly dying in pain, he jokes with Mercutio-like irony: “Hey, Harmonica, when they do you in, pray it's somebody who knows where to shoot.” In a masterstroke of dramatic irony not unworthy of Shakespeare, Cheyenne causes his own death when he spares Morton’s life. The touching friendship which develops between him and Harmonica is one of the most important parts in the film. It makes the so-called “buddy movies” seem silly by comparison. That’s the real thing. Likewise Cheyenne’s flirtatious yet virtuous admiration for the only woman in the movie:

Cheyenne: You know, Jill, you remind me of my mother. She was the biggest whore in Alameda and the finest woman that ever lived. Whoever my father was – for an hour or for a month – he must have been a happy man.

Jill is an ex-whore set on the path of new life with a wealthy husband – when everything goes wrong. As Harmonica notes, she’s “a remarkable woman”. As she admits herself, she doesn’t look like “a poor defenceless widow”. She is the focal point of the three male characters, but with none of them is there anything like love interest. She seduces Frank merely to save her skin, as he well knows and she readily admits. She evidently longs for Harmonica, but her feelings are not reciprocated. Cheyenne acts as her confidante but nothing more. Verily I say unto you, this movie is more hard-boiled than any noir drama you care to mention. Jill makes even the best examples of femme fatale look somewhat timid, not to say tepid:

Jill [taunting Cheyenne]: If you want to, you can lay me over the table and amuse yourself, and even call in your men. Well, no woman ever died from that. When you're finished, all I'll need will be a tub of boiling water and I'll be exactly what I was before – with just another filthy memory!

I am not going to pretend I have not been in love with Claudia Cardinale ever since I saw her in this role. She has never looked more gorgeous on the screen. And she does an excellent job of conveying Jill’s courage, cunning and vulnerability.

Charles Bronson is not a great actor by any stretch of the imagination. But he is perfectly cast here. He has little else to do but look tough and cool. He does that supremely well. The mysterious Harmonica is one of those men who “have something inside... something to do with death.” He is doomed to loneliness. Even though Cheyenne and Jill almost unravel some basic need for human contact, he remains estranged from humanity. He is a sinister figure that can be taken for a symbol of anything from Death and Retribution to Life and Self-Control. I prefer to take him for a loner haunted by his past, resolute about his present and unconcerned about his future. He has a dry sense of humour not without certain appeal:

Harmonica: Your friends have a high mortality rate, Frank. First three, then two.
Frank: So, you’re the one who makes appointments.
Harmonica: And you're the one who doesn't keep 'em.

Frank: Morton once told me I could never be like him. Now I understand why. Wouldn't have bothered him, knowing you were around somewhere alive.
Harmonica: So, you found out you're not a businessman after all.
Frank: Just a man.
Harmonica: An ancient race. Other Mortons'll be along, and they'll kill it off.
Frank: The future don't matter to us. Nothing matters now – not the land, not the money, not the woman. I came here to see you, 'cause I know that now you'll tell me what you're after.
Harmonica: Only at the point of dyin'.

This was the first movie with Henry Fonda I ever saw. Later I was surprised to learn that villains were untypical for him and he was reluctant to accept this role. Frank is the simplest and most straightforward character. He is just a villain. But what a villain! He wouldn’t shoot a child, but “now that you called me by name…” Look at his face right before these words, the vanishing of the thin smile, the hardening of the features. This is great acting. So is everything Fonda does in this movie. With a few feline movements, with those mesmerising blue eyes and with that instantly recognisable voice, the man conveys menace as no one else in my movie experience. He does it quietly, smoothly, effectively. He is helped by some terrific bits of dialogue:

Morton: Not bad. Congratulations. Tell me, was it necessary that you kill all of them? I only told you to scare them.
Frank: People scare better when they're dyin’.

Frank: My weapons might look simple to you, Mr. Morton, but they can still shoot holes big enough for our little problems.

Morton is just as big a villain as Frank who works for him to “remove small obstacles from the track”. He is just subtler and his weapon is not the gun but cash. There is another difference, too. Morton has a tender side, a sentimental dream which he cherishes and for which he is ready to sacrifice everybody on his way. The late Gabriele Ferzetti captures to perfection both the ruthlessness and pathos of the character. The scenes with Fonda are marvellous clashes of two villains trying to outwit each other.

