Thursday, February 21, 2008

Once Upon a Time in the West directed by Sergio Leone (starring Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale)

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Screenplay by Sergio Leone and Sergio Donati from a story by Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Sergio Leone. English dialogue by Mickey Knox.

"Keep your lovin' brother happy."

By the time we reach the end of Once Upon a Time in the West, hear Henry Fonda utter these intensely powerful words, and discover the meaning behind a long-awaited revenge, we have been taken on a long, leisurely carriage ride through Western folklore.

Who would have guessed that an Italian would make the best cinema of the American West? But Sergio Leone was that man. With his "Man with No Name" trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), he made a star of Clint Eastwood and presented a vision that none had seen before and that has yet to be matched.

And then he topped himself. Once Upon a Time in the West is undoubtedly the finest Western ever made, in a genre filled with classics. All the Leone trademarks are here: the beautiful expansive landscapes, the extreme closeups, the nameless hero (strikingly underplayed by Charles Bronson), and the operatic score by Ennio Morricone (with separate motifs for each character). But somehow they all come together as if for the first time, as if all that came before was simply rehearsal.

From an original story by the Italian triple-threat of Leone, Dario Argento (Suspiria), and Bernardo Bertolucci (The Last Emperor), Leone and Sergio Donati fashioned a screenplay that typifies and then transcends the genre.

But the plot is less important than the style. Leone's love for the West is apparent throughout Once Upon a Time in the West in how he lets the scenes flow at their own speed, never hurrying, never forcing them to a conclusion. The languid pacing makes for a much longer film (it clocks in at three hours), but also one much more emotionally real. It gives us time to really experience what we're seeing: a film about the West made by one of its biggest fans.


August West said...

This movie is a masterpiece and that opening with Jack Elam and Woody Strode is one of the best western scenes ever filmed. I usually don't bother with the special features in a DVD set, but this one contains 3 excellent documentaries. Also, Jason Robards shines in this film and what can you say about Henry Fonda playing an evil guy. (and pulling it off-outstanding!) I picked this one up at Walmart in their $5 bin. How can you go wrong....

Craig Clarke said...

Thanks for your comments, August. I agree about the opening. I've seen the movie five or so times, but sometimes I'll pop in the disc just to watch that scene and the climax between Fonda and Bronson. I've seen them each over a dozen times, and they're always enthralling.

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