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 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 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...
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?
'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 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.
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
Possibly one of the ten best Westerns ever made, it pays homage to the early great classic Westerns and then trumps them with added detail and scintillating photography, a sumptuous score, and above all superb acting from all the principals making their characters totally believable. This is a Leone masterpiece, possibly better than his 'Dollars trilogy'.
This two disc special edition DVD has remastered the picture for an almost rock steady 2.35:1 image on the 16:9 screen with superb clarity and colour, even on a big modern display one does not notice that it is only Standard Definition because the action draws one into the heat and the dust and sweaty unshaven dirt of the old 'American West'. This should be in everyone's Western collection.
The extras are well worth watching and they add to the background on the film, giving us an insight into how and why it was made and what the actors and directors thought about it.
The Amazon blurb is to the point and all I'll add is that the film shows that one cannot halt progress, even though many might try, and the survivors are those who can adapt to it.
on 6 July 2011
I am writing this review on the strength of the american release, which being impatient I own. In my opinion the upgrade is worth it, the colours are vibrant, the picture strong, the sound is a marked improvement over the two disc special edition...........but will not blow you away.
I love this movie and rate is as highly as For a few dollars more and the good the bad and the ugly, I was glad I upgraded and was not disappointed at all, the extras are the same as the previous edition but the major selling point is they have included the theatrical version alongside the restored version something I wish they had done with the good the bad and the ugly ok it is only an added 60 seconds but you do have the choice.
I will not review the movie mainly because a film this old will not be new to the majority, but those who love this movie will want to know if they should upgrade, I did and I am not sorry.
Probably the best Western ever produced.
Cinematography is absolutely superb with huge wide vistas and a very moving orchestral score.
Superbly acted. Great story. Fantastic photography.
The opening scene has to be the longest ever in any film where there is actually no dialogue - the imagery does everything you need.