[Frank sits at Morton's desk]
Morton: How does it feel sitting behind that desk, Frank?
Frank: It's almost like holding a gun... only much more powerful.

[Frank knocks Morton off of his crutches]
Morton: Is that sufficient to make you feel stronger?
Frank: I could squash you like a wormy apple.
Morton: Sure, but you won't do it... because it's not to... your advantage.
Frank: Hmm. Who knows how far you'd have gone with two good legs, huh?

(Morton should be contrasted with Brett McBain, the crazy Irishman who has very little screen time but controls the action long after his death. McBain, too, is a romantic soul who is chasing a dream, but he is a tragic rather than a pathetic character. In other words, he is admirable and sympathetic – like every man bold enough to take a whore for his wife.)

Sergio Leone is the mastermind who unites all this into a unified masterpiece. He is the directing proof that slow pace is not necessarily boring. (Cf. the mind-numbingly boring Kubrick in 2001.) He captures the dusty splendour of the Wild West with the perfect blend of realism and fantasy. The famous opening scene prepares you well what to expect in the rest of the film. Ten minutes with barely a word spoken, revealing close-ups, imaginative camera movement, gunfight, three dead bodies, what more do you need? Well, you do need a lot more. As Leone has proved in some of his other movies, notably Once Upon a Time in America (1984), even the greatest director cannot save an essentially weak script. But he sure can enhance a fine one and this is the case here.

Last but by no means least, Ennio Morricone’s superb score is an essential part of the movie’s greatness. But I have discussed that elsewhere.

Last and least, a word about the “competition”. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), the last part of Leone’s so-called “dollar trilogy”, is supposed to be a better movie than Once Upon a Time in the West. This is not serious. Leone and Morricone are at their usually high level, but even they don’t quite match their achievement from two years later. The rest is considerably and consistently inferior. Eli Wallach, not to mention the utterly mediocre Lee Van Cleef, cannot hold a candle to Henry Fonda. Clint Eastwood is of course as cool as anybody, but he is let down by the indifferent, to say the least, screenplay. The story is trivial, the characters cartoonish. This is not even a great western, let alone a great movie.

Great westerns which are also great movies are rare indeed. (The Professionals (1966) and The Quick and the Dead (1995) are very good examples of great westerns which never really make it to great movies.) Off the top of my modest movie head, I can think of High Noon (1952), The Magnificent Seven (1960), Unforgiven (1992) and Tombstone (1993). None of these movies is perfect. They all have a flaw or two. Once Upon a Time in the West does not. It is flawless. ( )
3 vota Waldstein | Feb 11, 2016 |
A woman's new family is murdered, and various outlaws take an interest.

There are a number of great scenes - probably about half the movie - that stand up to the best bits of Leone's Clint Eastwood movies. A lot of the rest of it is dull, corny or misogynistic.

Concept: B
Story: B
Characters: B
Dialog: B
Pacing: D
Cinematography: A
Special effects/design: A
Acting: B
Music: A

Enjoyment: B

GPA: 3.1/4 ( )
  comfypants | Jan 28, 2016 |
175 minutos
  Miquinba_F | Feb 4, 2012 |
Very long ad slow moving film, yet interesting. 165 minutes. ( )
  rae2008 | May 22, 2009 |
Es mostren totes 4
Sense ressenyes | afegeix-hi una ressenya

» Afegeix-hi altres autors (40 possibles)

Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
Leone, SergioDirector/Screenwriterautor primaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Donati, SergioScreenwriterautor principaltotes les edicionsconfirmat
Bronson, CharlesActorautor secundaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Cardinale, ClaudiaActorautor secundaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Elam, JackActorautor secundaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Ferzetti, GabrieleActorautor secundaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Fonda, HenryActorautor secundaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Morricone, EnnioRedactor/compositorautor secundaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Robards, JasonActorautor secundaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Stoppa, PaoloActorautor secundaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Strode, WoodyActorautor secundaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Wolff, FrankActorautor secundaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Wynn, KeenanActorautor secundaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
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