on 21 December 2009
I love this film, and have done since the first time I saw it on BBC television sometime in the mid 1970's. It possesses an epic feel that few other movies even come close to, and when it's over you know that what you have just sat through is something very special.
On the surface the plot is a simple revenge tale involving Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda, and this unfolds gradually during the course of the movie using flashbacks - for a more detailed synopsis of the plot, check out many other excellent reviews here. Looking deeper into the story, Sergio Leone is documenting the end of an era, by showing the effects of the railroad moving West - almost a generation after the time of the "Dollars" trilogy.
However, what launches this movie head and shoulders above its peers is the breathtaking combination of cinematography and music - rightly described as "operatic". Morricone's score was allegedly played on set during filming, and I'm sure I could see Claudia Cardinale's movement in some scenes co-ordinated to the music. Leone also dispenses with the quirky humour he brought into The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - this is a movie meant as a serious statement on the Western genre.
Is it the best Western ever made?
Maybe. My concern is the amount of "homework" Leone did on this movie before filming. He immersed himself so much in the American Western that you can easily pick out the homage to other great Westerns - The Searchers, High Noon and Shane amongst them. However, there is also enough originality here to support its case as the best Western ever made - to me it's a dead heat with The Searchers.
This DVD re-master quality is simply stunning - a 40 yr old film has no right to look this good, and the sound quality is mainly front-orientated Dolby 5.1 with excellent dynamic range. Get the beer out the fridge, put the lights out and turn the volume up - this is a unique movie to be savoured.
on 28 August 2003
The best spaghetti western ever made, arguably the best western and one of the most glaring omissions from Channel 4's recent 100 best films.
From the wonderful crescendo of the opening scenes (the longest start to a movie without a word of dialogue?) to the eerie, bewitching harmonica strains of Charles Bronson, this is a piece of film-making you will remember for a long time.
Henry Fonda was famously cast against type - since Twelve Angry Men in '57 he had played numerous whiter-than-white roles - and the American cinema-going public were shocked at the cold and vicious Frank...
Jason Robards is great as the laconic, amused middleman, Charles Bronson dark and quiet doing what he does best, the impenetrable, mysterious, native-American stranger.
Anyway, what with Leone's lingering, photographic landscape shots, the fact that the score was played on set so that the actors and cameras could move with the music and the choreographed, dance-like gunfight scene at the end (Fonda, filmed from behind at foot level, taking off his black jacket, dropping it to his right and slowly stepping to his left - a movie moment!), this really is an all-time classic.
A film for Friday night, a few Mexican beers, darkened room and preferably a big wide-screen TV...
on 4 August 2011
Serigo Leone epic picture "Once upon a Time in the West", is presented in a new meticulously restored version for its Blu-ray release which looks and sounds stunning along with the restored version which is now a "Unrated" cut the disc also has the "Theatrical version" as well which is still rated PG-13, along with similar special features that the region 2 double DVD released in 1999 that version of the film running time was 159 minutes, this time the restored version has a running time of 166 minutes which is closer to the Italian version which had a running time of 175 minutes.
This disc is region-free,the signal type is MPEG4 in full 1080p resolution which shows the features beautiful range colours and the now the greater range of blacks, the actors sun-baked skin now look even more stubbly and sweaty, the sound which is now up-graded to 5.1 DTS Master Audio this jumps out of the speakers, the first gun fight at the railway station which has very little dialogue, is now even more impressive as the sound effects sound like they have been on steroids the gunfire now rattles across your living room, the dripping water and squeaking water wheel create the atmosphere as never before bringing the viewer even closer to the action.
This Blu-ray also has Dolby mono in English as well as dubbed French and Spanish; there are subs in English for the hard of hearing, subtitles in French, Spanish and Portuguese with commentary contributions from Directors John Carpenter, John Milius and Alex Cox and Film Historians Sir Christopher Frayling and Dr Sheldon Hall as well as cast and crew.
The Special features include "An Opera of Violence" "The Wages of Sin" "Something to do with Death" "Railroad: Revolutionising the West" "Locations now and then" Production gallery and the Theatrical trailer in HD.
If you love Westerns this for me is the yardstick to measure by along with the "Wild Bunch" from Sam Peckinpah from the year after, now give us Leone last Western "A Fistful of Dynamite" or "Duck you Sucker" to the same standard please...
