Thursday, 13 May 2010

Once Upon A Time in the West [1968]


Once Upon A Time in the West has been called by many as Sergio Leone’s greatest masterpiece. Though I wouldn’t go that far (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly still remains my favourite), I must however concede that this would rank among his most ambitious ventures. Like Once Upon A Time in America, this too is appropriately named as it chronicles the demise of the West and forms a love letter to the iconic American frontier. When a family residing in the ironically named locale called Sweet Water is brutally slain by the vicious Frank (played brilliantly against his type by Henry Fonda) and his gang, an enigmatic loner forever playing an eerie tone on his harmonica and an unstoppable gunfighter (Charles Bronson) and an oddball but equally capable outlaw (Jason Robards) take it upon themselves to protect the newly arrived bride (Claudia Cardinale) of the dead head of the family and her piece of land. Virtually given a carte blanche by the producers, Leone turned the elegiac film into mythic proportions. As with all his films, the harsh and unforgiving landscapes have been majestically captured, the Ennio Moricone score, though not his best, nonetheless elevated the epic to the next level, and the languorous pacing helps the film to grow on the viewers. Arguably the most fascinating part of the film, though, is the elaborate and the absolutely riveting opening sequence.








Director: Sergio Leone
Genre: Western/Spaghetti Western/Revisionist Wester
Language: English/Italian
Country: Italy

11 comments:

pykmi said...

The powerful moment when the family is murdered and the camera slowly turns to reveal the blue eyes of Henry Fonda... wow. Such a haunting scene, accompanied by wonderful music.

Dave said...

My second favorite Leone film, behind only his later Once Upon a Time in America. But, it's close, and I definitely prefer it over his other westerns. The grandeur of it all is just so intoxicating to me and Henry Fonda's performance is shocking even now considering the persona that still exists of Fonda as the Tom Joad good-guy type. And as you point out, Morricone's score is spectacular.

Alfindeol said...

This is my favorite Leone western. That opening sequence is just off the charts. Great cast, love Fonda as a villain and the music is still top notch. I think it's better than TGTBATU, not as distinctive, but better.

Shubhajit said...

@Pykmi:

I distinctly remember that scene, and I'm sure I won't forget it anytime soon. That was truly a terrifying and haunting moment.

Shubhajit said...

@Dave:

Once Upon A Time in America happens to be one of my favourites too. Apart from similar titles, they both share elegiac tones, and are filled with such nostalgia for the times depicted. And yes, Fonda was superb!!! Another Henry Fonda role that I really liked was his deliciously crooked turn in the aptly named There Was A Crooked Man.

Shubhajit said...

@Alfindeol:

Well, you certainly have a lot of company where considering this one to be better than The Good... goes. Even though I belong to the other camp, we all converge where heaping adulation on both the films goes :)

Sam Juliano said...

Like Dave, I favor ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA as Leone's masterpiece, but I'll admit this one pushes real close, and again you've peeled off the gauze to convey why this is such a genre landmark.

You do nail it here, though I would include Morricone's classic score here among his best and right behind his work on AMERICA:


"Virtually given a carte blanche by the producers, Leone turned the elegiac film into mythic proportions. As with all his films, the harsh and unforgiving landscapes have been majestically captured, the Ennio Moricone score, though not his best, nonetheless elevated the epic to the next level, and the languorous pacing helps the film to grow on the viewers."

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Sam. Well, as you know well, its a close call. I love both the Once Upon A Time's as well as his Dollar Trilogy - and to be honest, they're all so good that its damn to tough to pick one. That just goes to show how many masterpieces Leone made, or for that matter, his unbelievable conversion ratio given that he didn't make many movies in his life.

John said...

The landscape, the music of Moricone, which Sam previousty mentioned, the nasty, nasty Henry Fonda, this film has it all. A landmark in western cinema.

Shubhajit said...

Absolutely, I'm with you on that all the way, John. Thanks.

Buy Generic Viagra said...

I think you are right, it is a masterpiece. I think I've been reading this blog since 3 weeks ago and I won't stop it. I will be able to read each entry and this'll be the nicest one in my list.