The so-called spaghetti Western achieved its apotheosis inSergio Leone's magnificently mythic (and utterly outlandish) Once upon a Time in the West. After a series of international hits starring Clint Eastwood (from A Fist... more »ful of Dollars to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly), Leone outdid himself with this spectacular, larger-than-life, horse-operatic epic about how the West was won. (And make no mistake: this is the wide, wide West, folks--so the widescreen/letterboxed version is strongly recommended.) The unholy trinity of Italian cinema--Leone, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Dario Argento--concocted the story about a woman (Claudia Cardinale) hanging onto her land in hopes that the transcontinental railroad would reach her before a steely-eyed, black-hearted killer (Fonda) does. (The film's advertising slogan was: "There were three men in her life. One to take her ... one to love her ... and one to kill her.") Meanwhile, Leone shoots his stars' faces as if they were expansive Western landscapes, and their towering bodies as if they were looming rock formations in John Ford's Monument Valley. --Jim Emerson« less
Beginning was interesting and some of the gunfights but this was way too long creating a boring western with lots of great actors. Charles Bronson's harmonica's playing was way cool though.
Katcha S. (Katcha) from FORT JONES, CA Reviewed on 11/12/2017...
The main reason I wanted to add my review is to note how SLOW this movie feels. Its like watching paint dry . . . Yes its a great artsy-fartsy piece with dramatic build up of scenes and wonder about how the story will unfold or conclude. And we are not whose who must have action-action-ACTION in order to stick thru a movie. However we weren't prepared for seeing a western treated like a director's wet dream. The slowness of this movie is nothing like that of High Noon or even The Magnificent Seven which builds momentum as the story unfolds. The plot actually plods along - in between minute long close ups of actor's eyes.
If you enjoy such film fest type offerings, this is for you. We would rather watch other old classic westerns. About the only reason we stayed with this movie to the end was to find out the ending - so-so at that.
1 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
"It doesn't get any better than this"
different drummer 63 | Lawrence, KS, USA | 01/02/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My title is a cliche but in this case it's the only phrase to use. The version of this movie available now, with its extra disc full of great bonus material, is an example of how to bring DVD format to its highest potential. First of course there's the movie, and its director Sergio Leone. Every Leone movie I've seen--Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good Bad and Ugly, Once Upon a Time in America--is wonderful, but this tops them all. Imagine the year 1969: what a great time to be a western film lover. You had this, and Sam Peckinpah's Wild Bunch in the same year. Incredible. Anyway, it's impossible to list all the great scenes, so I'll stick with the first. If you love the credit sequence you'll love the movie; it's not for everybody, however. So those credits, mostly silent except for a windmill creaking, which Leone somehow makes sinister, and one of the minimal details he uses to establish authentic mood, are the litmus test. You'll either love the movie or hate it. The scene is built on a genius contradiction: it's so tense that you want it to end, but it's so beautifully done, so built on image and gesture and glance, that you also hope it never ends. The whole movie is that delicious. And the cast--wow. Everyone is at top form, but check out Henry Fonda as the leanest meanest bastard imaginable, but also someone you can't avoid enjoying because it is the GREAT Mr. Fonda, with Leone getting maximum mileage out of close ups of Fonda's ice-blue eyes, as unforgiving as a western sky, generally acting like the amiable stalwart figure he always plays, until he shoots little kids and fat lackeys whom he doesn't trust because they wear both suspenders and belts: and as Fonda says, how can you trust a man who can't even trust his own pants? As the heroine, Claudia Cardinale isn't just gorgeous she's luscious, lust-us. And tough. Watch for the scene where she looks at herself in the mirror when she's all alone in her house. whose previous residents, her family, have been killed by Fonda and his thugs. Charles Bronson--what an underrated actor. Dangerous yet entirely sympathetic here. He finds wit in his role, knows exactly what the unique Leone's up to and gets in sync with the vision. Jason Robards is incapable of giving a performance less than brilliant, and this is another highlight in the film. As Cheyenne he is funny and tough and smart, maybe the most complex performance in the movie. There's so much more, too--the finest Ennio Morricone soundtrack, killer dialogue, extraordinary cinematography. This DVD is put together so well it's even a pleasure to look at the menus--you'll see what I mean. And all this for under FIFTEEN U.S. DOLLARS. What are you waiting for?"
One of the very finest Westerns ever made
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 06/05/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is arguably Sergio Leone's greatest Western, although Clint Eastwood's three films with him remain among my favorites. Actually, Leone had hoped to have Eastwood in this film as Harmonica, but they were unable to work things out. As it is, I think having Charles Bronson in the role is more effective. It was central to Eastwood's persona in those three films that he be both a man with no name and with no past, but Harmonica's character is entirely driven by the past and his need for revenge.The beginning of this film are among my favorite in the history of film. Leone is arguably the most patient director in the history of film, and is willing to take fifteen minutes for something another director would be loathe to take two. The two great instances of Leone's patience are the scene in the uncut version of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, where he allows a phone to ring thirty or forty times, and here at the beginning, where he takes fourteen minutes to show three men waiting to men a train.As a whole, this is a far more ambitious project than Leone's other Westerns. The plot is a bit more epic, the sweep of the film a bit grander, the relations between the characters more complex. Like most of his other films, it was filmed primarily in Europe, but unlike the others, a couple of scenes were actually shot in the United States, in particular in Monument Valley, the signature area of John Ford, the director most associated with Westerns. He handles characters a bit differently in this than in his earlier films. For instance, Leone ties a musical theme to each of the major characters in the film, much as did Prokofiev with "Peter and the Wolf." One aspect of the film that is simultaneously a strength and a weakness is the casting. Leone here works with a group of performers he had not worked with before. A couple of the performers are simply brilliant. Charles Bronson was brilliant, and his tiny, piercing blue eyes lend an eerie intensity to many of his screen moments. The casting of the equally blue-eyed Henry Fonda as a sadistic villain was a stroke of genius, and he manages to produce one of his most memorable roles. I have, however, trouble with the other two major performers. Claudia Cardinale was certainly beautiful, but she simply does not bring as much to her role that many other actresses would have. Women do not feature prominently in Leone's films, and that might be because he simply didn't relate to women as well as men. At any rate, I think the movie would have been greatly improved with someone else in her role. I had similar problems with Jason Robards. He just did not radiate the aura of danger that his character was supposed to, and the musical theme that was tied to his character sounded somewhat clownish. I found him to be the most poorly conceived and executed character in the film. Despite these two cavils, this is an incredible movie, and is by far one of the most thoughtful, unique Westerns ever made. The ending is perhaps the finest of his many Westerns, as well as one of the most surprising. It easily goes on any list of the greatest Westerns in the history of film."
