Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)


 And they all lived dustily ever after
And they all lived dustily ever after

Genre: Western (Italy)

Starring: Charles Bronson (The Great Escape Death Wish 3), Henry Fonda (The Wrong ManThe Grapes of Wrath)

Directed By: Sergio Leone (For a Few Dollars More • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly)

Overview: A family is massacred. A lone stranger comes to town with his holster and harmonica. A woman continues what her husband started... once, upon a time, in the West.

Once upon a time, in the West, there was Charles Bronson, gettin' off a train and doin' horse-math with three other guys.

I saw three of these dusters a short time ago, they were waiting for a train. Inside the dusters, there were three men. Inside the men, there were three bullets. - Harmonica

Once upon a time, in the West, there was Henry Fonda, who massacred a family, firmly planting his 'Angry Neighbourhood Villain' flag square in the forehead of a young boy.

Morton: Not bad. Congratulations. Tell me, was it necessary that you kill all of them? I only told you to scare them.
People scare better when they're dying.

Once upon a time, in the West, there was Jason Robards, running a gang and perpetually wearing shackles, yet also, somehow, ever perpetually free from them.

You know, Jill, you remind me of my mother. She was the biggest whore in Alameda and the finest woman that ever lived. Whoever my father was, for an hour or for a month - he must have been a happy man. - Cheyenne

Sometimes these three crossed paths, sometimes they watched one another, sometimes they helped one another, and maybe, somewhere along the way, one, or two, or all three  caught a bullet. Such is the nature of Westerns. The plot of the story itself does not come quickly. In fact, for easily half an hour we're introduced to this wonderful world of dusty desert and their characters. I would even call Once Upon A Time in the West very much a Mystery film, since so many questions hang in the air, from "what are these angry people all doing here?" to "why did the McBain family get killed?" They're questions I shant answer for ye who have not yet seen Once Upon A Time in the West. And instead of talking about the story of these three men, the lady who joins them and the cripple with the fancy train, I discuss my appreciation of this, my first viewing. 
I didn't rightly know exactly where Once Upon a Time in the West sat in the grand scheme of six degrees of film separation. I didn't know it was directed by Leone. I wondered why the characters dynamic was so similar to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly until I learned that Sergio directed that one just two years before. I didn't know it was #21 on IMDb's Top 250. I knew it was important, don't get me wrong, but after a century of film, there's bound to be a few that get lost in the shuffle. Of course when my buddy informed me it was playing at our local Indy on the big screen, well that trumps even HD TV, especially if we snagged a Mayfair Theater couch, which we certainly did.

Try as I might to really get into it though, loving Henry Fonda as I do, loving Bronson as I do, loving Westerns and overdubbed Italian ladies as I do, it was a lot of wait for the big payoff, which was big, and paid off, but I gotta admit, I was a little too hyped up for what I got, no matter how great the direction and performances were from Claudia Cardinale, Gabriele Ferzetti, and everyone else.

Now, what I did enjoy most about the dynamic of these three characters and the dame they orbited around was how genuinely individual they were, each with very separate motivations. When Harmonica met Cheyenne, we didn't know if they'd be enemies, but doubted they'd be friends. The tension between them was thick, their relationship tenuous, their trust not to be easily forged. Throughout the film, they cross paths as strangers, who on occasion might have the same agenda. When Harmonica met the sinister Frank, again, we were left with a mystery as opposed to instant understanding of 'the way it was going to be between them'. Above all things, this is what made the film for me, that closed poker face attitude... and yeah, the cinematography was amazing.

Gotta give it this though: Classic!
Gotta give it this though: Classic!

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 9 Script: 7 Plot: 7 Mood: 7

Overall Rating: 78% (Happily...)
1001 Club Aftertaste:
Unlike fellow 1001 Clubber alfindeol, I entirely disagree that this is the best western ever made. I'll stick firm with The Good The Bad And The Ugly, with the caveat of High Plains Drifter as my personal favourite. Sorry, Buddy.

Please don't shoot me.

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Nice review dude. I can understand why you got caught up in the hype a little. Many great films can have this effect. What makes this film really stand out though is blue eyed boy Fonda as the sinister bad guy. Fucking genius casting. I love this film but then I'm a bit of a Western fan. Now get that fucking Sound Of Music review you lazy fucker.

That is unbelievably great cover art on the soundtrack up there.

Don't I know it!

I'm with you on "Once Upon a Time in the West" - while very good, I prefer both The Good The Bad And The Ugly and High Plains Drifter.

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