'Once Upon a Time in the West' is an opera. Its direction and music tell more than any script could. The film is a calculated, lyrical work of genius and my favourite film. From the off, Sergio Leone has surpassed his 'Dollars' trilogy and has produced a poignant farewell to the Western, before moving on to make 'Once Upon a Time in America'. Orignially made soleley to please the studio, Leone's masterpiece combines some big names on screen (Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson) and off screen (Bertolucci and Argento!) to create a stirring Western that's as ritualistic as a samurai film. Three characters are brought together because they each have a score to settle with stone-cold sadist Frank (Fonda). As the film continues (at a pace which Hollywood audiences would not accept), we begin to realise that Leone is counting down... to death. The characters don't expect to survive and are simply awaiting the inevitable. The pace of the first 10 minutes sets the standard and if you don't like those 10 minutes, switch off - in fact, stop reading now. This is more than a Western, it's a ceremony, played out to Ennio Morrocone's greatest score ever - the film was shot to fit the music! The words "best ever" can be applied to any of the following... 'duel' 'one-liners' 'scenery' 'direction' 'score' 'villian' and anything else that I've missed. Once Upon a Time in the West, there was a DVD collector's edition. This double disc set boasts some superb commentaries from various people (inc. John Carpenter!) and some interesting documentaries. Nevertheless, you buy a film FOR THE FILM! In this case, you pay £15 for the greatest western ever and two and a half hours of beautiful filmmaking.
on 20 May 2001
Vastly superior to Peckinpah's overly-violent Westerns, Leone's ultimate vision still renders the viewer paralytic with awe and wonder at the operatic quality of his use of location (Monument Valley), music (the great Ennio Morricone) and counter-casting (Henry Fonda, the king of good guys, playing a sadistic psychopath). Charles Bronson is superb as the steely-eyed Harmonica, while Jason Robards acts as a little comic relief as Cheyenne. Claudia Cardinale is also excellent as Jill McBain, the widow of a victim of Fonda's Frank! A work of magic, only ever bettered by 1984's classic gangster epic, Once Upon A Time In America
on 11 September 2003
In Sergio Leone's 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 (Gabriele Ferzetti) hires killers, led by blue-eyed sadist Frank (Henry Fonda), who wipe out property owner Brett McBain (Frank Wolff) and his family. McBain's newly arrived bride, Jill (Claudia Cardinale), however, inherits it instead. Both outlaw Cheyenne (Jason Robards) and lethally mysterious Harmonica (Charles Bronson) 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 who populate them, as Harmonica appears out of nowhere and Frank chillingly commands the center of the frame. The opening credit sequence of three Western toughs (including Woody Strode and Jack Elam) preparing to kill someone at a train station wittily yet artfully plays off Leone's fixation with faces and locales and the epic effect of his meticulous narrative pace. The sense of suspended time speaks to the concerns with past, future, and history that drive the plot; Jill oversees the literal tracks of "Progress," while Frank is undone by the past he shares with memory-driven Harmonica. Fonda's presence and the Monument Valley location further point to the Western movie past of John Ford, as Leone "quotes" Ford's signature buttes and exposes the dark reverse of Fonda's staunch Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine (1946). After the success of the "Dollars" films, Paramount gave Leone the money and freedom to make his monumental saga as he wished; when Once Upon a Time bombed, Paramount chopped 25 minutes to speed the pace, but to no financial avail. Those 25 minutes, and the film's critical stature, have since been restored, but Leone's directorial career never quite recovered. At its full length, Once Upon a Time in the West is Leone's operatic masterwork, worthy of its legend-making title.
Needless to say, this dvd is a must have. After this the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy seems trivial and insubstantial. This my friends is true cinema, art for arts sake, not just money making. This film has to be seen to be appreciated. Sheer Class. Convinced?
on 24 October 2003
Director Sergio Leone's sprawling epic amounts to an elegiac vision of a crumbling "Wild West" beset with greed and self interest.
Acting highlights include Charles Bronson's best every performance as a brooding avenging angel, Jason Robards world weary convict and even Claudia Cardinale is good as the feisty widow. Whilst Henry Fonda casting as a baddie was necessary for a powerful act of murderous cruelty early on, he is not this always convincing in this against type role. Ultimately I just didn't buy him as a baddie!!!
The cinematography is stunning, the direction is skillful, sets have been constructed with an almost faultless attention to detail and Ennio Morricone's soundscape is arguably the best of all time.
The film has its flaws though - most notably the story itself which could have been more crisp. I also found the relationship between the Henry Fonda and the Jason Robards characters confusing. This film,however,is more than just a story!
For me the best highlight comes early when the charisma of the actors mesh with the skill of the director in a stunning landscape to create tension that you can almost touch. This scene also includes the longest credit sequence of all time.
