Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Directed by Sergio Leone
Written by Sergio Leone & Segio Donati

Sergio Leone is someone I had always heard of but never discovered. That is until sometime last year when I decided to sit down and watch the Man with No Name trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). This was a great decision and it opened my eyes to the brilliance not only of Sergio Leone, but of the Western. Along with that short marathon I watched John Ford’s The Searchers. It was one of the greatest mini marathons I have ever done and it ignited within me the love of the Western film. Leone’s style was so cool and Clint Eastwood, and maybe even more Lee Van Cleef, was so badass. I wanted to live in that world, as dirty and gritty as it was. I wanted to be able to walk around like I owned the place, with Ennio Morricone’s score blaring along with my gait. Leone is certainly a great filmmaker. I am already convinced of this. And his collaborators (actors, but mostly Morricone) have also cemented their place in film history in my eyes. So in comes Once Upon a Time in the West, the epic Western with such great stars as Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale and Henry Fonda.

First I want to admit that my viewing of this film consisted of about an hour and a half last night and another hour and a half this morning. It may or may not have affected my position on the film, but I thought I should tell you that up front. Second I want to admit that this movie was kind of awesome. My initial reaction was that it was a bloated mess. The opening sequence was like 10 minutes long of people waiting for a train. Then there were other scenes that seemed to last too long. I understood that that is part of Leone’s style, having seen some of his other films, but it became tedious for me after a while when the story was so slow developing. Basically we have two outlaws turning good to protect a gorgeous widow and her land from another outlaw and his railroad baron boss. Of course there was something in it for them too, money, but nevertheless they did turn good. What did amaze me was that three of the biggest names in the history of Italian cinema collaborated on the story here. The credits came and showed me this was the brainchild of not only Leone, but also Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento. Wow. That is some star power behind the script. And by the end the story did really work for me and the long scenes that I dreaded before became awesome mood setting pieces to complement the story. I mean I still think it was slow going at first, but at the end of the day I came around and loved the story and the film.

The acting was awesome, as it has been from Leone’s casts. This was actually my introduction to Bronson, I believe. He was great as Harmonica, delivering a great, mysterious performance. I noted earlier in this marathon that The Lady Eve was my introduction to Fonda, so this was his sophomore outing for me, which is kind of a disappointment because I know there was some to do about him playing the evil character, something he didn’t really do. I think I remember hearing that on TCM or something. So maybe that effect was lessened, but within the framework of the film, Fonda was also awesome. What really got me, however, was Claudia Cardinale. I have seen her in Fellini’s 8 1/2, but to be honest I cannot remember her in that, though I have only seen it once. So I kind of just figured she was going to be a pretty face, but she was great as the widow. I really thought she did a great job, or maybe I was just entranced by her eyes. Seriously, can we give her a lifetime achievement award for most beautiful big brown eyes ever? Wow. I couldn’t look away from her gaze. End of the day, probably my third favorite Leone behind TGTBATU and FAFDM. But that very well may change with multiple viewings I expect. Oh, I fully expect. And with Claudia Cardinale, there will definitely be multiple viewings.

P.S. I am interested to see a the non-Western Leone film, Once Upon a Time in America.

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