Erik North | San Gabriel, CA USA | 08/16/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After having established himself as the Master of the Spaghetti Western, Italian director Sergio Leone set out to make a western epic of very stylish proportions. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST was the result. Like Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH, which was also released in 1969, O-U-A-T-I-T-W did not receive a particularly warm welcome from either the critics or the audiences. But like Peckinpah's film, it has now come to be seen as a masterpiece among the rise and eventual fall of the West (and maybe the way Hollywood thought of the West).Claudia Cardinale is the widow of a businessman whose land is being sought out by a ruthless railroad magnate (Gabrielle Ferzetti). The land is well sought because it is the only known place in the desert within a 50-mile radius where there is any water. Defending Cardinale are a cold, calculating gunslinger (Charles Bronson) and an amiable outlaw (Jason Robards). But standing in their way is a ruthless hired gunman named Frank, played by (are you ready for this?) Henry Fonda!At 165 minutes in the director's original cut, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST marks a change for Leone. Although part of this film was shot in Spain, where he had shot his previous films, a good deal of it was filmed in John Ford's beloved Monument Valley. Leone gets solid performances by Bronson, Cardinale, and Robards, as well as a stunning fifteen minute opening credit sequence featuring Bronson and two of Fonda's hired hands (Jack Elam, Woody Strode). But Leone scored a real coup by casting Fonda, the man known for playing good guys most of the time, as one of the coldest and meanest villains in screen history; it is he who kills Cardinale's family, and it is he who is being sought out by Bronson for reasons we do not know until the famous confrontation at the end.Another superb Ennio Morricone score caps this fabulous western epic, one that thankfully can be seen the way Leone had intended, not the horribly butchered version that Paramount had foisted on the public for so many years. Although very long, requiring a good deal of patience, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is well worth seeing. A classic of the 1960s."
THE best Western EVER--TRUST ME!
Wayne Browne | New Hampshire | 04/28/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The western is a genre that is often full of cliches and steroetypes. What Once Upon a Time in the West does is nothing short of amazing. It takes all those cliches and stereotypes and puts them all a bit askew. I don't think I have seen a film that has been better at creating so strong a mood throughout a film as this one, and without much dialogue. That gives credit to the excellent direction of this film. Casting Henry Fonda against type as the dark, forboding villian is nothing short of brilliant. He delivers one of his best performances here, being totally believable as a cold, heartless killer. You actually feel intimidated by this character. Charles Bronsan, as the mysterious, nameless stranger, who pursues the bandits with his own agenda, is riveting. Again, this is, without question, his best performance as well. The opening sequence alone is worth a viewing of this movie. It is the greatest opening sequence I've ever seen, rivaled only by the one from Raiders of the Lost Ark..maybe. It's hard to describe with any one word. Watch this film and I think you will be hard put to find another western that comes even close to being this suspenseful, moody, or entertaining."
Magnificent operatic western, possibly the best of all.
Mr Ghostface | United Kingdom | 07/14/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
""C'era Una Volta Il West"Once Upon a Time in the West is arguably Sergio Leone's best work, and possibly the best western made. A revisionist western, the film examines the stereotypes of its genre through Claudia Cardinale's Jill McBain - no regular woman - and the three gunslingers (Fonda's Frank, Robard's Cheyenne and Bronson's Harmonica).Each of these characters has embedded within their portrayal a motivation for their actions. Where most western gunslingers simply are, these men are drawn with so much more detail. It is the mysterious motivation driving Bronson's character, for example, which drives a large part of the story, resulting in perhaps the most satisfying pay-off ever seen in cinema. It is hard to conceive how the showdown - and the rich history motivating it - at the end of this film could ever be eclipsed. In addition to this climax is one of cinema's most brilliantly executed entrances, equalled only by Orson Welles in The Third Man and possibly Max von Sydow's in The Exorcist. When the camera tracks forward and turns onto Fonda's face, we are witnessing cinematic perfection.Also of considerable note is Ennio Morricone's score. Truly dramatic, each of the four leads has his/her own musical motif which underscores their scenes. Jill slightly nostalgic, slightly mournful tune as she enters to be left alone on the station forces us to care for her, despite the fact that she has been on screen for only a few seconds. Bronson's famous Harmonica motif is (if a little over-used) unforgettable. Outstanding.There is barely a criticism to be made of Once Upon A Time in the West. Perhaps a little over-long depending on what mood you're in watching it, but this truly is unforgettable and unsurpassable cinema."