The DVD extras are fine too - include a brief history of Sergio Leone from his biographer, interviews with most of the leading cast and also Leone himself.
Whilst you don't have to be a lover of westerns to enjoy this it is a recommended purchase for the lover of great films.
Sergio Leone made many great films, but this is the greatest of them all.
Firstly apart from the film itself:
The picture quality is marvellous, for a film that is 37 years old, it looks brand new. The extras are very good - especially the commentry by Christopher Frayling (who has written an excellent biography of Sergio Leone) which is most informative. I had seen the film many times over the years before I bought the DVD but never spotted a moment in the long pre-credit sequence when Jack Elam pulls the wires from the telegraph machine. In the commentary Frayling points out that its not just the noise from the machine that stops when the wires are pulled ALL noise stops - its quite surreal once you realise.
Anyway the film itself is magnificent. This is a 2 hour 40 minute film and barely a second is wasted. Unlike a lot of modern films it is not filled with endless explosions and gun fights. This is a film that keeps you engrossed through character development and brilliant cinemaphotography. You have to symapthise with Claudia Cardinale, you really want to hate Henry Fonda (but its a struggle) and you want to be Charles Bronson (in what may have originally been a role written with Clint Eastwood in mind). I am not a fan of Bronson but this is a great performance.
Each of the four main characters has a distinctive musical theme supplied by Ennio Morricone, and it is claimed that the actors based their movements on these themes. Leone originally planned to have the Good the Bad and the Ugly (Eastwood, Van Cleef and Wallach) waiting at the Station for Charles Bronson at the start of the film but sadly this was never possible. However Jack Elam, Woody Strode and the 3rd actor add something because they are not so well known. Although they had variously appeared in a number of major films (such as High Noon).
The film references a multitude of previous westerns. One of the most obvious being The Searchers - Leone uses the framed doorway..
You are unlikely to guess the ending to this film and will probably be as surprised as Frank is. Go and buy this film now!
A remarkable film depicting the old west as it was and not how Hollywood used to depict it through the movies of John Wayne, Randolph Scott, and Gary Cooper.
This cinematic masterpiece is an extraordinary achievement for it is visually striking, emotionally profound, and as far as the music is concerned, is one of the best ever composed for a western. A financial failure in the United States due to its length, and its lack of pace. Nowadays, it is recognised for what it really is, an operatic western without the singing, a film of violence and a struggle to survive within a barren wilderness inhabited by men who want to rule the west their way rather than by the civilised way.
The story evolves around the McBain family who live on a ranch which stands on land desperatly wanted by a local railroad company. As Jill McBain (the beautiful Claudia Cardinale) arrives at the town to meet up with her husband whom she had married after meeting him in New Orleans, her future family is wiped out by a local gang headed by Frank (Henry Fonda) who is being paid by a local business man (Gabrielle Ferzetti) to secure the land for the railroad.
The subplot involves the arrival of a mysterious stranger (Charles Bronson)at the beginning of the film (which contains the longest opening credit sequence of 12 minutes) and ends in a shootout which sees three gunmen shot dead within seconds. This sets the tone for the film for the mysterious stranger has a score to settle with Frank who had been responsible for the death of his brother.
Visually this is a fascinating film to watch, enhanced by a moving music score composed by Ennio Morricone (who else?). It is slow in parts, but the visual images of the old west do carry it through. Look out for the amazing camera shots of the old town as Jill McBain is driven out onto the dry, harsh dusty plains on a horse and cart. The images of Monument Valley are very striking too.
The cast is supplemented by many old actors who have played in westerns before, Jason Robards, Lionel Stander, and Keenan Wynn. Also look out for Woody Strode and Jack Elam as two of the gunmen at the opening scenes.
Very good picture quality, and good sound too on a Home Cinema System.
This is how it was, the old west, the real west when men were not noble, nor were they heroic, they just were men struggling to survive in a barren lawless wilderness.
on 3 May 2008
Once Upon A Time in the West is Sergio Leone's masterpiece. Not only does it feature classic Leone figures, the silent gunman (Charles Bronson), the cruel hitman (A suprising turn from Henry Fonda) and the charasmatic rouge (Jason Robard), it is the only Leone film and one of the few westerns to have its central figure be a woman. It also pays homage to many great westerns, in particular High Noon with the films brilliant opening, and is also intellegent, many critics interpreting it as a parable on capitalism. As well as brains, it has muscles though, with terrific set pieces and landscapes, exciting action and, as ever with Leone's films, enough suspense to make you heart skip a beat. The music is also great, and it, like Leone's previous films, makes the audience laugh. The best Western ever made.